Is getting enough sleep a nightly challenge for you? Sure, you go to bed at a reasonable hour, but you wake up feeling tired, and fight off sleep for the rest of the day. 

It’s no way to live, and you need a solution that actually works. Have you heard of sleep opportunity? It’s a new concept, but a very simple one. What’s more – it’s life changing, and it just might be the solution you need to get enough sleep – finally! 

Are you getting enough sleep?

When it comes to sleep, there’s no better person to turn to than Matthew Walker, PhD. Walker is the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science and author of The New York Times bestseller and international hit, Why We Sleep. 

In his book, Walker confesses to his readers, “I am in love with sleep…I am in love with everything sleep is and does…I am in love with communicating the astonishing brilliance of it to the public. I am in love with finding any and all methods for reuniting human with the sleep it so desperately needs.”

And thanks to his love affair with sleep, Walker has spent decades exploring the wonders of sleep, how it impacts the brain and body, as well as the devastating impact of sleep deprivation. 

Suffice it to say, Walker intimately understands sleep. 

But it’s one thing to be in love with sleep. And it’s another thing to get enough of it. And he wants to make sure everyone is getting enough of this life-supporting activity, with or without his sleepy love affair.

While there are lots of tips out there for improving sleep – from writing in a journal to decorating with sleep-supporting bedroom plants – it’s still hard for most of us to get enough sleep. 

And after decades of research, Walker has come up with something simple and straightforward called “Sleep Opportunity”. And putting this into place in your own life can drastically change how you sleep and how much you sleep. 

What is Sleep Opportunity?

Sleep opportunity is the total of time you give yourself to sleep  – including when you’re actually sleeping. Therefore, Sleep Opportunity doesn’t describe “total time asleep”, but rather “total time spent before and during sleep. 

”So, let’s look at that in real life. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. So, let’s say you go to bed at 11 p.m. and set your alarm for 7 a.m. That means you’ll get eight hours of sleep, right? 

Wrong. Here’s why.

The truth is, most of us don’t go to bed and fall asleep immediately. (If you do, what’s your secret? And can you share it with everyone?)

Instead, most of us lay in bed for some time before falling asleep. And for people who give themselves even less time in bed overall, they have an even shorter sleep opportunity. 

The smaller the sleep opportunity is, the greater the risk for sleep deprivation. And with chronic sleep deprivation, there’s a increased risk for some pretty serious health problems, like cardiovascular problems, obesity and neurological breakdown.

Sleep Opportunity versus actual sleep time

Therefore, if you want to sleep for eight hours, it’s not enough to go to bed at 11 p.m. and wake up at 7 p.m. 

Sure, that gives you a sleep opportunity of eight hours, but how many of those hours will be full of actual sleep? For almost everyone, the answer is: less than eight.

And even though a sleep opportunity of eight hours would be a great start for many people, the stark reality is much different. 

According to Walker, “many individuals in the modern world only give themselves 5 to 6.5 hours of sleep opportunity, which normally means they will only obtain around 4.5 to 6 hours of actual sleep.”

How long should your Sleep Opportunity be?

In Why We Sleep, Walker gives himself a “non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity each night.” 

But what about the rest of us? Walker recommends “at least eight or nine hours in bed.”

Why Sleep Opportunity is so crucial 

Eight to nine hours might seem like a long time to lay in bed. And since many of us think we can function with very little sleep, it’s easy to dismiss Sleep Opportunity and think it’s not very important. 

But this is a costly mistake. Not getting enough sleep has severe consequences. 

We all know how dangerous drunk driving is, but what about drowsy driving? In the US alone, for example, there are 1.2 million car accidents caused by sleepiness every year.

And even if you steer clear of alcohol altogether, going without sleep for 22 hours  leaves you with the same human performance levels as someone who is legally drunk.

This means sleep deprivation severely impacts your cognitive ability, emotional regulation, reaction times and so much more. 

How to create your perfect Sleep Opportunity

Even though we should all be getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, the   perfect amount will vary from person to person. This means your Sleep Opportunity will vary slightly, too. 

Walker has created the following six tips to help you create and maintain a Sleep Opportunity that guarantees you get enough sleep every single night.

Sleep is non-negotiable

For Walker, the best way to establish your Sleep Opportunity is to create a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity for yourself and honor it. Plain and simple.

Another way to create the right Sleep Opportunity is to ask yourself the following questions.

  • Ask: How long does it take for me to fall asleep?
  • Ask: Do I usually wake up before my alarm?
  • Ask: How much time would I like to read or journal in bed?

Now, take the time amounts you got from your answers, and factor them into your Sleep Opportunity. This ensures that your Sleep Opportunity is long enough and guarantees you get enough sleep. 

Keep your sleep schedule regular

Walker recommends going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and night. Yes, even on the weekends. 

Don’t deprive yourself of darkness. 

Darkness helps the “sleep hormone”, melatonin, release to give you healthy sleep. So, dim the lights and avoid LED screens an hour before bed. LED screens emit blue light, which inhibits melatonin release and can disrupt healthy sleep. Your Sleep Opportunity is truly a time to unplug.

Keep your bedroom cool 

Even though we like to be cozy and warm in bed, make sure your room is cool. According to Walker, the ideal temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18.5 degrees Celsius. 

Why is a cool bedroom important? Your body’s core departures needs to drop in order to initiate good sleep.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine

This tip might be hard getting used to, but your sleep will thank you. Alcohol might be a sedative that knocks your brain out, but it also leads to fragmented sleep and decreases the amount of REM sleep you get – a very important component of your nightly sleep cycle.

Caffeine is also problematic because it works as a stimulant. So, even if you can drink coffee and fall asleep without any problem, the caffeine in your system prevents your deep sleep cycles from being as deep as they should be. 

Don’t lie awake in bed

If you find yourself laying in bed for 20 minutes or more without sleeping, get up! 

Here’s why: when you lie in bed wide awake, your brain associates your bed with your “awake place” rather than your “sleep place.” 

So, leave your bedroom, and go do something quiet in a dimly lit room. Perfect things to do include reading, writing and meditating. 

Remember to avoid anything stimulating like LED screens and lots of physical movement. Once you feel ready to sleep again, return to your room. This will help you retrain your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep. 

Having a eight-to-nine hour Sleep Opportunity ensures that you get enough sleep every night. And when you do, your brain, body and emotional wellbeing benefit from sleep’s healing and restorative effects. 

Doesn’t that sound absolutely dreamy?

Night owls get a bad rap. They’re seen as lazy and unmotivated, but that’s definitely not the case. Instead, the body’s internal clock and genetics play a huge role in determining whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. 

Nonetheless, night owls are forced to keep up with early risers, and this puts them at risk for being more sleep deprived than others. So, here’s what you need to know about night owls and why it’s time to stop shaming them.

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When you think about the key components of a healthy lifestyle, your mind probably jumps straight to fitness and diet. You know – the things we do, the decisions we make and the actions we take. 

But in all of our busy efforts to stay healthy, we forget about one major pillar of health: sleep. Sleep isn’t just good for us. Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset the brain and body every single day. And all we have to do is sleep. But most Americans aren’t sleeping enough. The question is: Are you?

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