I love sleep. I wish I got more of it. Yet, in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult to sleep regular hours. It’s frustrating to have insomnia when you’re a neuroscientist and know the effects of lack of sleep on your brain. But I know that COVID-19 is not exactly the best environment in which to thrive. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and author, describes the human experience during COVID-19 as “languishing”—feeling joyless and aimless.
I recently learned that this nighttime habit is actually “revenge bedtime procrastination.” That’s what happens when you work a lot and decide to make “me time” by staying up late and reading on your phone. While revenge bedtime procrastination can be satisfying, it ultimately leaves you feeling more tired and less productive in the long run. It’s a lose-lose.
As a neuroscientist, here are a few things I can tell you about sleep and why you should sleep more. It may not be easy during the pandemic, but in general, it’s in your best interest to get more sleep whenever possible.
You go through all of them each night if you sleep for long enough. In general, you should aim for 7 to 9 hours a night so that you can spend enough time in each of these different sleep phases.
Phases 1 and 2 are light sleep. After about 90 minutes of sleep, your brain shifts to Phase 3, which is what is called slow-wave sleep. After slow-wave sleep, there’s rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep.
It’s thought that, during REM sleep, your brain clears away the waste products to prevent neural injury and ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. REM sleep is also a time for memory consolidation. If you’re trying to learn a lot of information, sometimes it’s more useful to make time for sleep then to try to cram everything over an all-nighter, just because of the memory boost you get from a good night’s sleep.
If you get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, your brain can get all of the different phases of sleep needed for it to stay healthy. The benefits of sleeping enough every night include a well-functioning immune system, improved mood, concentration, and attention. Furthermore, getting enough sleep can prevent the risk of dangerous automobile accidents and help your weight-loss efforts. Sleep can also improve your creativity (for all you creatives out there).
Try going to sleep at the same time each night and waking up at the same time every morning. Your body will get used to the schedule, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is also good for your mental health.
You can also decrease your caffeine intake, especially later in the day. If you read your phone at night, try turning down the brightness on your phone so that the backlight does not trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, which keeps you awake.
Even if you can’t get a full night’s sleep, taking naps here and there makes a difference. It’s better to get a little bit of sleep here and there than no sleep at all.