Ah, sleep! We all have various feelings about it - some love it and can't get enough time with their pillow, others feel it's a waste of time that could be spent in more productive ways, and if you're like me, you know you feel better when you've had a good night of it, but find it hard to make that time a priority. Bedtime at 8pm to get enough before a 4am wakeup time (twice a week for me)? That's an all-too-unlikely occurrence, unfortunately.
Just like our varying sentiments about sleep, every person's needs for sleep vary, as well. Whatever your personal sleep needs may be, you know how you feel when these needs aren't met; groggy, unfocused, low-energy, maybe hungrier and crankier. Yikes. Inversely, think back to a time when you were able to really get the solid sleep you needed; you were most likely energetic, in a better mood, and were super productive. And while these qualities can be mimicked by using stimulants (caffeine or sugar) to perk us up briefly, let's be real. You know in your heart of hearts that pumping your body full of uppers to replace real rest is not a sustainable practice for a life of vitality. Yes, those of you who would have an IV drip of coffee if possible, I'm talking to YOU.
Besides that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed feeling you get when you wake up after a true good night's sleep, sleeping well has tons of other benefits that you may not realize.
- Improved immunity! Sleep is the body's opportunity to repair and heal itself. Therefore if you are exposed to viruses or are already sick, your immune system does a ton of work while you get shut-eye to return your body to homeostasis. Let it do it's thing!
- Better performance in your workouts! When you exercise, you break down your muscles, and when you sleep, your body has the opportunity to repair them. This makes you stronger, decreases muscle soreness and shortens the amount of recovery you need between workouts. Boom.
- Weight loss and maintenance! When you don't get enough sleep, your body doesn't produce enough leptin, a hormone that signals fullness to your brain, so you are more likely to overeat. Also, sleep deprivation raises the stress hormone cortisol, which is a direct contributor to unhealthy (and unseemly) visceral belly fat. This type of fat (as opposed to the healthier, normal fat around thighs and hips) has been linked to the development of diabetes and insulin resistance. Sleeping enough also increases the body's production of melatonin, which has been shown in studies to aid weight loss.
- Increased sex drive! Because, well, you're not too tired to get busy.
- Improved memory and problem solving! When you sleep, your brain processes what's happened in your day, storing that information, and making new and useful connections in associative networks, so that you may wake up smarter, or with a creative solution to a problem that was bothering you. Literally, sleep on it!
Convinced now? I hope you feel a little more inspired to make more of a commitment to improving your sleep quality. The following tips have been instrumental for me in getting enough sleep. Try some out, figure out what works for you, hit the hay, and wake up feeling like the rockstar you are.
1. Cut (down on) the caffeine!
I promise, coffee-devotees, that I am not asking you to give up your precious morning cup completely! Just try to cut back! Caffeine can affect sleep up to 12 hours after it is consumed, so try to have your last caffeinated beverage before 2pm at the LATEST.
CAFFEINATE WISELY: Go slow. If you drink 3-4 caffeinated beverages a day, try reducing your intake to 1-2, before lunchtime. If you want to try going cold tofu (vegan speak for cold turkey), you can still enjoy your morning ritual with herbal tea (rooibos is my favorite with steamed almond or coconut milk), decaf coffee, or grain or dandelion "coffee" like Teeccino or Dandy Blend. They taste like coffee and are non-acidic and naturally caffein-free!
2. Eat early and smart!
This one can be tough, but crucial. When you eat a big meal too close to bedtime, your body is often still very busy digesting it, which doesn't allow you to be in a completely restful state conducive to good sleep. You are also more likely to have to get up to use the restroom during the night, or to have heartburn or reflux, which can also impair sleep.
EAT DINNER AT LUNCH: Aim to have your last meal at least 3 hours before heading to bed (4, if possible). Also, try to make this meal on the lighter side. Include complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (think brown rice and quinoa, not bread or pasta) that won't spike your blood sugar and hype you up. Meals heavy in saturated fat are difficult to digest and can inhibit sleep, and hot spices like red pepper or cayenne have a stimulatory effect so these foods should also be avoided close to bedtime. Try eating your biggest meal at lunchtime instead of dinner!
3. Set sleep dates with yourself!
You probably know what amount of sleep makes you feel your best and brightest - so plan to get it! When planning your day, set a bedtime and stick to it! Factor in the time it takes you to get ready for bed and wind down, so that you will be ready to hit the road to dreamland at the time you set. While this can be challenging, the more you get in the routine of keeping your bedtime date with yourself, the easier it will be and you may really start to look forward to that special time of day.
GAME PLAN: Set a bedtime goal that is half an hour earlier than you think it should be - that way, if you get wrapped up in something, you can still hit the hay in enough time to get your proper amount of shut-eye. Put it in your planner, even! Whatever it takes to hold yourself accountable.
4. Enjoy some mood lighting!
Melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle, is regulated naturally by light exposure. Most of us spend so much time indoors away from natural light that it can make us sleepy during the day, and artificial, bright light at night can suppress melatonin production and make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. The blue light from cell phones and computer screens is especially stimulating and can suppress melatonin production. When you get more exposure to natural light during the day and less bright light in the evening, your body will naturally start to regulate its own sleeping cycle so that you can really get quality sleep in the PM and be extra wakeful in the AM.
LET THE SUNSHINE IN:
This is two-fold:
1. If you work indoors, open the curtains and blinds to let natural light in as much as possible. Take breaks to just walk outside. Ditch the sunglasses for awhile, letting natural light in through your retina so that it registers in your brain and starts that melatonin regulation process!
2. At night, ditch the tech an hour before snooze time if you can! Turn phones and devices on airplane mode so you won't be tempted to re-engage by notifications, and shut the computer DOWN (because it needs sleep just like you do too!).
***If the thought of so much disconnecting sounds terrifying to you, you have a particularly demanding job that requires you to be reached at all times, or you do your reading on your iPad, there's hope for you and your phone yet! There is an app that can be installed on computers, devices and phones called flux that adjusts the light on your technology to be warmer at night and more like daylight during the day! Download and stop confusing your brain with blue light!***
5. Create a relaxing ritual!
Remember how bedtime always felt like a chore as a kid, UNLESS, you knew you would for sure be read your favorite story once you got there?
Well, we are adults now, so while your parents may no longer be willing to read James and the Giant Peach to you every night, you can learn to "tuck yourself in" in a more grown-up way. What activities (that don't involve technology) make you feel relaxed? Whether it be reading, taking a hot shower or bath, meditating, listening to calming music, knitting or light stretching, find something that helps you wind down, and try taking just 15 minutes before bedtime to do you! We are so stimulated during the day, that when you take time to shut off your mind and do something that calms your spirit, you send a signal to your body that it can also calm down and rest. If it's something that you enjoy doing, you will also look forward to bedtime more and be able to better commit to your bedtime dates!
SAY NIGHTY NIGHT: Experiment with different "wind down" rituals this week, and pay attention to how they make you feel. Notice when you are the most relaxed and restful, and make an effort to repeat that ritual every evening to transition you out of the go-zone and into the nowhere-to-go zone.
With all the love and light in my heart, sleep peacefully and well!