“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
We all know how we feel after a poor night’s sleep–sluggish; we tend to overeat and feel a bit more on edge after we toss and turn at night. In contrast, we feel energized and ready to seize the day after a good night’s sleep. However, without a good night’s sleep, we can kiss our good mood and well-being good-buy! Of course, we can eat super-healthy, exercise, practice meditation, and all that jazz.
So, let’s delve into the #1 wellness tool, sleep.
Why is Sleep the #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.” Sleep sorts out our emotions, reboots our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Sleep also 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 many other diseases.
Dr. Matthew writes that even small amounts of sleep deprivation – for just one week – can elevate blood sugar levels enough for you to be classified as pre-diabetic. Not to mention the 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 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 fingers. Nonetheless, we are still subject to a 24-hour inner brain clock that regulates wake and sleep cycles, 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 them 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.
Become an observer – take notes and notice patterns. Then, review your notes and see what needs to be changed. You will be able to improve your sleep, guaranteed! It would help if you also documented your food intake, interactions, what you read, and watch (a horror movie late at night is probably not conducive to a good night’s sleep).
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 a 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. That way, when night rolls around, you will be hydrated enough to limit your beverages before bed.
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. This is especially true when it comes to sleep. Catching up on sleep during your days off won’t make up for daily lack of sleep. I would recommend an old-fashioned alarm clock. If you decide to use your phone, ensure to put it on airplane mode before sleeping and resist the urge to check it.
I started with an alarm clock. But I don’t use it any longer since I now go to sleep and wake up at the same time naturally.
3) Watch your caffeine intake.
Remember that sugary drinks like coca-cola, 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 three shots of espressos upon waking, but no later than 9:00 am. I have no issues falling asleep. However, everyone is different. You will need to keep track of your caffeine intake and figure out your own cut-off time and limits.
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 take 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 naked if you can), a 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. However, I crank it up a bit during my pre-bed bed routine.
5) Take a hot bath two hours before bed.
Not only is a hot bath 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 a sedentary lifestyle. So, incorporate movement throughout the day for better sleep. Consider investing in a standing desk or a bike desk. Take a few walks through the day, do some yoga, Pilates, or dance. Any 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 a 30-minute 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 a focused exercise and walk. The work is still there when I get back.
7) Only go to bed when sleepy.
In her book, Dr. Shelby Harris writes that you should “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 exciting, write, observe your breathing, or listen 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 a good night’s sleep. Keep at it!
9) Practice digital sunset.
The best bedroom is a dark, cool, and gadget-free bedroom.
We can upset our sleep cycle with artificial lights from our devices, lamps, and even the refrigerator light. Light signals the brain to wake up. Not to mention, when you read negative news or an upsetting email, your brain reacts to it the same way as if a tiger was 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.
When you are done with work, be done – don’t check your emails. Make a list of everything you need to do the next day–ideally three to four hours before bedtime. Create some ritual–sniff some lavender oils, curl up with a book, smile. You can even watch a relaxing film, wear blue-light blocking glasses.
Personally, I start my evening at around 4:00 pm. First, I look at my schedule for the next day and jot down five things I need to do tomorrow. If something is on my mind, I write about it and let it go. I shut down my computer, put on my cool blue-light-blocking glasses, roll out, meditate, and spend some time with my honey. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I watch an hour of my favorite TV. I also 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 the 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, so it will take some time to undo. However, change is always possible!