It’s hard to overestimate the importance of sleep. Some researchers and experts who used to consider sleep a pillar of health along with nutrition and exercise now consider it even more foundational. They now feel that if we are not sleeping well, other interventions like nutrition and exercise will likely be much less effective.
Sleep is incredibly important and provides multiple benefits. It helps us with mental functions such as learning, memorization and recall, and emotional regulation. Sleeping provides an opportunity for our subconscious to work on solving problems, and our creativity is more accessible both during and after a good night’s sleep. Good sleep helps strengthen the immune system (very important currently) and helps regulate our metabolism and appetite.
For the purpose of serving as a tool to “help maintain your sanity”, sleep helps decrease activation of our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the hormone most closely associated with chronic stress - cortisol. Poor sleep on the other hand has been linked to decreased IQ, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. So, work on getting a good night’s sleep - every night. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep tonight.
1.Keep a regular sleep schedule
Time and time again, I see the #1 tip for improving sleep is to keep a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and then get up at approximately the same time each day. That includes the weekend. We often set an alarm to wake up in the morning. Consider setting an alarm for bedtime, one that tells you when it’s time to start your bedtime routine.
2.Practice a Digital Sunset
We now know that use of electronic devices with screens in the evening greatly interferes with sleep. The shorter-wavelength, blue light emitted from screens delays and suppresses the body’s melatonin levels thereby fooling our brains into thinking that it’s daytime. The result is increased alertness when we should be getting sleepy, an increased time to fall asleep, and reduced duration of REM sleep. So plan to turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime, and remember that includes TV too.
3.Have a bedtime routine
So if you’re not responding to email, checking Facebook, or catching up on your favorite Netflix show, what are you going to do to unwind? Well, do you remember those things we used to read called books? Those are great for unwinding, and you can use the Kindle versions that are not backlit, like the Paperwhite. Also consider a hot bath or a partner massage, listening to calming music or an evening meditation.
4.Avoid these like the plague Coronavirus:
- Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine – this is pretty obvious. What was not so obvious to me was how caffeine sensitive I had become. While the common recommendation is to avoid caffeine after 2 pm, I find that I must cut it off around 12 to 12:30, or I am going to be lying awake, frustrated, often for an hour or longer. And I know I don’t have to tell anyone why they should avoid nicotine.
- Alcohol close to bedtime – many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep. And it does indeed lead to drowsiness. But alcohol robs us of our deeper more restorative sleep, particularly REM sleep. So we may fall asleep more quickly, but we sacrifice quality sleep in the process. I have a sleep tracking ring that monitors my sleep and estimates my time spent in different stages of sleep. I have put alcohol to the test and can confirm decreased REM sleep on a consistent basis.
- Large meals and fluids – eating too close to bedtime can lead to acid reflux or indigestion, both of which can interfere with sleep. Experts recommend finishing the last meal about 3 hours before bedtime. And drinking beverages of any kind, not just alcohol, may lead to late night or early morning trips to the bathroom, which will fragment sleep and make it less effective.
Napping is okay, but it should be done earlier in the day. No napping after 3 pm for those of you with a bedtime close to 10 pm. And consider the restorative effects of power naps. These are around 20 minutes ideally, and usually in the early afternoon, after lunch. If you have 90 minutes or more, you can go for the longer, more traditional naps. But naps lasting from 30-60 minutes often hit the dead zone and leave you feeling drowsy and unrested.
6.Exercise, but not too late
We will have a whole tip devoted to exercise, but for now, just know that it’s good to do and it helps with sleep. But don’t exercise within an hour or two of bedtime as body heat and stress hormones may not return to normal levels by the time you're ready to hit the hay.
7.See the light
Specifically the sunlight. Try to get about 15 minutes of DIRECT sunlight in the morning hours. Not only does this help optimize your sleep-wake circadian rhythm, but sunlight has several other beneficial effects as well, which we will look at in a later entry. For those unfortunate souls who work shift work, or overnight schedules, you are at a bit of a disadvantage. Here are some tips for you.
8.Dark, cool bedroom
These tips are well known. We should make our bedrooms as dark as possible. Some experts even go so far as to recommend red light emitting alarm clocks (or no digital clocks at all) vs the blue light ones. I knew that darkness, or more correctly a lack of light, stimulates melatonin production. What I did NOT know was that a drop in core body temperature of 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit works synergistically with darkness to stimulate the release of melatonin. The ideal sleeping temperature is somewhere in the chilly range of 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. I know, that’s cold. Don’t kill the messenger.
9.Discover Your Sleep Chronotype
Have you ever noticed that there are certain times when you prefer to do certain things - like the time you go to bed and the time you like to work out? These preferences are expressions of your body’s powerful biological rhythms. These preferences are generally grouped into categories, which are known as chronotypes. For sleep there are four archetypes: Lions are morning types; Bears are middle of the road types; Wolves are nighttime types; and Dolphins are difficult sleepers. Which are you? To discover your individual chronotype, visit http://www.thepowerofwhenquiz.com/.
10.Take a Coffee Nap
Yup, it’s a thing. And they work. A coffee nap entails drinking coffee before sleeping for a short period. It’s thought to boost energy levels by increasing your brain’s capacity to receive caffeine. I have been practicing this over lunch as my time and schedule allow. Here is a great article to explain more.
In the book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, he writes: “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” Incorporate even just a few of these tips and you’ll be equipped to cross that bridge.