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Are you having trouble sleeping or just don't have the time to sleep a full night? If so, it might seem like a far-fetched idea to get 7 hours of sleep each night. Nonetheless, this is attainable - and not just attainable but desirable. According to the CDC sleep recommendations, adults aged 18 to 60 years need 7 hours of sleep a night (see reference 1).
And no, 6 hours of sleep is not enough! That said, 6 hours is better than 5, and so on. So if you're getting very little sleep, your aim will be to gradually work your way up to 7 hours from where you are now. Don't worry, this is a realistic goal, just don't expect it to happen instantly. Changes take time and consistency.
Here's how to sleep for 7 hours. There are 2 different pathways which I'll go into for how to sleep better, depending on whether you are:
- struggling with getting to sleep, or
- tired and can sleep, but don't have enough time to sleep because there's too much that needs to be done in a day
You can certainly use tips from both pathways, which are shown below.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this is not intended as medical advice. Instead these are helpful tried-and-tested tips and advice. See a physician if you suspect a sleep disorder. Also, there are many underlying medical conditions that can result in loss of sleep, and only a medical professional can diagnose and treat these.
Pathway 1 - how to sleep for 7 hours if you can't easily fall asleep
If you struggle with how to fall asleep, then most of your changes will affect the evening more so than the morning. It's not quite as simple as subtracting 7 hours from the time you need to wake up, because it could take some time to fall asleep. Also, there are things you'll need to do first before hopping into bed.
To begin with, subtract 8 hours from the time you need to wake up (yes 8, to account for the fact that it could take awhile to get to sleep at first). This will be your bedtime. If this feels impossibly early, yes, it will seem odd, but this is what you'll need to get used to. Don't stress - simply aim to do this for 10 days in a row, and you'll soon see improvement.
Don't look upon this as a "forever" change (even if you want it to be). Making big lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming and limiting, so look upon this as just a 10-day challenge. Then if it's working out well for you at that point, which it really should if you do it for 10 days, you'll have plenty of intrinsic motivation to continue this way.
Make yourself tired
If your body is worn out and exhausted, you'll have no option but to sleep. So you need to make yourself tired each and every day. This makes your limbs looser and more relaxed in addition to you just being generally worn out and automatically primed for sleep. Here is how to get tired fast.
Set a reminder for about an hour before your bedtime (you calculated your bedtime in the previous section). When that reminder goes off, set a 15 minute timer, or longer if you can handle longer. During that time, do exercises - anything that uses all parts of the body is good. You don't need to do a bunch of aerobics if that's not "you". Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, are good. Resistance bands are also great. And of course yoga is ideal for stretching and tiring out the muscles. Whatever you decide, just make sure you're using all body parts at some point during the exercise routine.
Do not do anything special like joining a gym for this. That just adds an unnecessary extra layer of friction (having to get there and back) which will make it harder to be motivated to actually do the exercises.
The longer the time for which you can sustain your exercise routine beyond 15 minutes, the better. Not only will you tire yourself out to sleep better with a longer exercise session, but also you'll reap the general health benefits of exercising, so it's a win-win. You literally can't lose!
If you're normally at another commitment an hour before your calculated bedtime (e.g. meetings, class, work) and cannot exercise at that time, then you'll need to fit in your exercise into another part of your day. You'll still need to get this done to help ensure your body is tired at the end of the day. This exercise could be first thing in the morning, or immediately after coming home from work, or anytime you're watching TV, for example. You do need to find those 15 minutes somewhere.
Train your subconscious to want to sleep
The previous step focused on the body. But you also want your mind to be taken care of as well. Therefore if you need help sleeping, your aim should be for your subconscious to want to sleep. I'm betting that it doesn't want to do that right now, otherwise you wouldn't be in this pickle. Have no fear, there is a solution: here are easy everyday tips for how to train your subconscious to desire sleep.
