3 reasons why you're sacrificing sleep, and what to do about it
I’d like to be able to say that I obey my own body wisdom and uphold my bedtime routine every night. But I’m prone to the same distractions as you are. It’s a constant battle to ensure a good night’s sleep. I’m hoping that this post inspires you to restructure your days to optimize for sleep, and protect it as if your life depended on it. Because it does.
As recently as twenty years ago, scientists knew little about why we sleep and what happens when we do. That’s all changed in recent years. There is overwhelming evidence to support both high quality and enough sleep as the single most important ingredient for improving your mood and your long-term health, reducing your risk of diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and more.
And yet, sleep may elude you. This happens when:
· Your biological needs and preventive care take the backseat to work and productivity.
You’re working right up until bedtime-- answering emails, paying bills, writing on your laptop-- leaving little to no time to slow down and quiet the mind, both being necessary for a good night of sleep.
· You haven’t been tending to your nervous system.
If you find yourself worrying all day long, overthinking often, then there’s a good chance that your nervous system is locked in a stressful state. This makes it hard to ever feel at ease, turn your mind off, enjoy what’s happening in the moment, and focus on one thing at a time. Most of suffer from a nervous system that’s abuzz and in need of a hard reset.
The good news is that you can rewire your nervous system and flip the switch out of a stressful state. Meditation, mindfulness techniques like body scans and breathwork, warm baths, humming and singing, and cold therapy are a few of the available ways to reset and restore your nervous system to a relaxed state. Don’t do this just once. Do it as often as you can. Science tells us that the body and brain are adaptable. Practicing reset techniques leads to fewer stressful moments, and quicker recovery times when we do become triggered.
· Your bedtime routine lacks intentionality.
Without a bedtime routine, you leave your brain prone to too much activity at night, which is not what you want. Maybe you’re on your screen up until bedtime. I find I’m especially susceptible to this. Life is busy and your brain is looking for relief, often in the form of high-dopamine stimuli (drugs, food, news, gaming, texting, sexting, shopping, Facebooking, Instagramming, tweeting…). But when it comes to bedtime, these kinds of activities mess with our biological rhythms. It’s more important than ever to protect your sleep and strike a balance between activity and quality screen-free rest.
Why protect your sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important medicines for your brain and body. Sleep to the brain is like brushing is to your mouth—cleaning out and removing the debris. Poor sleep affects not only our day to day functioning but also our relationships, long term health, and life expectancy. You can’t pour forth from an empty cup, so make sure to protect your energy, starting with a good night’s sleep.
How to improve your sleep
The following are some suggestions for sleeping better. Sleep environment is important, as are some of the things that you do much earlier in the day. Try to adopt some of these…no reason to overwhelm yourself by aiming them all. But the more of these you can do over time, the better your chances for a restful night and a fresh day to follow.
Set a bedtime routine that realistically works for you, beginning with a few of these ideas.
1. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol impairs sleep quality more than any other factor within your control. If you do choose to drink, limit yourself to not more than two drinks per week and ideally stop by 6pm.
2. Go to bed with a little bit of hunger. I try to finish eating within 3-4 hours before bedtime.
3. Abstain from electronics for at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light from devices reduces melatonin (sleep hormone) production. If you must look at a screen, use glasses or settings that reduce blue light.
4. For at least an hour before bed, do not engage in anything stimulating or anxiety-triggering. Do not text, check social media, read work email, etc.
5. Make sure your bedroom is cool, 65 degrees or lower. The bed should be cool too.
6. Darken your room, dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. This means turning digital clocks to face away from you, unplugging anything in the room that emits LED light. An eye mask can also help with this.
7. Give yourself the opportunity to sleep a full 7.5-8 hours every night.
8. Set your wake-up time and stick with it, even on the weekends. If you need flexibility, then vary your bedtime, but make it a priority to get a full night’s rest.
9. If you’re having problems with sleep, don’t obsess over it. If you are laying in bed stressing over not sleeping, the best thing to do is to get up. Move to another dark or dim room. You can read (something boring), listen to calming music---anything relaxing and enjoyable AND non-stimulating and non-productive--for 15 minutes. Then try returning to bed.
10. Try a supplement or two. Everyone needs to be on 300mg of magnesium per day. I take it before bed, along with L-theanine. Another herbal supplement I like is ashwagandha, which improves sleep quality without next-day grogginess.
11. Step outside every day, preferably in the morning for at least 10 minutes, facing the sun. Step outside again midday if you can. Daylight resets your circadian rhythm. We are biological creatures, tied to Earth’s own rhythms. Often, we forget that.
12. Keep a gratitude journal. An hour before bed, write down three things that you are thankful for. Then set yourself up for an amazing morning. Pick out your clothes. Have breakfast planned. Know what type and time of day you will do physical activity.
The future you of tomorrow will thank you.
It’s never too late to adopt some of these ideas. Better sleep will change your life. Our bodies have evolved with sleep as critical to our survival. It’s up to us to integrate the wisdom of our bodies.
P.S.—if you want some steady guidance for resetting your health, then look no further. In a few weeks, I’ll be opening the doors to a new 6-month wellness coaching program. It will cover the basic pillars of holistic health and take you on a journey of self-discovery as you apply science along with your unique body wisdom to customize a path forward for healing and thriving. This process works for folks of all stages of life, and everyone who thinks that there’s something uniquely wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with you. This process will work for you. It’s never too late to restore your health and create supportive habits that work for you right now, exactly where you are.
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