It goes without saying: Sleep is important. From preventing forgetfulness to impacting your life expectancy, there’s a laundry list of health reasons you should be getting quality sleep each night. However, reaching that goal isn’t always easy. It can be difficult to find the correct code of hacks to unlock your sleep potential and get the rest your body needs.
Shelby Harris, a clinical sleep psychologist, is aiming to crack that code through partnership with the popular meditation app and mental health brand Calm. Harris and Calm have published a working understanding of the “five sleep languages” — a sectioning off of a few different sleeping patterns (or lack thereof) to give people more actionable steps to achieve better sleep.
Harris said she came up with the five different sleep languages after considering differences among her patients over her 20 years of experience and noticing that there are a handful of categories that they tended to fall into.
“We can give people a whole list of sleep hygiene targets to follow or when they should see a sleep doctor, but sometimes it’s a little overwhelming for people,” Harris said. The goal of the different sleep languages is to meet people where they are in their sleep health journey.
“It helps to guide where they want to go with what they can start with.”
Read on to learn more about your sleep language and how to use this knowledge to improve your sleep. For more advice on how to improve your sleep quality, here are eight ways to promote sleepiness and how your diet is linked to your sleep.
The 5 sleep languages, and tips for speaking yours
Harris has landed on five sleep languages, but it’s important to note you can switch between them throughout your lifetime, she says.
Below are the five sleep languages, as described in Calm’s blog.
1. The ‘gifted’ sleeper
If you’re a gifted sleeper, you probably appear to the people around you just as that — gifted, in the name of sleep. Maybe you can fall asleep anywhere, no matter the noise or background light, or you have no problem napping. Any way you slice it, the gifted sleeper typically doesn’t have a problem falling or staying asleep.
Tips for the gifted sleeper
While this may seem like the “best” sleep language category to belong to, objectively speaking, gifted sleepers might want to see a sleep doctor if they’re sleeping too much, as it could be a sign of a health condition. It can be especially important to follow up with a doctor if you’re sleeping a lot but still not feeling well rested.
But if there isn’t something else at play, consider whether you’re actually playing catchup on sleep deprivation and whether you can benefit from a stricter sleep routine, according to the Calm post.
2. The ‘words of worry’ sleeper
If you’re a “words of worry” sleeper, you might know who you are. Your brain is loud at night, clouded with the “what ifs” of the day, and what you have to get done tomorrow. Whether it be the past or the present, a words of worry sleeper is focused on another time other than the present and the physical focus at hand: sleep.
Tips those who worry about sleep
“I have a lot of patients that come to me where their brains just won’t turn off,” Harris said. If you can relate to this, be clear on your sleep boundaries and limit things like screen time, or cross-contaminating nonsleep activities in the bedroom, like work. You may also benefit from adding a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation to your day, or trying this CNET to-do list hack for better sleep.
3. The ‘routine perfectionist’ sleeper
If you’re a perfectionist sleeper, you may have followed our sleep advice a little too hard to the detriment of your happiness, and sometimes, your sleep. You may be a perfectionist sleeper if you find yourself missing out on fun events, or other special occasions that may be important to you, over fear of having one night of poor sleep. Or when something or someone throws your sleep off, you’re irritated.
“Those people I often see because they used to be a words of worry person or have some type of sleep issue, that then they became hyperobsessed with it,” Harris said.
Tips for those a little too perfect about sleep
As laid out in the Calm blog, perfectionist sleepers will benefit from a little more flexibility and switching things up — things that will create “less attachment” to your sleep routine. To get started, move around the order of your sleep routine slightly (maybe you’ll brush your teeth before you put on your pajamas today, for example).
Like the other sleep languages, a perfect sleeper may benefit from practicing mindfulness, which can improve your ability to relate to anxiety-inducing thoughts in a way that’s not so stressful.
4. The ‘too hot to handle’ sleeper
It’s in the name, but if you’re too hot to handle, you’re too hot to sleep. Menopause, perimenopause, other health conditions or even a mismatched bed partner with a different internal temperature can make you too hot to handle.
Tips for sleep hotties
If you’re waking up drenched in sweat, or you’re finding yourself frequently uncomfortable at night, check in with your doctor to see what underlying health condition may be at play. Medication side effects or hormonal changes can also influence how warm you feel at night, as the Calm post points out.
But if your bed partner is the culprit, follow this CNET tip and consider getting two separate blankets or comforters, which can also cut down on blanket tug-of-war.
5. The ‘light as a feather’ sleeper
Light sleepers wake up easily from noise, light or even a strong smell. If you’re light as a feather, you might wake up in the morning after a solid seven or eight hours on the pillow still feeling unrested or sleepy.
Tips for those light as a feather
If you’re restless and not getting the quality of sleep you want, consider sharpening your bedtime routine and adding a bit more structure — including setting those bed boundaries, like not scrolling through social media or eating in your bed. (Loose crumbs itching your bare legs may be the last thing a light sleeper needs.)
Calm and Harris also suggest reaching out to a sleep professional if you’re concerned about the quality of your rest, screening for sleep conditions such as sleep talking, grinding teeth and sleep apnea.
The connection between mental health and sleep
Harris says she decided to partner with Calm in response to the current mental health crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated symptoms of anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health conditions. Mental health can be improved or harmed by someone’s sleep patterns.
Sleep deprivation, in particular, can affect your ability to stay in control of your emotions or come up with solutions to seemingly not-so-complicated problems that can feel like the end of the world when you’re sleep-deprived. (I asked Harris if there was any truth to my feeling like I regress to a child’s ability to handle emotions when I’m sleep-deprived, and she explained that sleep deprivation disrupts the part of our mind responsible for reasoning and judgment, and our ability to toggle between states, or our cognitive flexibility.)
“With sleep deprivation in general, we find higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of depression, higher rates of stress,” she said. “And we find their stress tolerance and ability to cope with daily stressors becomes much more difficult.”
The critical component is REM sleep, which you may be deficient in if you’re regularly lacking sleep. This could lead to problems in your relationship or at work.
“REM sleep is really important for emotion processing, memories,” Harris said. “If you’re waking up early or you’re not getting enough REM sleep routinely, you’re gonna have trouble with irritability, depression, anxiety, all that jazz.”
Another bottom line on good sleep
Despite the number of times we preach the health benefits of sleep, there’s a thread in society that may be pushing back against the idea that healthy sleep trumps all. But according to Harris, “No pun intended, you’re living in a dream world a little bit,” if you’re trying to check off everything else on the wellness list before you start prioritizing sleep. Centering sleep will help you stabilize and prioritize all the other tasks you have during the day.
“We have to stop the hamster wheel somewhere, and if you stop it by prioritizing sleep, it makes the daytime run smoother.”