My guess is that if you are reading this article, sleep is a priority in your life. Or maybe it is not a priority and you are trying to make it one. Either way, you are on the right track! Because sleep should definitely be one of the most important things on your to do list. And the thing is, in modern society people often do not get enough sleep. So the question is, what to do if, or when you don’t get enough sleep? Is there a universal cure for not sleeping enough? If so, what is it?

Unfortunately it is not quite that simple. You see, there are a myriad of different reasons why people do not get enough sleep in a night. And then there is the question, what is enough sleep? How many hours do you need to set aside each night to make sure you get enough sleep? As you can see, this is quite a complex matter. But do not fear! Just keep on reading to find out what to do if you do not get enough shut eye.

Why am I (or you) not getting enough sleep?

Let’s just clarify how much sleep is enough. Sleep therapists and experts suggest that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours every night. According to recent research it would appear that women need slightly less sleep than men. And by slightly less, we are talking about anything from twenty to sixty minutes less sleep per night.

Here are a few of the most common reasons why us 21st century people don’t get enough sleep.

Bad lifestyle choices

In my book, this is the number one reason why I don’t get enough sleep. Because I choose not to. That is shocking and quite scary, to be honest. And I am pretty sure the lot of you can agree with me on this one. We do not sleep enough, because we think that partying, gaming, watching series, surfing the internet etc. is more important.

Okay, we probably do not think like this actively, but our actions show that it is true. I mean I don’t sit up at night, playing Overwatch, and actively think that winning this game is more important than sleep. But if I lose, I immediately queue for another game. Do you do the same? Even though you have work or class the next day, do you decide to rather have one more drink than to go home and sleep? Is the next episode of The Black List more important than an extra hour of shut eye?

Sadly, our minds say no to these questions, but our actions tell a different story…

Work related stress

A lot of us work in very competitive industries and environments. Keeping up with new developments in the business sector is taxing. Earning professional points to stay registered as a professional in your line of work can also be quite stressful. Then on top of that, you still need to do your actual work. You need to keep your clients and your boss happy and you must integrate with a team of people that you don’t always really get along with. All of these things can put a lot of stress on a person and it is often extremely difficult to separate work from your personal life.

Let’s face it, sometimes our work just asks too much and in the end we don’t end up knowing what to do! So we go home and when we lie in bed, we think about it. Instead of getting that much deserved, precious sleep, we lie awake and stress. This is not healthy! Not healthy at all. Because it not only robs you of time to rest, it also creates a link between lying in bed and stress. And then eventually, even if you do not have anything to stress about, when you get in bed you start stressing. Nasty business this!

Too much coffee

This one is pretty much self-explanatory. And once again I am writing for myself here. I just loooove coffee. The taste, the smell and the effect it has on me. All of it is absolutely fabulous! Except for the part where it keeps you awake at night… It is so difficult not to drink coffee, because you get bombarded with coffee ads all the time. When you watch your favourite detective show, there is always someone with a steaming cuppa. When you go shopping, there is a coffee stop around every second corner. On top of that, because we have to stay sharp for work, we drink coffee. It just never stops!

The problem with coffee and caffeinated drinks in general is that it tells your brain to be awake. Maybe you think that you don’t have trouble sleeping after having a cup of Joe before bed? I always thought that I could fall asleep after having coffee (and I can), but the quality of my sleep is quite bad if I do.  Chances are the same goes for you. So instead of drinking coffee or Coke after, or with dinner, have a cup of Rooibos tea.

Night time noise

If you live in a city, there is always some night time noise around. It can be anything, from passing traffic to noisy neighbours. There can even be sounds in your own home that keep you awake, or wakes you up during the night. Your pets might be the problem, or a dripping tap. Maybe you live in a commune and the students that you live with are more focused on partying than on getting good grades. Do you live in an area where the night life is pumping and you don’t know what to do?

If you struggle with night time noise, try downloading a white noise app on your phone and play that while you try to fall asleep. It might help.

Illness or insomnia

Sleeping disorders are quite common nowadays. In fact, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, one in three adults suffers from insomnia. That is quite scary. The thing about insomnia is that all of the above reasons for not getting enough sleep can trigger it. In other words, if you make a habit of staying up too late to party, if you decide stop partying, you may still not be able to fall asleep when you want to. Apart from what we have already discussed, there are some other causes for insomnia as well. Being depressed, having lost a loved one or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also trigger insomnia.

