Sleep Better and Feel Better In The New Year
Taking steps to improve our sleep may seem like a lot of work, but the results are worth it. A good night's rest helps us think more clearly, retain less fluid, reduce under-eye circles and improve skin quality. It also allows us to recharge our capacity to deal with stress.
Sleep provides us with more energy and focus, two of the most fundamental tools we have for dealing with anxiousness and stress in everyday life. In her bestselling book “The Sleep Revolution”, co-founder of HuffPost and founder and CEO of Thrive Global Arianna Huffington captures an essential, yet often overlooked, element of improving one’s sleep quality. "The most important piece of advice is to create a period of transition to sleep because that is really what is missing from most people's lives," she writes. "We tend to be on our phones, texting, emailing and then we turn off the lights - and put phones down by our beds. Think of the transition we have for young children - we don't just drop them in bed - we sing them a lullaby, give them a bath, put them in their pj's."
Huffington notes this transition time between our waking and sleeping states is as essential for adults as it is for children. Her assessment goes on to include the non-negotiable advice to charge our devices outside of our bedrooms. "Sleeping with our phone by our bed means we have our whole day life right next to us, with all of its challenges, right next to you," she says. "We need to have a definitive line between our day lives and our nights, so we can really recharge."
Here are 10 steps you can take to improve your sleep. They specifically focus on our bedrooms, lifestyle changes and our transition time from daytime to sleep.
Create a sleep sanctuary in your bedroom.
Turn your bedroom into an area that promotes restfulness, relaxation and notifies your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, that it is time to start slowing down. You can accomplish this by adding calming colors like greys, blues and other neutrals into your bedroom color palette.
With so many of us working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be necessary to create artificial or symbolic boundaries between your bedroom at night and a remote workspace during the day. Mood lighting, candles or a soothing sound machine can signal to your body that bedtime is approaching, flipping the internal switch from productivity to relaxation.
At nighttime, it’s important to separate from electronics. Not only do they stimulate our brain, but electronics also make it easier to procrastinate sleep. The blue glow also inhibits our body's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
As a rule, put away all electronics at least 30 minutes before you turn off the lights. And merely switching the setting to sleep mode is not enough. Huffington insists that we must keep smartphones out of the bedroom while we sleep. "It's not just the bright screens that are the problem," she says. "It's also what's on them. Our entire lives are on these devices."
Make it dark.
Light suppresses our melatonin production, so it's essential to take measures to turn down the lights and make our environment calming, quiet and dark even before bedtime.
Use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom. Invest in good shades or blackout curtains. Consider sleeping with an eye mask. Cover any tiny lights with opaque tape. Keeping it dark also includes nixing the digital alarm clock, iPad, iPhone or laptop, all of which should be sleeping on a charger in another room.
Keep it cool.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal sleeping temperature. Temperatures above 75 or below 54 degrees can disrupt our sleep.
Declutter and create a peaceful, serene environment.
Step up your storage game. Clutter allows dust to accumulate, which can trigger asthma or allergies. Make the bed in the morning. Clear clothes and work items from the room. Organize your nightstand and add relaxing elements like a meaningful photograph, a candle and a pretty lamp with low light to help create a serene oasis.
There's a direct correlation between exercise and sleep. Exercise reduces stress, which naturally helps with sleep, but if we exercise too close to bedtime, it can make it harder to fall asleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends leaving at least three hours between exercise and bedtime. Focus on timing your workouts appropriately while understanding that physical activity is so beneficial to our overall health, we sometimes need to fit it in whenever possible.
Ease up on caffeine.
Caffeine can linger in our system for six to eight hours or more, so that afternoon pick-me-up can be causing problems when it's bedtime. While the exact timing is different for each of us, our caffeine cutoff should begin well before evening.
Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but it makes it harder to stay asleep. It interferes with the deep, high-quality sleep that our bodies need. This doesn't mean that you have to skip alcohol altogether but limit it to one or two drinks and try to have them at least two hours before bedtime.
Eat your way to better sleep.
As Huffington puts it, "Eat right, sleep tight. Eat wrong, up all night long." Large meals and spicy foods can interfere with sleep. But going to bed hungry can also make it harder to fall asleep.
If it's been a while since dinner, a light protein-rich snack may be beneficial. My favorites include casein-rich cottage cheese with fresh berries or a scoop of casein protein powder in unsweetened almond milk. The slow-digesting casein helps to curb hunger pangs through the night, and the steady release of amino acids can also help to repair and build muscle tissue while we sleep.
If you are still looking for snacking suggestions, here’s my article on five foods that will help you sleep better.
Explore herbal sleep remedies.
Supplementing with 160 mg valerian extract plus 80 mg lemon balm two to three times daily may improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Passionflower as a supplement or tea may also improve anxiety symptoms. One cup of passionflower tea before bed has been shown to enhance the quality of sleep.
Looking for more tips? My Ochsner colleague Kate Lufkin, DSW, LCSW-BACS has suggestions for how to practice sleep hygiene. And Thriveglobal.com also provides practical and doable sleep tips and strategies that you can immediately incorporate into your daily life here.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Jan. 4, 2017. You can access Molly’s original article for NOLA.com “10 ways to get to better sleep: 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge” here.
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