We all know the general sleep recommendation: You should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But how many of us actually do it? There are a lot of demands put on people today and sleep tends to go by the wayside in lieu of other activities. These “other activities” can range from driving kids to and from evening sports or extracurricular activities, helping kids with homework, checking work e-mail in the evening or early morning, going out with friends, getting up early to exercise, watching TV or scrolling through social media in the evening, or even feeding a newborn throughout the night! I am not saying you shouldn’t be doing some of these things, but I am saying that it is important to shift your activities, habits, and life in a way that helps you foster appropriate sleep–the better sleep you get, the better you will feel physically, mentally, and emotionally!
Sleep is very important for:
- Physical repair of your body
- Psychological repair of your mind
- Hormone balance
- Steady energy levels throughout the day
- Happy and stable mood
Low or disrupted sleep can:
- Reduce body’s ability to repair itself
- Cause hormone imbalance
- Negatively impact your mood
- Cause low energy or fatigue
- Lead to sugar or carbohydrate cravings
- Cause a “tired and wired” feeling throughout the day
Your body is designed to rise and turn down with the sun–this is part of your circadian rhythm. This goes back to pre-historic times when there wasn’t electricity and light, alarm clocks, or TVs and computer screens to keep you up past the sun going down or wake you up before the sun rose. The only type of light besides the sun would have been soft light from the moon or a fire.
Two important hormones related to sleep cycles are cortisol and melatonin. When your body is working properly, cortisol will rise in the morning, stay at a healthy level throughout the day, and slowly decline in the late afternoon or early evening. When evening begins to set in, your body will start to produce melatonin, which helps you to wind down and get ready to sleep. When you go against your circadian rhythm of rising and turning down with the pattern of the sun, it can begin to disrupt the normal flow of these hormones, contributing to some of the symptoms of poor or disrupted sleep listed above.
Many things can alter your ability to rise and turn down with the sun:
- Waking up before the sun rises to get your family ready for the day
- Exercising in the early morning hours
- Turning on artificial lights in the evening
- Watching TV or using a computer early in the morning or late at night
- Evening activities that last late into the night
- Stress, anxiety, or worry
So, how do you make changes to improve your sleep? The first thing I would do is track your sleep for one week. Write down the following items in a journal daily: what time the sun goes down, what time you get into bed, what time you fall asleep (approximately), how many times you wake up throughout the night, what time your alarm goes off, what time you actually get out of bed, and what time the sun rises. You may also want to document energy levels throughout the day–when they are best and if or when you experience any lows. After assessing your “starting point,” you can make goals for yourself to help foster a good night’s sleep. (Use items in the list below as a starting point for your goals.)
Best practices for sleep:
- Use minimal artificial light in your house when the sun sets.
- Use amber glasses when watching TV or using a computer to block the blue light.
- Utilize “nightshift” on your phone–this emits a softer light from your phone in the evening.
- Turn off your TV and phone one hour before bedtime–read a book instead.
- Get into bed thirty minutes before you want to fall asleep.
- Use an eye pillow or weighted blanket.
- Diffuse lavender essential oil in your bedroom.
- Use a meditation or natural sound app in the evening.
- Keep a notebook by your bed to write down ideas or thoughts you don’t want to forget.
- Do not use your phone for an alarm. Use an alarm clock that uses a gentle sound and/or light to simulate the rising of the sun.
- No or low caffeine consumption, especially in the afternoon and evening.
It can be easy to overlook sleep as an essential piece to overall wellness, but it is truly important. I hope this article and these tips inspire you to focus on sleep as a main priority! Do you have any “best sleep practices” you would like to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.