We are getting less sleep these days than ever before in history. Many of us wear sleep deprivation like a badge of honor. Who here hasn’t at one point questioned whether they could be productive while luxuriating in a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep? Insomnia has become the new normal. We have a nickname for those who go to bed at a decent hour: old fuddy duddys.
After seeing how dramatically sleep deprivation affected my own health, I realized how important it was to make adequate rest a priority. There are many healthy habits that can lead to a better quality of life. Many of us can benefit from some simple changes that will lead to amazing, restorative sleep.
General diet and lifestyle habits that will benefit sleep
*Stop drinking coffee at noon.
*Don’t consume sugar or refined carbohydrates after 4pm.
*Focus on your breath when stressed. Here is a great exercise from Dr. Michael Murray. He teaches you to use your breath to trigger the body’s natural relaxation response. Yes, stress affects sleep quality, and it is important to be low-stress all day, not just at bedtime.
*Eat protein. Amino acids are needed to make serotonin, which is the precursor to melatonin. Melatonin signal our brain it is time to sleep. A snack of protein and maybe just a little fat for blood sugar stabilization is perfect before bed.
*Take a break in the early morning to go outside (even if just for a few minutes.) Early morning sunlight helps set the brains’ internal clock and balance any circadian rhythm problems. Light sends signals to the brain that it is time to be awake. These signals will set the stage for you to become sleepy come nightfall. Just don’t wear sunglasses or the light will be blocked from your brain!
*Exercise in the first half of the day. Exercise is a great tool for health and stress relief. Exercising in the evening can cause your adrenaline to spike at a time when you should be winding down.
A good routine for right before bed to improve sleep
*Turn off all electronics one to two hours before bed. I know this can be soooo difficult, but the light from electronics signals your brain that it is daytime. You are in the middle of a Facebook or a Netflix binge and suddenly it is 2am. The reason you are shocked is because your brain received signals that it was earlier.
*Do some light yoga or stretches. This will help you de-stress.
*Eat dinner at least a few hours before bedtime. That way you won’t experience acid reflux from digesting while lying down.
*Develop a routine that readies your body for sleep. This may be reading a book, taking a bath or any other relaxing activity that notifies your body that it is time to wind down and rest.
*Turn off all the lights in your house an hour before bedtime. My husband hates when I do this one but the darkness helps you produce melatonin (a sleep hormone.)
Helpful adaptations to your room that help you sleep through the night
*Get blackout curtains for your windows. Many of us live in cities where there is 24 hour light. This light can seep into the room and jolt you awake.
*Turn your digital clocks towards the wall when sleeping. Yes, digital clocks are another source of light that wakes your brain.
*Keep the bedroom reserved for sleep and sex. That habit of sending e-mails right before bed can cause your brain to associate your bed with wakefulness and work.
There are of course, more serious factors that can cause sleep deprivation. A few of the more common ones are depression, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. When behavioral changes don’t alleviate sleep problems, a doctor’s visit may be in order. This is serious stuff, so make your health a priority and take the time to go.
Sleep deprivation won’t just make you feel groggy. In Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation – An Unmet Public Health Problem, Harvey Colten and Bruce Altevogt use studies to link sleep deprivation to obesity, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, alcohol abuse and early mortality, among other things. This should be incentive for anyone to make a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours nightly for the average adult) a health priority.
There are many natural supplements that help the body relax and sleep. That is a topic for another day.
This is surely not an all encompassing list. There are many methods to improve the odds of a good night’s sleep. Did I leave out your favorite method? Leave it in the comments below!