It’s no secret that Singaporeans are an over-stressed, sleep-deprived bunch. A recent study by Philips reported that the leading cause for sleep deprivation here is stress and worry. In fact, we’re so stressed that we don’t know how to relax; another new study showed that 1 in 2 Singaporeans get stressed out by the thought of doing nothing.
Poor sleep habits are an inevitable consequence of this. We can’t fall asleep because we can’t get our minds to stop running at full speed.
The cycle then repeats itself. When you’re not getting enough sleep, your mental, emotional, and physical health suffers. You also tend to feel tired all the time, which eventually hurts your work performance. That stresses you out even more and makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
The first step to rectifying this to understand how your sleep habits contribute to increased stress levels.
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It’s crucial to ensure that you have a regular power-down ritual for yourself daily. As reported earlier, most Singaporeans are sleep-deprived because of stress and worry. Making sure that you have an effective stress management strategy is key to practicing good sleep habits.
Otherwise, you’ll probably suffer from the “leaky thoughts syndrome,” where stress is a constant hum in the back of your mind that never goes away even when you want it to.
Subsequently, you’ll find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly at night because your brain is still on overdrive from stress.
One way to prevent this is by incorporating what Cal Newport (mentioned in part I) calls a daily “shutdown ritual.” So much work-related anxiety is tied to the fact that we’re worried we haven’t done enough, or that we’ve left important work incomplete.
This is natural; according to the psychological phenomenon called The Ziegarnik Effect, unfinished tasks tend to command our attention. For most of us, since the work is neverending, that means we’re always stressed.
Newport suggests taking an extra 10-15 minutes at the end of the workday to go over your incomplete tasks to:
Once you’ve done this, it’s much easier to shut off all work thoughts from your brain. Remember, there’s a time and place for everything, including for work.
Practicing a shutdown ritual like this is vital to helping your brain counter The Ziegarnik Effect. Once you do this, it matters less that you have incomplete work, because you know that you just can come back to it the next day since you already have a plan in place for it.
The alarm goes off at 7 AM, and you can’t drag yourself out of bed. So you hit the snooze button. It rings again in a few minutes, so you hit it again and again until you finally get up at 7:45 AM.
Sound familiar? Abusing the snooze button is something a lot of us are guilty of. Logically, getting a half-hour more sleep by hitting the snooze button will help your body more than if you don’t.
Science, though, doesn’t support this. First of all, making a regular practice of repeatedly hitting the snooze button will disrupt your cardiovascular system. That, in turn, raises your stress levels unnecessarily; you’ll wake up more stressed than you would if you hadn’t abused the snooze button.
Secondly, if you fall back into a deep sleep after hitting snooze, you’re making it more taxing on your body to wake up when it needs to. Since your body will restart a new sleep cycle when you fall asleep, getting woken up by another snooze alarm a few minutes later makes it feel as though you barely had enough sleep. That probably explains those days when you don’t feel like you slept at all even though you did.
Interestingly, in her book “The Sleep Revolution,” media mogul Arianna Huffington advocates setting a “work down” alarm instead of a wake-up alarm. Letting your brain know that it’s time to rest and sleep every night can be much more relaxing than waking it up prematurely in the morning.
In fact, once your body is used to a regular sleep schedule, you’ll be less dependent on an alarm clock to wake you up since your body does that for you with its own internal circadian rhythms. It’s far less stressful than having a mad rush in the morning because you hit the snooze button too many times.
We often underestimate the effects that stimulants can have on our sleep quality. Caffeine, for example, can have such a robust energising impact on our bodies that it can last for as long as 12 hours. Hence, most experts recommend that coffee consumption should be kept to the mornings, and not later than 2 PM.
Likewise, drinking alcohol before bedtime doesn’t help you to sleep better, contrary to popular belief. It functions like a sedative; when you go to bed after drinking alcohol, you don’t fall asleep, you pass out. Consequently, you’re likelier to wake up frequently throughout the night, and still feel exhausted when you wake up in the morning. Keeping these habits up in the long-term has a detrimental effect on your stress levels.