Go to sleep. No, seriously, go to sleep.
I'll be the first to admit that I absolutely love sleep. More precisely, I love the feeling of being mentally alert, energetic, creative, and "in the zone." I personally consider it a little "mental health hack," but in today's society, saying you love sleep can immediately invoke images of laziness and lethargy. Instead, we tend to glorify things ideas like "sleep is for the weak" and "I'll sleep when I'm dead." When we do that, we forget the massive health benefits of something that is a core part of our basic human function.
Quality sleep improves cognitive and athletic performance, reduces hunger and inflammation, increases immune system function along with glucose homeostasis, and boosts creativity. Basically, you go from "regular you" to "superhero you" by changing up one of the most basic parts of your day.
Imagine walking into the gym with the intention of only giving it 50 percent effort, or walking into a final exam deciding you'll only try ... a little. Ideally, you wouldn't do either of these things. However, in the U.S., we've managed to de-prioritize sleep in our quest for "the hustle."
We're looking for more energy, and we're looking everywhere for it.
In 2016, the U.S. energy drink market was estimated at over 14.3 billion, and the mental supplements and nootropics industry is projected to reach $11.6 billion by 2024. Those are pretty significant numbers in our search for both energy and peak mental performance — all of which are directly tied to getting quality sleep.
While the "right" amount of sleep is different for everyone, successful entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington, and Bill Gates are among many that make time for at least seven hours of quality sleep per night.
Insulin sensitivity is affected, and normal glucose metabolism is disrupted. Whether you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or have a typically-behaving pancreas, taking care of yourself by taking care of your metabolic function.
You're more likely to get hungry. Leptin levels are lowered and ghrelin levels go up, which means you're more likely to reach for the quick, easy, processed snacks hiding in the back of the cupboard in an effort to get that energy boost your body craves.
Your cognitive performance, athletic performance, and creativity are impaired. You're running at half your normal function, which means you're both less clever and doing less in the gym. Who wants that?
Greater immune system function. Consider how many people you encounter every day, and then think about how much your immune system does for you. Make sleep a priority, and your immune system will love you right back.
Better performance in the gym. I'm not saying you'll walk in as Bruce Banner and walk out as The Hulk, but if you want to be your own superhero, start with a solid night's sleep.
Better cognitive performance and creativity. Consider better sleep the easiest and most natural "hack" for getting smarter and more creative.
Start with better nutrition. In an article published by the American Nutrition Association, Dr. Pauline N. Harding outlines the connection between eating lower glycemic index foods and the resulting lower cortisol levels, which directly impacts sleep. Maintaining a diet of low glycemic-index foods (like ours!) not only helps your insulin during your waking hours, but can also help you achieve a better sleep cycle. (Which in turn helps you maintain glucose metabolism during your waking hours, and so on.)
Develop better habits. For some people, the ritual of shutting off electronics 30 minutes before bed (or even placing phones in another room) can make a huge difference. Outline a nightly routine that makes quality sleep a priority, rather than an afterthought.
Use apps or meditation. I used to sleep best in absolute silence, but having a house full of theatrical roommates changed all that. To drown out the noise of late-night tabletop gaming, I learned to sleep with a white noise machine and some degree of background noise. Since then, I've been a huge fan of Headspace. Between sleepcasts and wind-down meditation, there's always something that will do the trick.
Check out data-tracking and wearables. FitBit and Apple Watch are fantastic tools to track your movement during sleep and gauge your sleep quality. Oura Ring is the ring version of a wearable watch, but with the specific focus of sleep rather than overall movement tracking. If you choose to keep your phone nearby, Sleep Cycle is an app with the same end goal.
Photo (man asleep): Hutomo Abrianto/Unsplash
Photo (feet): Pixabay/Pexels
Photo (girl asleep): Kha Ruxury/Pexels