But let’s not forget that there are other sleeping disorders out there as well. Sure, insomnia is the one everyone has heard of, but wait, there is more! Did you know that snoring classifies as a sleep disorder? Fascinating, isn’t it? Another common one is obstructive sleep apnea. This causes you to wake up every now and then, because you can’t get enough breath. Often times people suffering from sleep apnea do not even realise it. If you feel tired after a full nights’ rest and you don’t know what to do, it might be wise to get yourself tested for sleep apnea.

What to do now?

So now that we know why we do not get enough sleep, what to do about it?

Prioritise

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to act out and say yes to more sleep! Thinking about doing less and sleeping more just won’t cut it. You have to make an active decision to cut down on your busy social schedule and to get some rest. Instead of bragging about how little you sleep, start bragging about how much you sleep. In case you haven’t noticed, sleeping is just as trendy as eating health food and exercising daily. And seeing as keeping up with trends are so important, why not hop on the #sleep bandwagon? Just to give you an idea, at this moment in time (18:01 SAST), there are 21,959,992 public posts on Instagram that boasts the sleep hashtag. That is nearly twenty two million posts!

So make sleep a priority and start posting! And while you are at it, tag us as well.

How do I prioritise sleep?

A lot of you might be thinking that it is a great idea to prioritise sleep, but you just don’t know how to go about it. So here are a couple of tips for you:

  • Diarise it. Put it down as an appointment every night. This might be cumbersome and tedious, but if it is in your diary, you have to stick to it, right?
  • Keep a sleep calendar. I know this might not work for everyone and that it makes some people anxious to think they have to document their sleep (if this is you, don’t keep a sleep calendar). If, on the other hand, you feel comfortable with keeping track of how many hours you sleep, do it. It might be interesting to see the results! What’s great about modern technology, is that your smart watch can do it for you, so you don’t have to bother with pen and paper.
  •  Take on less. What I mean by this is that when you have a full day and you get invited to go out for a drink after 8, say no. Sure, it might cost you to lose some standing with the boys or the girls, but in the end they aren’t the ones that has to do your job.

Drink less caffeine

Easier said than done. Trust me, I know. But nevertheless, we must try. Actually no. To use Yoda’s words: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Let’s challenge ourselves to drink one less cup of coffee every day. Preferably the one we usually drink last. The more time we can put between our last cup of Joe and bedtime, the better.

But now you’ll tell me that replacing that last cup of coffee will be impossible! How can you go on with your life without that cup of coffee!? Don’t be melodramatic, please. The power of imagination is strong within you. Go buy yourself some Rooibos or Chamomile tea and imagine it is coffee. Done.

Look at that delicious coffee! Hmmmm

Tell your neighbours to shut up

I’m only joking, of course. To be honest, there is not much you can do about the source of noise pollution. Unless the thing that keeps you awake is a dripping tap. If that is the case, go buy some new washers and fix it.  But what to do if your neighbours’ dog keeps on barking incessantly? What to do if you live on a busy street where the cars keep on zooming by, no matter what time of night or day?

Try using earplugs to block out the noise. If sleeping with things stuffed in your ears is not your thing, and I won’t blame you if it isn’t, maybe leave a fan on in your room. This will serve the double purpose of keeping the room cool (which is good) and blocking out irregular noises. Of course you will have to get used to the sound of the fan, but at least that is a constant noise. Maybe you are not a fan of the fan idea? Try a white noise machine or listen to soothing sounds, like the distant roll of waves or the sound of rain falling, on YouTube.

Compartmentalise

Try to leave work at work. Don’t bring projects home unless you absolutely have to! And after work, go for a jog, a swim or go to the gym. Clear your head before you walk through your front door, so that when you are at home, you can relax.

Sleep in every now and then

If you do not get enough sleep during the week, try to get some extra sleep in over the weekend. Nothing major, mind you. Don’t go sleeping until 14:00 in the afternoon! But don’t feel bad about lying in ’til 8 or 9. Sleeping is more important than early morning yoga or cycling, so if you have had a hectic week and you don’t know what to do on a Saturday morning, should you sleep some more or go to the gym? Choose sleep. Your body needs that extra bit of time to recover from the rough week. Don’t deny it.

So, now that you know what to do, switch off your phone, tablet or laptop and go to bed. Sleep well!