Sleeping well – it’s the third of our four pillars of health. And, I’m glad to be covering this pillar, because it’s an important one for so many of us.
d If you’ve chatted with me about this topic, you know that “taking something” is often way down my list of recommendations to improve sleep quality. Sleep hygiene is about much more than a calming tea or popping a melatonin tablet. Of course, there may be a time or a place for those, but as with most areas of health, it’s often more important to deal with the bad habits and get out of our own way.
Fully one third of Canadians report being sleep deprived. Even one night of sleep loss affects hormones that control hunger and metabolism, decreases immune response, decreases memory and focus and may increase brain activity linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. For those who are chronically sleep deprived, that’s three or more nights of six or fewer hours of sleep, the risks are even more dire.
How often do you go to bed within 6 or 7 hours of when you need to be up and at ‘em?
If you’re like most people, it’s more often than you’d like to admit. You simply MUST prioritize sleep. There is no way to wake naturally, without an alarm, and feel rested and energized if you’re only allowing a minimal window for sleep. The majority of adults require 7 to 9 hours sleep for optimal health; if you’re sick or convalescing, you need more.
So, below, I’ve outlined my top 5 tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
Have A Sleep Schedule
Maintaining a sleep schedule and bedtime routine is the first step.
When my daughters were young naptimes and bedtimes were nearly written in stone. We missed many a mid-afternoon birthday party or late night dinner because we knew life was a whole lot better if we kept them on a schedule and followed a routine.
The same is true for adults. Our body’s sleep cycle functions best when we go to bed at approximately the same time every night, and wake at about the same time in the morning, with a 7 to 9 hour window in between.
Maintain A Bedtime Routine
I recently started setting a “bedtime” alarm on my phone about an hour before I actually want to go to bed. This is when I slide my phone into airplane mode and begin to disengage from the day and start my bedtime routine. I do a quick tidy, put the leftover to do’s or things I want to remember tomorrow in my calendar and let it go! This is a good time to have that calming herbal tea, have a warm bath or shower, take your magnesium, write in your gratitude journal or practice some deep breathing or meditation.
Limit Screen Time
Limiting, or even better, eliminating, the use of electronics in the hours before bedtime aids sleep in a number of ways. Our cell phones, televisions, laptops and other devices emit blue light that delays conversion of serotonin to melatonin, which is the same reason it is recommended to sleep in a dark room. If you must be exposed to screens, use amber tinted glasses or download an app like F.lux or Twilight for your devices.
Disengaging completely helps to avoid the cognitive stimulation of one more email, YouTube video, or episode… Which can keep us awake well beyond when our initial sleep cues kick in.
It makes good sense to limit the use of substances that interfere with sleep cycles, doesn’t it? But many of us struggle with this in practice.
Caffeine is the sleep-stealing villain most folks worry about. But, consider that nicotine, alcohol, theobromine (from chocolate) and sugar all act as stimulants in the brain as well. Even taken early in the day these can delay the shift from serotonin to melatonin leading to late bedtimes and troubles falling asleep. After 4 PM these stimulants can speed the shift from melatonin to serotonin production leading to early morning wakings with difficulty falling back to sleep.
For others it’s excitotoxins like MSG, aspartame, artificial food colour, especially tartrazine or preservatives, that are most commonly associated with 1 – 2 AM wakings.
Last week, Shadi covered some of the reasons that we need to “move more” – for the health of our body, mind and spirit. The benefits of movement don’t stop there! Including at least twenty minutes of physical activity in your day goes a long way to helping set our circadian rhythm. This exercise does not even need to be all at once; a ten minute walk in the sunshine on your lunch hour and a ten minute walk after dinner is an achievable goal for most of us!
When you really think about it… It’s no wonder many of us are not “tired” at the end of a day. We do a lot of sitting! Sitting in traffic, sitting at a desk, sitting in the stands cheering on kiddos, or sitting in front of the computer or television. As they say, sitting is the new smoking. Moving our bodies just a little bit more can be the difference between tossing and turning all night and a solid 8 hours sleep.
So, those are my top 5 tips to get a great night’s sleep and build-up that third pillar of health!
Have you incorporated any of these tips into your routine for better sleep? Do you have a different strategy that worked well? Tell us in the comments below!