Let’s talk about sleep. According to the CDC one third of the US population struggles to get enough sleep. take medication to get and stay asleep. Our work, technology, and movement needs have changed throughout the years. As a result more of us have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good number of us turn to sleep aids – pharmaceuticals, alcohol, falling asleep with the TV on, doing more and more so we are “really tired”. However, these aids are often short sighted and do not help us access the deep sleep we really need. Read on to review key areas where you can shift your behavior and take control of your sleep cycle again.
Many people struggle with sleep because they negate its benefits. In our individualistic action oriented culture many people see the value of doing more over taking a break. Thus, they short their sleep in favor of getting one more item graded, one more report done, one more idea mapped out, one more treat made. In the long run this is a recipe for disaster. Your mind keeps racing with ideas as it gets trained to do more and those ideas sometimes become worries. Before we know it we’ve lost precious sleep time to thoughts, fears, and anxieties.
There are some key strategies you can do to end the cycle of not enough sleep, self medication with caffeine all day, and then being too wired to sleep well. Inevitability starting the cycle all over again.
Let’s start with the first and one of the most easy places to intervene: Time. Research shows that for the average adult 7-9 hours of shut-eye is best. That being said there are some exceptions – most of us are not those exceptions. Instead, most of us who get less than 7 hours or more than 9 have adapted to habits. Our bodies are amazing adaptions machines.
This does not mean it’s always adapting to optimal – it adapts to survival. As we shorten the time we sleep we impact the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal axis. The body’s stress system. This impacts cortisol levels and fluctuates things like weight gain, inflammation rates, joint problems, pain levels, disease states, immunity, ability to concentrate and be productive, our ability to connect and play well with others, and energy balance needs (creating more carbohydrate cravings) to name a few. Today commit to making changes to get at least 7 up to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Below we will discuss how to do that. As I know some of you are like “WHAAAAT!?!?! How the hell am I supposed to do that?!?!?!”
One of my favorite tools to get and stay asleep, I love this ladie’s voice! Works to get to sleep and when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to get back to sleep. Jen Piercy, Yoga Nidra for Sleep – Powerful Guided meditation to fall asleep fast –
Next let’s talk about diet. What you eat all day matters. When your nutrition is depleted by poor food choices your body can not make the neurotransmitters and hormones it needs to restore itself to optimal health at night. By eating for your bio-individuality you give your system what it needs. Then during the night your body helps itself recover and prepare for your day ahead. In turn this keeps you from reaching for “crutch” foods to maintain your energy balance – sugar, caffeine, alcohol, quick carbohydrate.
These “crutch” foods can be ones that deplete the system, increase stress and inflammation on the body systems, and actually do not provide you with maintained focus and clarity you are really looking for throughout the day. Instead picking dense nutritious foods provides you with the sustainable energy while also giving your body what it needs to prepare for a good night’s sleep. When you choose foods that give you sustainable energy you are creating a positive cycle that supports your system rather than tearing it down. If you need help knowing where to start. See a dietitian or nutritionist to help you find your bio-individually meal plan.
Light and Sound
Now let’s talk about light and sound. Our physical bodies were made to respond to fluctuations in light. As the sun rises so does our cortisol helping us wake up. As the moon rises so does our melatonin helping us prepare for sleep. This system is often disrupted by things like electricity, sounds, and screens. Many of us keep our home lights on full force during the evening to help us preform tasks of daily living in today’s society. As we use this technology we have to manage it well. Start lowering your lights, shut off bright ones, close curtains, lower music, TV, other sounds. This allows us to work with the natural systems rather than fight against them leading to that “2nd wind” many of us have experienced.
In addition, screens are tough on sleep. They emit a blue light that signals cortisol and “wake up” like morning light. Plus the pixels move even when they look steady to our eyes. This keeps our brains awake and paying attention. Start turning screens off about an hour before your bed time, keep them out of your bedroom, and use a blue light filter if you do need to look at them prior to bed. This time frame gives you space to build a solid bedtime routine, which prepares your body and your mind to rest.
