More than one third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. Below are my tips for how you can support and harness the beautiful wisdom of your body so that you can wake rested and ready to show up as your best self.
Sleep is so critically important to good health. During this time of high anxiety due to the Covid-19 virus, political and social unrest, climate change, economic concerns… not to mention all of the turmoil in people’s personal lives, Americans aren’t sleeping as well as they used to. And that’s not good because already, pre-2020, one third of Americans weren’t getting enough sleep. And during times of stress and turmoil, rest is even more important to keep us functioning.
Quality sleep is crucial for your immune system function, gut health, emotional wellness, maintenance of a healthy weight, and critical maintenance of muscles and your brain. See links below for some great articles on the science of what happens as you sleep.
While we sleep our bodies are actually working hard. Muscles, organs and other cells get repaired and rebuilt. The brain gets better organized as unnecessary pathways (neural connections) are cleared and frequently used pathways strengthened. Many hormones are regulated while you sleep: cortisol (stress hormone) decreases, growth hormone (repair, healing) increases and your hunger control hormones are regulated. When you are tired or sleep deprived, leptin (which tells your body you are full and satiated) goes down and ghrelin (the hormone that signals hunger) goes up. As a result, tired bodies feel extra hungry and may not get the signal to stop eating when full. Tired bodies can’t fight viruses and other pathogens well either. Poor sleep leaves us feeling exhausted, on edge, emotionally brittle, with difficulty focusing, and in more pain. Poor sleep leads to depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, emotional reactivity, increased inflammation, and decreased immunity.
So we all know it’s important for the health of our bodies and mind to get a good night’s sleep. Yet sometimes even when we prioritize sleep, despite our best intentions, good sleep that leaves us feeling rested is illusive. This can be frustrating to say the least. Read on for tips for quieting your system and preparing your body for restorative sleep so that you can get feel your best.
Do you have difficulty falling asleep even though you’re exhausted? Do you fall asleep but then wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep for hours? Do you wake up tired most mornings?
Remember rest is never selfish. Everything you need to do will wait for you and when you are rested, your “to do” list will be accomplished twice as fast, leaving you more time for other things and for Being.
Tips for Sleeping Better so you can Feel and Function your best:
- Create a bedroom environment that is inviting and where the only things that happen there are relaxation, sleep and sex. When you enter your bedroom, you should feel a sense of relaxation as the space signals your body that it is time to rest. If you are working out of your bedroom or have bills to pay scattered all around, it is very difficult to quiet the mind when it’s time to sleep. Try clearing everything that isn’t conducive to sleep from your room. Create a quiet, clean environment where you can give yourself permission to truly rest.
- Block out the light. This includes turning digital clocks around or over so that their light isn’t emitted toward your eyes. Black out curtains can also be important if you have too much light coming in from outside.
- BREATHE! I know, people who know me and work with me, will be surprised that this one isn’t first! Probably the most important thing you can do when you first lay down in bed (and all day long) is take 5-10 deep breaths and focus on your slow exhale, noticing where your breath goes in your body. Noticing your lungs filling. Becoming aware of your breath will tune you into your internal world, your body. Lengthening your exhale will put your body into a resting, digesting, healing parasympathetic nervous system state. Check out my post on Diaphragmatic breathing or check out my You Tube Channel for more from me on breathing.
- Avoid using your phone or any screen for at least an hour before you go to bed. If you have to look at your phone, set it to automatically go into night mode each evening so that the blue light that disrupts our human circadian rhythms is filtered from your eyes. Make sure your phone is on airplane mode if you keep it in your bedroom overnight so that it can’t disturb you and so that radiation is kept to a minimum while you rest. This is critically important to emphasize with teenagers in our care as well. There is an epidemic of exhausted teens and one big reason is smart phones and social media disturbing their sleep. (check out the movie “Screenagers” if you can)
- Turn down the heat in your bedroom. A bedroom that is four degrees cooler than the rest of your house will signal your body it’s time to go into a cooling down, resting, healing state and get you ready for sleep.
- Make sure you get outside every day, even if it’s cloudy or rainy, for some fresh air and light exercise. Natural light is important for the proper functioning of our sleep/wake cycles and mood regulation. If you can’t get outside, at least sit by a window or consider a full spectrum “Happy” light during the coldest, shortest days of the year.
- For improved sleep and for your overall health, try to get at least 30 min of movement per day. This can be in 5 min increments throughout the day or all at once. It can be a walk, yoga, biking, weight lifting, swimming, whatever you enjoy. The important thing is movement and doing something you enjoy. Walking with friends is one of my favorite activities because I get exercise and social interaction at the same time and always feel better physically, mentally and spiritual/emotionally afterward. Movement is important, however for better sleep, avoid strenuous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Keep a journal or worry pad. An hour before you are going to sleep, in a location other than your bedroom, jot down notes on what’s bothering you, worries, stresses. Writing down what is causing your mind to spin will help calm the mind and allow you to let go of some of these stressors, at least for now. Let them go in preparation for rest. After you get your stresses out, write down 3-5 things you are grateful for. Always finish your journaling on a grateful note. This will literally change the structure of your brain and allow you to better notice the little positives in your days.
- Keep a notepad next to your bed so that in the middle of the night, if you wake up and your mind is worrying or thinking of your to-do list, without turning on the light, reach for your notepad and jot down what’s on your mind. Let it go until tomorrow. Now that it’s written down, you won’t forget. Now you can go back to sleep without worry.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol within a few hours of going to sleep. If you have trouble sleeping or are sensitive to caffeine, it’s best to all avoid caffeine after 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Using a glass of wine to relax at the end of the day can backfire as the alcohol is digested and can wake you up with a big sugar spike in the middle of the night. Opt for herbal tea, time tested “sleepy time” or chamomile tea, water with lemon, bubbly water with mint and lime on ice.
- Create a bedtime ritual that is calming to you. Think of how we prepare our babies and toddlers for bed with a nice bubbly bath, stories, snuggles, low light, soft music. Create a ritual for yourself that feels calming and also nourishing and loving to yourself.
- Keep pets in their own sleeping space if they are disturbing you during the night. This is a huge problem that many pet owners don’t want to truly address, but it’s important if you are having sleep issues.
- If you are having difficulties with quality sleep, keep a sleep journal for a week and keep notes of what helps, what hurts, and how you feel in the morning.
- There are wonderful meditation apps available now. I like Insight Timer app. Just remember to download whatever you want to hear as you fall asleep, so that your device can be on airplane mode at bedtime.
- Many people claim good results taking melatonin or CBD oil for sleep. I don’t recommend this to my patients as I believe in harnessing our own body’s wisdom and addressing the root causes. I have linked to two articles below (4 and 5) that you can read to further educate yourself about the science, benefits and risks of these sleep aids. Melatonin is made naturally in our bodies and many of the strategies I’ve suggested above can help you optimize your own body’s sleep/ wake cycles.
Hopefully these tips help you prepare better for sleep and get a better night’s rest. You should wake up feeling rested, not run over by a semi-truck. Talk to your doctor or therapist if you continue to be exhausted despite your best efforts at good sleep.
Take good care of yourself. Be loving of yourself. And sleep well my friends, so that you can wake up rested and ready to keep showing up… for yourself, for your family, for friends, for society, for our world.
- “Calming An Overactive Brain” course by Institute for Brain Potential (6hr continuing education program)
- APTA’s sleep e-book
- Experience Life Magazine http://experiencelife.com/article/how-your-hormones-affect-weight-loss/
Links to good articles on sleep and your body: