Sleep. It is an amazing thing. Scientists do not yet fully understand what happens when we sleep, but they do know that is absolutely necessary for life.
There are some incredible things that happen when you sleep. Your muscles repair from the work you did (you get fit in your sleep, not when you are working out). Your liver and kidneys detoxify your blood from the chemicals and other toxins you consumed, inhaled or were absorbed through your skin. Your mind makes connections in the brain, wiring novel experiences that you had during the day into memory. Excess fat if burned. Hormones are created, excreted, and balanced, which leads to healthy metabolism, appetite, mood and sex drive. Sleeping is nourishing on so many levels.
Guess what? This too is out of balance in our lives for a variety of reasons. We are expected to be available constantly. We are connected to our devices and looking at screens from the moment we awake until the moment we try to go to sleep. There is constant stream of stimulation that has thrown off our natural rhythms of waking and sleeping. The hormonal rhythms of our bodies are meant to be in sync with the natural rising and setting of the sun, but unless you live in a tent and don’t look at a single screen, you are most likely out of sync. Good news is, you don’t have to live outdoors and throwaway your cellphone.
Here are somethings that you can do, starting today, to build better sleep and reap all of the beautiful benefits of sleeping.
1. Make it a priority.
Anything I say will not make a difference if you do not believe that you need to get adequate sleep. You do. For weight management, chemical detoxification, and stress reduction. You will be a better you with sleep. Commit to it.
2. Give your self a bedtime, and stick to it.
You probably have and idea about how much time you need to sleep to feel rested. While you most likely hear that adults need at least 7-8 hours a night, some people (like myself!) need more. So, start off with whatever number of hours you would ideally get, and then count backward from the time that you need to get up in the morning. So, if you want to get 9 hours of sleep and you have to get up at 6:30am, then that is 9:30pm. However, 9:30 is not your bedtime. Give your self at least a half an hour to wind down, and fall asleep. So, 9:00 would be your bed time in this example.
3. Build a pre-sleep routine.
If you have children or know folks who do, you will know that a routine before bedtime will make the evening go much smoother and the little one is much more likely to fall asleep peacefully. Adults benefit in the same way. You are more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep if you have a calming ritual that lets your body know that it is time for bed. It can be as simple as you like. Personally I like to brush my teeth, wash my face, and then do some light stretching. Then I read or listen to an audio book until I drift off. Some people like to take a shower or a bath as the warm water is calming. Some people like to sip Calamine tea. Lowering the lights and letting your body know that it is time to sleep will help you stick to your bed time and get the rest you need.
4. Make sure it’s dark.
Our brains are very sensitive to light and when there is light it signals our ‘time to wake up’ response. If you can, get blackout shades for your bedroom. Another great option is to get an eye mask (these are GREAT for travel too!)
5. Make it a sanctuary.
De-clutter the bed. Your bed is for the 2 S’s: Sleeping and Sex. It is not for watching TV, stressing out by doing work, or eating in. This is your space for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. If possible, move the screens and all excess stuff out of the room.
6. Limit screen time.
You knew this one was coming. Screens are no good for your sleep. The truth of the matter is that your body will not secrete melatonin, the hormone you need to fall asleep, when you are looking at a bright light. In particular, the blue light spectrum, will keep you awake. Don’t look at screens at least an hour before bed. If you do have a kindle or choose to read on your laptop install an app such as ‘LUX,’ which will automatically dim the screen as the daylight fades.
7. Get some sun early in the day.
Your body builds melatonin based on many factors, and one of them is the exposure to natural light early in the day. Go out and look, or look out a window, at the blue sky as much as you can in the first part of the day. This signals your body to make serotonin, the feel awake and happy hormone, which is the building block for melatonin, which helps you sleep.
Part of the beauty of the pre-sleep ritual is that it is calming. You cannot be in anxiety mode when trying to sleep if you want truly nourishing sleep. Meditation, journaling, listening to relaxing music, are all ways that you can destress before you hit the sack. Your to-do list will not be magically done if you stay up thinking about it. You will be better able to tackle the tasks ahead if you are well rested.
I hope this is helpful. Please let me know what works and what is still a challenge for you. Perhaps you have a pre-sleep ritual that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.