Use proper sleep hygiene
You're almost certainly familiar with the term "sleep hygiene" but for anyone who isn't, it doesn't refer to showering or body hygiene, instead it refers to sleep habits. The idea here is to keep healthy daytime behaviors which relate to bedtime. We already covered exercising before bedtime and training your subconscious when you're ready to sleep. But general daily behaviors relating to sleep will additionally improve your success at sleeping. Best sleep hygiene habits are:
- Use your bed only for sleeping. Do not use it for reading, studying, watching YouTube, or anything else. When you do any of those things, do it elsewhere (sofa or beanbag, for example) - just not on your bed. This helps associate your bed with sleep and nothing but sleep, allowing you to get to sleep faster
- Use a sleep mode on your phone and/or charge it across the room from where you sleep, so you won't hear it easily at night
- Avoid caffeine altogether if possible, or if not then limit it only to the mornings
- Don't eat sugary snacks before bed - they'll leave you and your body too hyped up to sleep. If you'd like a snack, pick something healthy, filling and non-sugary, such as a boiled egg, carrot sticks, olives, etc. Ideally you don't want your stomach to feel too full or too empty before bedtime, so eat accordingly
Set yourself up for a successful morning
It's much easier to get to sleep when you have the peace of mind knowing you've got your clothes picked out for tomorrow morning and have gotten ready any items you need to bring with you to work or school. So after your evening exercise routine, just spend 5 minutes doing things that will make your morning easier.
Don't think of this as "just another thing to do", instead look upon it as an investment in your tomorrow's self.
If your head is spinning with thoughts when you try to sleep, this is something you need to correct. Here is how to sleep better with anxiety:
- Keep a journal near your bed. Before going to sleep, write a heading "Things to deal with tomorrow or later" and write down any concerns you have under the heading. This way you're not ignoring legitimate concerns - you're going to look at those things, but just not tonight. Tonight is for sleeping.
- If anxiety continues to be an issue for you either at bedtime or generally during the day, seek counseling. There is a lot that a therapist can do to mitigate anxiety, and this will be a huge help if you can't sleep easily.
Conclusion for if you can't get to sleep easily
To sum up, the changes you need to make if you need help sleeping are: make yourself tired with exercise, train your subconscious to desire sleep, use proper sleep hygiene, and set yourself up for a successful morning.
Remember to aim for just 10 days at first otherwise it will feel too overwhelming. Keep consistent. You can do it!
Pathway 2 - how to sleep for 7 hours if you don't have enough time to sleep
If you could easily sleep but simply don't have the time to, here are some suggestions. You'll notice that these involve a lot of taking stock and soul-searching, which is hard to do especially if you're suffering from sleep deprivation, but in the long run this is what's going to work.
First of all, if you're a new parent, this is somewhat of an exception (but there's still hope!) - it's sadly not realistic that you'll get 7 hours of sleep in a row in those young baby days since you'll need to get up and feed baby during the night. The solution: you should certainly try for 7 hours spread out throughout the day if you can by napping when the baby naps. Hopefully you have some parental leave from work during that time which allows you to do that. Rest assured this phase of your life doesn't last forever, even if it feels like it at the time. In this situation as a new parent, take up any and all offers of help and babysitting! Once baby is sleeping through the night (typically around 3 months old), you'll be able to sleep through the night as well.
For everyone else who is not a new parent, here are tips for what to do if you don't have 7 hours available to sleep because of work, school or something else. I've tried to cover most situations; some things will apply to you but not others and vice versa.
Set boundaries when it comes to your late evening and early morning schedule
Don't suffer from sleep deprivation for someone else's responsibilities - set boundaries. Your responsibilities are your work or school and your spouse and kids. For anything else, set boundaries on what hours you're contactable and/or available to help others out. Do not be available after a certain time in the evening or before a certain time in the morning.
Even if you've been allowing yourself to be contactable or available for other people's responsibilities until now, this is the time to stop. Of course, if that's not the cause of your sleep deprivation and you're happy to continue to do it, that's fine. But if you've somehow gotten stuck with helping someone out on a regular basis and it's a time suck and/or it affects your late nights or early mornings, you need to stop. Here is a guide for how to handle this.