Finally let’s talk about the body. Our bodies ere made to move. Allowing them this pleasure helps them metabolize stress chemicals, focus the brain, and just plain get tired. This prepares us for sleep. Most of us do well to do harder workouts at least 2 hours before bed time and a simple easy stretching routine 10-15 min right before bed. This helps slow the mind by lowering the breath rate, signaling the heart rate to slow, and the brain to signal time to relax to the rest of our systems. Things like a warm bath, shower, tea, cozy clothing, weighted blankets, relaxing smells, all help us get into the physical system and shift it toward sleep. Plan to spend the hour before bed winding down with these activities helping yourself crawl into bed ready to rest.
Developing a New Sleep Hygiene Routine
Routines take time to develop. Here are some ways you can build your sleep routine to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed and ready for your day – no matter what’s on your agenda or when the coffee’s coming.
- Complete all strenuous physical activity 2 hours before bed.
- Have a list where you can place all items you are thinking about right now. Shift your focus to getting ready for bed and being done with today. Anything on this list will be addressed tomorrow morning, so you can rest assured knowing you will take care of it. Place the list by your bed to capture any ideas, thoughts, worries that wake you up in the middle of the night, remind yourself you will deal with the list in the morning.
- Begin shutting down lights, closing curtains, decreasing sounds, and light 1 hour before bed
- Turn off screens. Shut off the TV in favor of paper reading items, turn off your facebook, instagram, and email. If you must look at screens, turn on your night filter to eliminate blue light.
- Spray your pillow, bed sheets, room etc with a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile.
- Brew yourself a sleepy time tea, settle in with blankets and soft clothing to enjoy it.
- Take a warm bath, shower, or wash your face, hands, feet with warm water to signal the brain to begin slowing down. It helps if you use essential oil to help your brain really relax.
- 15 min before bed time, do a simple stretching routine. It could be moon salutations from yoga, or easy movements that feel good to your body, stretching all the ones you used today. As you stretch focus on the physical sensations of letting go and resting. Use props, blankets, pillows, your bed, etc. to help your body release any tension and really let go without worry.
- Walk through the house, prepare to end the day – lock doors, straighten papers, shoes, etc so you can rest well. Nothing big here, just gentle reminders that you are done for today and ready to rest. Tomorrow you can finish the dishes or wipe the floor under the wet shoes. Crawl into bed, set your alarm, and turn off any soft lighting still on.
- If needed use a guided sleep meditation or soft music to help you adjust and drift off to sleep. These can be helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night, too.
If you do wake up – do not panic. Just note, I am awake right now. Write any racing thoughts, ideas, worries, on your list, remembering to remind yourself you will deal with this tomorrow and by sleeping now you are better prepared to solve those problems. Use scents, mediations, etc as needed. If you do have to get up – say to pee – keep lights low or off and move slowly. Do not even open your eyes if you do not need to. Again reminding yourself it is time to sleep now.
In the event you cannot fall back to sleep. Get up and move to another room – keep lights low/off and movements slow. Curl up and get cozy. If you have to read use paper materials and low lighting. Maybe fix a sleep tea to help your system calm. The more you worry about being awake the worse it gets as anxiety sets in and you struggle to rest. Need more ideas here’s another article with 10 ideas for getting and staying asleep.
Self Compassion with Sleep Changes
In the end … Remember it takes time to build a new routine. If you have created habits around not sleeping or getting up throughout the night it takes some time for the body to shift. About 21-30 days. By practicing your new routines without judgment toward yourself you are setting yourself up for success. Many times, just shifting how you view your routine can be helpful. Move away from negative talk and toward what is working. Start by:
- Shifting your sleep time by 15 min per week toward your ultimate goal.
- If the list above is overwhelming, take on one change a week
- If you wake up – DO NOT panic. Just go with the flow and remind yourself you are working in a positive direction. Be gentle with yourself and your environment.
- If you find too much light (if you can see your hand move in front of your eyes with them closed after lights out) or too much noise, help yourself out and get a sleep mask, ear plugs, and/or a white noise machine.
- Limit all distractions – pets in your bed, kids in your bed, partners. Sometimes a good pillow or separate blankets between ya’ll is enough.
CDC resources for sleep –https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/resources.html