In Part 1 of Sleep: The Missing Link we discussed the lifestyle choices that have created a cultural crisis most of us are experiencing; sleep deprivation. Early mornings, stressful days and late nights have led to a vicious cycle of sleep lost, never to be found again. Instead of listening to our bodies cues of fatigue; weakness, brain fog, dizziness, constant hunger or complete loss of appetite, we soldier on. We fuel ourselves with caffeine, boost our bodies with processed carbs, and throw back supplements that promise renewed energy.
In Part 2 Sleep Deprivation: A Cultural Crisis we talked about the health impacts that can occur based on the lifestyle choices mentioned above and discussed extensively in Part 1. Lack of sleep can negatively influence all areas of your life. Your current lifestyle is creating short-term and long-term health issues that can easily be avoided. Issues like low cognitive function, an impaired immune system and a higher propensity for depression are just a few of the issues that may arise when your sleep cycles are chronically impaired.
When you are not feeling your best, it is typical for you to place blame on your eating and exercise habits. Instead of playing around with your nutrition and movement, why not play around with your sleep habits and see where that takes you? Wait, can the answer be that simple? What if all you needed to do was go to bed, and all these tweaks and adjustments to your diet and movement plans would not be necessary. The constant weight of frustration can be lifted by one simple move (or moves as listed below). Just go to bed! Like a good diet and adequate exercise, sleep is crucial for overall health and wellbeing.
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
~ Thomas Dekker
- Know your magic sleep number
The amount of hours required for adequate sleep varies based on age, lifestyle and level of health. While you may be the type of person that feels “great” after only 5 hours of sleep, if you are drinking caffeine all day to avoid energy slumps, the number 5 is not magical for your optimal health. Check out the diagram from the National Sleep Foundation to see the recommended hours of sleep necessary per night. Each age group comes with a range of suitable hours. Experiment with that range, trying to avoid the minimum number. Note the fluctuations in your energy levels throughout the day. This will help you determine the amount of hours of sleep that best for you.
- Set an alarm….for bedtime
Night times are often filled with all the events you did not accomplish during the day, while simultaneously preparing for the next one. This can include exercising, catching up on phone calls/texts/emails, meal prepping, bathing yourself and your children, feeding yourself and your children, cleaning and so much more. Oftentimes a day’s worth of activities are being crammed into a few hours each night. Setting a non-negotiable bedtime alarm can be a good reminder that it is time to set down the tasks and walk away. Once you have your magic sleep number established, calculate your specific bedtime and aim to keep that time daily, even on weekends. This may mean you have to rework your evenings to prioritize sleep. As you read in Part 2, the impacts of sleep deprivation are serious enough that sleep must become a top priority.
- Start a nightly sleep ritual
When you calculate your magic sleep number and set your bedtime alarm, you may want to add an additional 30 minutes to get yourself prepared for sleep. Do not include your nightly rituals in your prescribed sleep time hours. So if your magic sleep number is 8 hours, make sure your alarm is set at a time that allows for 8.5 hours before it is time to wake up. Besides your nightly hygiene routine, develop a few practices that will allow you to calm and decompress from the day. Taking your stress filled day to bed with you is one of the first ways to ensure you will not get a good night sleep. Drink some calming tea. Experiment with guided meditation or deep breathing techniques. Think of five positive aspects of your day and write them down or say them out loud to yourself or your partner/kids/friends. Creating a calming bedtime ritual will help your mind and body prepare for sleep before you have even hit the pillow. Check out a few additional tips from Sleep.org.
- Avoid stimulants an hour prior to bed
This includes technology, exercise and caffeine. All Technology emits artificial lights that delay our brains natural signals for sleep. This can include lights from anything around you; alarm clock, iPhone, television, lamps. These lights disrupt your circadian rhythm-the natural sleep/wake cycle-which has been shown to impact hormone production, cell repair and brain wave patterns. If artificial lights are unavoidable, throw on a pair of blue-light blocking glasses as the sun starts to set. Caffeine blocks the neurotransmitters needed to signal sleepiness. Drinking a caffeinated beverage too late in the day can impact your ability to sleep at night. Know your tolerance to caffeine and avoid it whenever possible. Besides, if you start getting enough sleep you will not need it right? Exercise can have a similar effect as caffeine on certain individuals if the activity occurs too close to bedtime. Getting early morning or afternoon exercise is an important part of regulating your circadian rhythm, especially if you are able to get in some movement outdoors. According to research from Journal of Biological Rhythms, Vitamin D has been linked to the synchronization of our circadian rhythm.
- Create a comforting sleep zone
Creating a comfortable space that is sleep specific is an important part of getting a good night's rest. If your place of residence will allow it, keep televisions, desks and other furniture that will elicit tasks besides sleep (and sex, which is also great for sleep!) out of the bedroom. A Himalayan Salt lamp is a good option to provide dim light, without using a strong artificial light that will signal your brain to remain alert. Using thick curtains or blackout curtains to prevent any outside light from sneaking into your window is also extremely helpful. It is said that the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures colder or warmer than that range inhibit REM-rapid eye movement-sleep.
These are adjustments you can make today to improve your sleep quality tonight. Making small changes to the way you approach sleep and where sleep occurs will not only lead to a better night's sleep, but a more energized day. Having more energy throughout your day, minus the caffeine, will result in a greater sense of productivity. These simple changes will also lessen the potential impacts related to sleep deprivation. Find your magic sleep number, take some deep breaths and go to bed!