Adequate sleep is the single most important thing you can do for your overall health and to reduce stress.
- You will feel better tomorrow if you follow the steps below.
- Feel better = Less stress, more energy, better performance
- Simple tools below will help you get to sleep and stay asleep
There’s no denying that we feel better after a good night’s sleep, but many don’t realize how important our restful hours are to our health. Adequate good sleep is the single most important item one can do to reduce stress, as well as improve your overall health and well-being, better than diet and exercise.
The Why: Researchers have worked to discover why sleep is so important to our body’s daily functions and have recently confirmed that one of its main functions is to allow the brain to detox, repair and recover. Throughout the day, we accumulate toxins in our brains in the form of proteins and plaques. Over time, sleeping less than six hours nightly and interrupted sleep allows these to build up and break down communication between brain cells, eventually killing them and contributing to disorders such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
The most immediate effect of inadequate sleep? You just don’t feel your best the next day, have diminished performance, less focus, have a less than optimal appearance, and you are less relaxed. So why are 1 in 2 adults not logging enough sleep?
Lifestyle choices, medications, hormones, and sleep apnea are all major contributors, but for the bulk of us, the culprit is stress. It’s no surprise then that many of the sleep-promoting tools we will share with you, can also lower stress and help you to settle down before bed. The main reason we don’t get enough sleep is that we don’t understand WHY sleep is so important and we don’t prioritize sleep hygiene. Then we don’t PRIORITIZE sleep over other competing activities.
Here are some tricks to help you catch those much needed Zzz’s and feel better tomorrow:
Now: PLAN ahead for better sleep:
- The first step is to understand the importance of sleep. Sleep simply is the single most important health and well-being activity you can engage in. We will drill down on all the reasons and the studies that prove this in a subsequent post. By that time, you will have convinced yourself if you follow these simple strategies below.
- Give yourself a “lights out” and stick to it: Believe it or not, we do better as “creatures of habit.” Regular wake, eat, and sleep times create trust between your body and brain. Routine allows the brain to relax into knowing that the essentials will be covered and decreases the stress of having to adjust the system on a dime.
- Determine what time you need to awaken in the morning
- Subtract 8 hours from that time: : Awaken at 6 am – 8 hours = Lights out at 10 pm.
- Bedtime = 30 min prior to lights out. Ex: Lights out at 10 pm: In bed for chill down, relax, relate at 9:30 pm.
- Path to bedtime begins 15 min prior to bedtime, i.e., 9:15 pm, to take care of the face, teeth, personal needs.
- I look forward to this routine during the day knowing you have a plan for good sleep.
- Discuss and get buy-in from your sleep partner
During the Day:
- Take it outside: Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours indoors, depriving ourselves of the natural light that controls our circadian rhythm, or body clock. Since this clock controls metabolism, waking and sleep, keeping it ticking consistently is key. Take a walk around the block, a bike ride, fly a kite. Just 15 minutes can make all the difference.
- Have a caffeine curfew: Caffeine can affect you up to six hours before sleep. It can also make anxiety symptoms worse, which can keep you up with worry. Learn where your curfew should be and limit overall caffeine intake.
- Eat early evening and Skip the snacks: Late meals and night snacking can contribute to digestive discomforts such as acid reflux and GERD. These symptoms intensify when we eat while reclined or lay down too soon after eating. As with water, discontinuing consumption a couple of hours before bed allows digestion to complete before going horizontal. Additionally, allowing digestion to take place during waking hours means that the body is free to perform other important functions, like making our “feel-good” hormones when sleeping.
- Drink responsibly: Alcohol before bed might help you fall asleep initially, but it ultimately suppresses REM [rapid eye movement] sleep. It is very common to wake after a couple of hours and struggle to get back to sleep. Have your drink with dinner and allow a few hours for digestion before bed
- Turn off the tube (and other screens): Computers, cell phones, tablets and television emit bright light that suppress the brain’s release of our sleep hormone, melatonin. Turning off the screen at least an hour (best=3 hours) before lights out and picking up a book allows our body to get tired and fall asleep naturally. In addition, blue light filters, darkening curtains, and turning off nightlights are supportive as well.
- Don’t overwater: Drinking water is at the top of many of our personal “to-do” lists but drinking too much before bed can cause us to wake to urinate throughout the night. Humans can store up to a quart of fluid in our legs. When we lay down, we release the hold of gravity, and that fluid moves to our bladder. Limiting late evening water intake and elevating our legs for a couple of hours before sleep can eliminate mid-sleep potty breaks.
Just before lights out:
- Have an attitude of gratitude: Studies show that focusing on the things we are grateful for will help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Gratitude is related to the promotion of positive thoughts and at bedtime, it’s far easier to drift off smiling about the gifts of the day than what health insurance you are going to choose. Try jotting (yes, paper and pen—remember, no screens!) down one to three things that you are grateful for from the last 24 hours. Hopefully, “a good night’s sleep” will soon make the list.
- Get amorous: Science suggests that the increase of oxytocin, estrogen (in women), and prolactin (in men) that accompany sex and tenderness, decrease stress, and have a sedating effect that can lead to deeper sleep. Even kind words are comforting to the giver and receiver and will increase the hormones that lead to better sleep for you both.
- Use MyRelaxer to relax, relieve the tension in jaw muscles, and to move into the repair phase of life, sleep.
- Potty break: Go to the potty immediately before lights out to diminish the chances of waking in the night.
Just after lights out:
Take a breath: Studies have shown that slow, deep breathing (belly breaths) for five minutes, twice a day can cut cortisol (stress hormone) by 50%! That is staggering when you consider that a prescription medicine only needs to help 3% of the population to be considered a “miracle drug.” Deep breathing kicks the nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) mode into parasympathetic (relaxation) mode. After you slip between the sheets, try taking 10 to 15 deep and slow breaths, inhaling through your nose for 4-5 seconds, briefly pausing and exhaling through the mouth for six or so seconds. You may not make it all the way to 15 before you fall asleep J.
At 3 am when you can’t go back to sleep:
Deep, slow breaths as above work well especially if you focus on your slow, deep breaths. By combining the slow breaths withvisualizing a relaxing scenario, it will take you and your mind to another “existence” or a sanctuary for sleep. This may be:
- Lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but blue sky above you
- Snuggled in a warm mountain cabin in the forest
- Take and focus on slow, deep breaths through your nose. Focus on the air moving in and out through your nostrils and into your body. If an intruding thought arises (which it will), dismiss it graciously like a leaf floating down a gentle stream, and return your focus to your breathing.
Humans are “thinking machines.” Those intruding thoughts and worries are just normal. They will not be so important when you awaken in the morning. When they do arise, acknowledge them, place them on that virtual leaf, and let them float away. Sweet dreams.