“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
You know how you feel sluggish, tend to overeat, and feel a bit more on edge after you toss and turn at night as your anxiety wraps around your brain like a porcupine blanket. In contrast, you feel energized and ready to seize the day after a good night’s sleep. Of course, you could eat super-healthy, exercise, practice meditation, and all that jazz. However, without a good night’s sleep, we can kiss our good mood and well-being good-buy!
So, let’s delve into the #1 wellness tool, sleep.
Why Sleep Is #1 Wellness Tool?
Dr. Matthew Walker (Ph.D. and a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley) explains sleep in his famous book “Why We Sleep by Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.” Firstly, sleep sorts out our emotions, reboots our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Secondly, sleep enhances our ability to learn and make better decisions. On the other hand, lack of sleep is linked to depression, anxiety, immune system issues, skin problems, overeating, and a plethora of other diseases.
Dr. Matthew writes that even small amounts of sleep deprivation – for just one week – can elevate blood sugar levels for you to be classified as pre-diabetic. Not to mention, disruption in a hormone cycle (which is important for men and crucial for women). In other words:
“The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life span.”
Another surprising side-effect of sleep deprivation is a weight gain. If you feel like you craving junk food, it might be due to the lack of sleep.
What is Sleep?
You probably heard the term Circadian rhythm. We live in symbiotic relationships with our planet and the universe at large. It is so easy to forget when the control of our environment is at the tips of our fingertips. Nonetheless, we are still subject to a 24-hour inner brain clock that regulates cycles of awakens and sleepiness, and our behavior is shaped by the Earth’s rotation around its axis.
Hopefully, by now, you are convinced that sleep is essential for your well-being. So, let’s unpack a few proven strategies to help you out. I would recommend picking one or two easy strategies that you can implement immediately and make it a part of your routine. Come back in a few weeks, and see if anything else resonates with you. Start a journal and become your own sleep doctor.
Document your food-intake, interactions, what you read, and watch (horror movie late at night probably not conducive to a good night’s sleep). Firstly, become an observer – take notes and notice patterns. Next, review your notes and see what needs to be changed. You will be able to improve your sleep, guaranteed!
10 Proven Strategies to Improve Your Sleep
1) Limit all drinks to three hours before bed.
It is pretty obvious, but somehow, you may forget that the full bladder will keep you awake. So, stay hydrated during the day. Start your day with a big glass of warm water with lemon, and brew your favorite tea to sip.
2) Stick to the same schedule.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends. As creatures of habit, we have a hard time adjusting to changes in anything. Likewise, this is especially true when it comes to sleep. Catch-sleeping during your days-off won’t make up for lack of sleep daily. You can get an old-fashioned alarm. If you decide to use your phone, ensure to put it on airplane mode before going to sleep and not to check it.
Keep a notebook and figure out how long you need to sleep during the night. Also, you can use Dr. Shelby Harris’s book and worksheets to help you out with the process.
I started with an alarm clock. But I don’t use it any longer since I go to sleep and wake up at the same time naturally.
3) Watch your caffeine intake.
Remember that empty sugary drinks like coca-cola (yak, can’t imagine you would be drinking it, but still I have to mention), certain teas, and chocolates all contain caffeine. The effects of caffeine linger in your system for about eight hours. So, a cup of coffee, chocolates, or caffeinated tea would defiantly keep you awake. If you smoke, consider quitting. And, trust me, I know it is hard, As a former smoker, I can relate. Nonetheless, in addition to all damages that nicotine does to your body, it is also a stimulant and will keep you up.
I drink thee shots of espressos upon waking, but no later than 9:00 am. I have no issues falling asleep. However, your constitution might be different. You need to keep track of your caffeine intake and figure out your cut-off time.
4) Keep your bedroom cool.
At nighttime, your body temperature drops—the signal to slow down and rest. By keeping your bedroom cooler, you’re reinforcing your body’s instinct to sleep. If the room is too hot, it could block that signal and it will be longer for you to fall asleep. Not to mention, the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees helps the body to produce melatonin. In addition to promoting sleep, melatonin is also a powerful anti-aging hormone. Consider using fewer layers (sleep nacked if you can), lighter blanket, and open windows.
We live in a colder climate in the high Colorado mountains. We use a nest to control the room temperature. It is set to 65 degrees during winter. But, I crank it up a bit during my pre-bed bed routine.
5) Take a hot bath two hrs before bed.
Not only the hot bath is super relaxing, but the drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath will help you feel sleepy. Interestingly, the cooling effect following the hot bath is what helps you to fall asleep.
6) Move throughout the day.
Working out for an hour in the gym and sitting for the rest of the day is considered leading a sedentary lifestyle. So, incorporate movement through the day for better sleep. Consider investing in the standing desk and a bike desk. Take a few walks through the day, do some yoga, Pilates, or dance. Any type of movement where your mind/body and soul are all engaged. Look for opportunities to move.
I work from home in bursts. My timer is set for 1:15 minutes, where I am hyper-focused on work followed by 30 minutes break. I get up and stretch, dance, do 5-minute yoga, and go outside. Not to mention, I block my calendar each morning between 6:00 and 8:00 am to get focused exercise and a walk. The work is still there when I get back.
7) Only go to bed when sleepy.
In her book, Dr. Shelby Harris writes, to train your brain that your bed is for sleeping and sex only. Don’t lie in bed, awake. If you find yourself awake for more than twenty minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious, get up, and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Don’t default to your phone for social media surfing. You can read printed books that are not too excited, write, observe your breathing, or listing to some tunes. Try not to look at the clock. Don’t worry about not being able to fall asleep. Just chill out for an hour or so and get back to it. Remember, it takes practice to cultivate good night sleep. Keep at it!
9) Practice digital sun-set.
The best bedroom is a dark bedroom, a cool bedroom, and a gadget-free bedroom.
We can upset our sleep cycle with the artificial lights from our devices, lamps, and even the refrigerator light. The light signals the brain to wake up. Not to mention, when you read negative news or upsetting email, your brain reacts to it the same way as if the tiger is chasing you.
Get rid of anything in your bedroom that distracts you from sleep. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom is a distraction that doesn’t belong to your bedroom.
When you are done with work, be done – don’t check your emails. Make a list of everything you need to do ideally three to four hours before bedtime. Create some kind of ritual, sniff some lavender oils, curl up with a book, smile. You can even watch a relaxing film, just wear blue-light blocking glasses.
Personally, I start my evening at around 4:00 pm. Firstly, I look at my schedule for the next day and jolt down with five things I need to do tomorrow. If something is on my mind, I write about it and let that go. I shut down my computer, put on my cool blue light blocking glasses, roll out, meditative, and spend some time with my honey. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I watch an hour of my favorite TV. I use this time to stretch.
10) Get plenty of sunshine during the day.
Daylight is key to regulating sleep patterns. Get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day (preferably wearing very little or nude if you can; do wear sunblock on your face). Try to go outside as much as you can even during winter months.
I take a walk each day in the morning in addition to some nude sunbathing during summer.
There is probably a lot more to say about sleep. However, I tried to keep it simple and short. Remember, don’t get anxious about not being able to sleep. It took you a long time to develop bad habits. And, it will take some time to undo. However, change is possible!
So, Happy Sleeping!