Updated March 4, 2019: I bought a Fitbit Charge last December for one main reason, which was to start tracking my sleep more carefully. Last summer, after a surprise bout of insomnia that effectively derailed me for three days, I decided to start tracking my sleep. There are plenty of iPhone apps that will do this, but it's hard for me to remember to use any app consistently. The Fitbit promised to end that problem with its set-it-and-forget-it functionality. I just had to remember not to take it off and my part of the job was done.
The Fitbit worked, and I started recording details of last night’s sleep each morning — or, rather, Fitbit recorded it for me while I ate breakfast or checked my email. I was surprised to find that while I had assumed I was getting between 6-7 hours sleep a night, in reality it was closer to five hours.
That’s nowhere near enough time for me to be my best the next morning, and until a few months ago I didn’t realize just how bad the problem was. Maybe I hadn’t realized it in part because I was sleep deprived from such poor sleep habits.
It’s easy to trivialize this problem because for most of us it feels so temporary and easy to fix. But 30% of the adult population reports sleeping less than six hours a night, according to the CDC. Here's a list of four ways sleeping poorly can cost you.
The CDC says sleep deprivation is so widespread that it’s become a "public health epidemic" that’s linked to accidents, workplace errors, disease and reduced quality of life. I know that their list of sleep-related difficulties describes me perfectly.
More sleep means higher productivity, better workplace performance, safer roads, less stress on the body and mind, better overall health and a longer lifespan. And, better sleep can benefit you financially, as well — it’s important to note that better health usually leads to better, cheaper life insurance and long-term disability insurance coverage.
But how do you go about making your sleep habits better? Check out this guide below to get started.
Getting ready for bed
Get rid of blue lights.
Blue light is bad for your brain when it comes to getting enough sleep. But red light is better. If you use a nightlight or have other sources of light in your bedroom at night, make them red.
Don’t use your bed as a couch.
The Sleep Foundation says that it’s a lot easier to fall asleep if you treat your bed as only a bed and nothing else.
Make sure your medicine isn’t part of the problem.
If you’re taking a drug regularly then I’m almost positive you and your doctor are already on top of this. But juuuust in case you’re not, this is your reminder.
Stick to consistent sleeping and waking times.
It makes it easier for your brain to know when to start pumping out melatonin.
Avoid booze before bed.
There’s no moralizing here. It’s just that while alcohol can help get you drowsy, it doesn’t actually lead to quality sleep. It can even disrupt your sleep if its effects wear off in the middle of the night and you wake up again.
Cutting out the booze can also save you a good chunk of change over time. Here's how.
Take care of your significant other problem
If your bedmate has a sleeping problem, then congratulations, it's now your problem, although it's likely you already feel this way if you've been sleeping together for a while.
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page on money, while you're at it. Because, well, not many couples talk about it.
Address your sleep apnea
It’s very common for chronic sleep deprivation and sleep apnea to go hand-in-hand. Don’t treat this as a trivial issue. No, it’s not going to make your head blow up before you turn 45, but it’s very possible that it can cause serious health problems as you get older—and you can count on it jacking up your insurance premiums (Here's a guide to the best life insurance companies for sleep apnea.)
Tech that can help you sleep
Get a sleep tracking device.
Although I’m using a Fitbit Charge ($130), it’s far from your only option—you can find sleep trackers from companies like Jawbone and Misfit too, and prices range from $50 to over $200. To be honest, I can’t even vouch for the Fitbit's accuracy. One night I left it on the dresser by accident and the next morning it had tracked my "sleep" according to when I put it down and when I picked it up again come dawn—which would be fine except that it also somehow managed to record several times during the night when I was restless. Either I’ve got a restless ghost who keeps the same hours I do or Fitbit’s "tracking" includes a lot of "guesstimating."
Having said that, I still find the device useful because it helps keep me aware of my sleep habits on a daily basis. I also assume that even if the data it collects is only an approximation, the approximation is consistent over time, so I can still use the data as a reference point.
Don’t get a sleep tracking device.
You can also try any number of sleep tracking apps for your smartphone.
Or you can look into devices that your bed wears instead of you, like the Beddit Sleep Monitor. The Aura happens to come with a special lamp that syncs to your sleep cycle.
Not everyone is perfect with their sleep routine, and sometimes a good night's rest is out of your control — like on daylight saving time, where you automatically lose an hour of sleep. If you're worried, here are some ways to keep your routine in tact.
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Image: Mathius Vinicius