Sleep is so important (please review last week’s post if you don’t know why), yet it seems to be truly undervalued by many in our society. Even though we seem to inherently understand that we need to sleep well (we feel like crap when we don’t, after all), many of us operate under the assumption that sleeping for long hours is indulgent, rather than essential for optimal health.
Many folks do not putting getting enough sleep very high up on their list of priorities. They willingly sacrifice time they could be sleeping by choosing to participate in other activities (ex. they work late, they stay out late with friends, they watch tv, they play on the computer, etc.). But hey…I am not judging. I admit that even I occasionally do some of these things: just last night I stayed up late watching The Bourne Supremacy!
Most of the time, however, I get to bed by 11 pm. 10 pm is my bedtime goal (there’s a ton that goes on with our organs, hormones, etc. when we sleep and all of this supposedly starts to happen around this time) and while I find it hard to get to bed at this hour, I am working on it.
I am fortunate in that even though I may sometimes stay up later than I should, I generally do not have trouble falling asleep. As soon as my eyes are closed, I am pretty much out. I know many people, however, who do struggle with the falling asleep part, and consequently spend hours awake each night. This has definitely happened to me a few times and it’s horrible. I can’t imagine dealing with that on a regular basis :(
If you are a person who always stays up too late and does not get a good night’s sleep as a result, or if you’re a person who gets to bed on time but then can’t fall asleep, I have some suggestions for you below. I hope that one or more of these helps you and your unique situation.
KEEP A SCHEDULE
Try to get to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Establishing a routine makes it more likely that your body will easily fall asleep each night. This is true for children as well, so if your teenager does not have good sleep habits, it’s suggested that you don’t let them sleep in too much on the weekends (and I know first hand that this is very tough).
GET SOME EXERCISE EVERY DAY
When done in some form daily, exercise appears to promote good rest at night. Is there a specific time when it’s best to exercise if you have sleep issues (in other words: will exercising at night hype you up and make it difficult to sleep)? The information I’ve reviewed does not point to this being this case, but it just makes sense that if you exercise rigorously at night, you might be too amped up to get to sleep.
GET SOME SUN EVERY DAY
Getting some sunlight exposure every day (preferably early in the day) helps with production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. If you live in an area where the sun is not reliable year-round, daily exposure to a full-spectrum light source might be helpful. These types of lights used to be very expensive, but ones like this are now available, and are much more reasonably priced.
SLEEP IN COMPLETE DARKNESS
This also boosts melatonin production, so do what you need to do to keep your room as dark as possible: heavy shades will help, so will unplugging or covering up anything that’s emitting light in your bedroom (this includes digital clocks). If you get up in the night to pee, it’s best not to turn on the bathroom light (not easy, I know…take it slow so you don’t bump into anything). It’s also best to keep the lights in your home low in the evening so your body knows it’s time to start winding down.
KEEP YOUR BLOOD SUGAR BALANCED
Follow a blood sugar balancing diet that combines high quality protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates, and healthy fats/oils at each meal and snack, limit caffeine (especially in the afternoon and later), and don’t eat a big meal or have a lot to drink right before bedtime (see this post for more info about my definition of a balanced diet). Some people will sleep best when they have a light snack at bedtime that contains protein…you really need to experiment and find what works for you.
MAKE YOUR SLEEPING ENVIRONMENT COMFORTABLE AND CONDUCIVE TO SLEEP
Make sure your pillow and bed are comfortable and replace them if they are not. Seriously…invest in a better mattress if yours is too firm or too soft, or if it’s very old. Your bedding can affect the way you sleep, as well: it should be soft, and made from natural materials. Research shows that for optimal sleep, the best temperature for your bedroom is around 60 degrees (kind of chilly). Open your bedroom windows to let some fresh air in at night, if possible.
GO TO BED BY 10 pm
Some people will sleep better simply by adjusting their sleep routine so they are getting to bed by 10 pm and waking up at around 6 am. We evolved to go to bed after sundown, so it just doesn’t make sense to stay up for hours and hours into the night. Plus, our bodies do important recharging work in the hours just after 10 am…if you don’t get to sleep, this recharging doesn’t happen. If you sleep 8 hours beginning at 11 pm or later and you still don’t feel rested, try going to sleep at 10 pm. If you can’t get to sleep at 10 pm because you’re not tired, make yourself wake up at 6 am for a few days no matter what time you went to bed. Chances are you will soon start to feel sleepy at 10 pm.
DON’T DO ANYTHING IN YOUR BED BESIDES SLEEP
Don’t watch tv, work/play on your laptop or phone, or eat in bed: do these activities somewhere else. The only thing you should be doing in your bed is sleeping (and having sex). Reading a book is ok, though for some people it’s best to do this in another room. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself wide awake, it’s best to leave the bed for awhile to attempt to wind down…return to your bed when you’re ready to try to fall back to sleep.
WIND DOWN BEFORE BED
Put away your work 1-2 hours before bed, and don’t watch or read anything that’s likely to stimulate or upset you (if you have kids, it’s strongly suggested that they don’t play video games before bed). Before you go to bed, try to do something that calms your mind. Take a bath, read a book (preferably one that’s boring) or listen to relaxing music. If you are anxious about something, try putting your thoughts on paper so they’re no longer swimming around inside your head. If you have trouble winding down/sleeping due to stress in your life, please seek the help of a health professional so your insomnia does not cause you to become ill.
If YOU NAP, DO IT RIGHT
Some people love naps and function better when they take them. If this is you, nap away, but don’t let yourself sleep for more than 30-40 minutes at a time. Also: avoid napping late in the day…around 3pm in the afternoon appears to be the best time.
AVOID PHARMACEUTICAL SLEEP AIDS
These are habit forming and have many potential side effects. If you want to try a natural remedy, the herbs passionflower, hops, oatstraw and lemon balm may help. You can drink these in the form of nourishing herbal infusions (strong teas made from dried herbs) throughout the day and you might feel calmer and less stressed in the evening as a result. Organic lavender oil is a natural sleep aid, as well: try dabbing a bit on your temples or put a drop on your pillow.
CONSIDER GETTING HELP
If you cannot solve your sleep problems on your own, please seek out the advice of a physician (preferably one well versed in natural medicine) to deal with health issues that are keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep. Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can cause insomnia; so can many medications. A health professional can help you sort these things out so you can get the rest you need. There are also some supplements which may help, but discussion of those is beyond the scope of this post.
So what do you think? Are you a good sleeper or do you think you might benefit from one or more of these suggestions? I am going to spend the next week trying to get to bed by 10 pm. What about you?
Sources consulted for this article:
Sleep Away the Pounds: Optimize Your Sleep and Reset Your Metabolism for Maximum Weight Loss
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival
The Schwarzbein Principle, The Program: Losing Weight the Healthy Way
Take Control of Your Health