Get Your Best Night’s Sleep
In our culture, getting enough sleep is often kicked to the curb in lieu of working late, partying, binge-watching shows, or catching up on household chores. All-nighters are popular and glamorized. Many work cultures expect employees to work long hours, which often happens at the expense of getting enough sleep. Some people even joke that people who prioritize sleep are “weak” and “lazy.” The Center for Disease Control reports that one in three people routinely gets fewer than the recommended seven hours of sleep per day.
However, numerous studies shine a light on how important deep restorative sleep is to our well-being. Many reparative processes occur during sleep, especially during the deepest stages.
- Cerebrospinal fluid clears metabolic waste from the brain
- Glucose metabolism increases in the brain, solidifying memories formed during the day
- Tissues are repaired
- Cells are regenerated
- Important hormones are secreted, including human growth hormone
Poor or inadequate sleep has been linked to conditions such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some people want to get a good night’s sleep, but struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep. There are many aspects to creating a successful night’s sleep, which has been termed “sleep hygiene.” Here is how it’s done.
Setting your internal clock
- A good night’s sleep actually begins when you wake up the previous morning. Our bodies are hardwired to have a daily circadian rhythm, and are quite sensitive to natural light during the day. Our natural rhythm is to rise as the sun is rising and to start winding down after the sun sets. The process of getting sleepy at 9 p.m. begins when we get up in the morning and expose our eyes and bodies to natural light. Going outside into natural light in the morning sets our clock for the day, so that fourteen hours later, we start to feel sleepy. So take a 20-30 minute walk outside within a couple of hours of waking up (no doubt Rover would love that routine!).
Good habits throughout the day
- We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and is often used to offset a poor night’s sleep. People metabolize caffeine at different rates. Some people can drink caffeine well into the afternoon and have no problem sleeping, while others can’t drink caffeine past 10 a.m. without still feeling its effects at bedtime. Know where your line is, but a general rule of thumb is to not drink caffeine after noon.
- Continue to spend as much time outside during the day as possible. The bright blue light of daylight continues to send signals to your brain, and you need adequate blue light during the day to keep your circadian rhythms on track. Note that the blue light of your computer screen is not strong enough to substitute for outdoor light.
- Try to get some form of exercise every day, to increase circulation, relieve muscle tension and detoxify through sweating.
- Make sure to eat enough dinner, one that includes adequate protein, healthy fats and enough complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables. This keeps your blood sugar level throughout the night. As a rule, stop eating 3-4 hours before bedtime, though some people require a small balanced snack closer to bedtime.
What is good sleep hygiene?
What you do in the evenings is paramount to getting a good night’s sleep. Remember, our ancestors didn’t have bright house lights and bright electronic screens to keep their brains and bodies active into the night. They ended their day with the red light of a sunset, firelight and moonlight. The gradual darkening begins the process of your pineal gland making melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Begin to turn off and dim the lights throughout the evening. You can even find red-light bulbs to simulate end-of-day outdoor light.
- Set your computer so that it blocks blue light. The blue light from your computer screen tells your brain that it’s still daylight and you should be wide awake.
- Similarly, you can buy blue-light-blocking glasses, or amber glasses, to wear in the evenings if you are using your computer.
- Don’t drink anything after 8 p.m. to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.
- Choose a time when you will turn off all screens for the day, preferably 2-3 hours before bedtime. This includes the computer, the tablet, the phone and the television.
- As bedtime draws near, don’t engage in anything that overstimulates the mind, such as a scary movie or book. This can make it hard to fall asleep later.
- Design a customized relaxing nighttime routine that you intend to follow each night. This is to signal your brain and body that it’s almost bedtime. Your routine might include a warm bath, diffusing essential oils, playing or listening to music, talking, singing, art, reading, journaling, meditating, gentle stretching.
- The human body loves regularity. Schedule a time period to sleep 7-9 hours every night. Wake and go to bed about the same time every day, even weekends.
Prime your bedroom
- Sleep in complete darkness. Melatonin degrades with exposure to light. This happens primarily when light enters the eyes, but can also happen with light on your skin. Remove the nightlight. Cover the lighted clock. Cover any lights on devices, such as phones and TVs. Use eye-covers at night. Buy black-out shades for the windows.
- People have different preferences as it relates to noise. Some people like white noise machines. Others prefer complete silence.
- Keep your room cool at night. The optimal temperature for good sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees.
Sleep well and pleasant dreams!