In this type of situation, you really do need to talk with the other person, even if you really hate confrontation and would prefer to avoid it. Simply say something like "Hey, I'm giving you the heads-up that I can't help you anymore everyday/weekdays/whatever with x. This is because it's really impacting my sleep and it's just not working out for me any more."
If you really wish to, you can add "I can help you in a true emergency, but you'll need to make other arrangements for routine days because it just doesn't work for me any more". Don't go into more details other than it's impacting your sleep and it doesn't work for you any more. If the relationship sours over this, then they weren't being a real friend to you anyway and were just using you. So either way, you win: they'll either a) respect your boundaries and not ask you for help with that anymore and be actually grateful for all the time that you did help them, or b) they'll get mad at you, in which case fine, they're better out of your life - there is no need to try to appease them or make them happy. Stick with what you said and repeat it if they try to argue with you.
Even if it's hard for them to come up with another option to fill in for what you'd been doing, that's not really your problem, it's theirs. An adult aged 18 and up should be expected to be self-sufficient with their own responsibilities. Even if they have good reason to ask for help (e.g. their work schedule results in a gap in childcare), that is really their problem not yours. Their job and their kids are not your responsibility. Ultimately it's up to them to try to switch jobs or do whatever to make it work, but that's not up to you to arrange your life around them.
If you work 2 jobs that don't let you have enough sleep
Assuming you're not taking on other people's responsibilities, you just have too many of your own responsibilities such as 2 jobs, is there any way you can adjust your schedule for one of those jobs? If not, have you thought of changing out whichever job pays the least (or whichever job you enjoy the least) for a different job or side gig? Or would you be able to switch out both of those jobs for a full-time job instead? Would you be willing to take on a full-time job that paid a little bit less than your 2 part time ones together, for the fact of getting more sleep (this could include moving to a cheaper place to live)?
I'm sure you've already thought of those things before at some point, but maybe the job market or housing market in your area has improved between then and now. So take a look and see what options may currently be available to you.
Take stock of non-essential activities
If part of the problem is that you have a ton of evening activities, such as clubs and hobbies, is it time to let one or more of those go? If you get a lot of pleasure from it, by all means keep on with it, but consider if there's something you can do differently. For example, is there another group in town for that type of hobby that meets at a more convenient hour for you? Maybe it's worth trying it out.
Don't quit everything outside of work or school - that would be a pretty tough existence mental health-wise. But if you have, say 4 activities, it's OK to drop one or more if it'll improve how many hours you have available to sleep.
Get ideas from a friend
Often a close friend can see solutions that we ourselves don't see, especially a friend that lives in the same city and understands costs, commute times, etc. Go to coffee with a friend and explain your problem of not physically having enough hours to sleep, and then ask them what changes they think you should make in your life. You might be surprised, your friend might have some great ideas. Getting a second and third opinion from other friends or even from relatives is also a good idea.
If you're in "survival mode" and sleep deprived, you won't be seeing the big picture well anyway. It's not your fault, you're just not getting enough sleep and it's hard to think and plan for a better solution in that situation. So get suggestions from your friends.
People you ask for advice will be thrilled and flattered that you asked them, and will definitely put lots of thought into how you can improve your ability to sleep. Many minds are better than one!
Remember, most of these people will have no clue you've been struggling until you tell them.
Keep open-minded about any solutions they offer. Don't automatically say "well, it won't work because of x". Instead say something like "Wow, that sounds interesting! I was wondering how it would mesh with x". This lets your friend factor in whatever x is and either discard the idea or offer a new solution that incorporates x.
Conclusion for if you don't have enough time to sleep for 7 hours
To get enough sleep hours when you don't physically have time to sleep for 7 hours you need to really take stock of what's going on in your life. This is particularly the case for things you need to do in the late evening or early morning.
In this situation, the best sleep help you can get is to set boundaries as to when you can be contacted, consider major changes if you're working 2 jobs, limiting some of your hobbies or other evening activities, and getting advice from a friend who lives in the same area as you.
- How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2022, September 14). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html