“Tell me how to sleep!” It’s a phrase I hear virtually every day. These days, millions of us are dealing with some level of sleep-deprivation, and that’s bad news for all those minds and bodies. Good, restorative sleep is a cornerstone of wellness and an absolute must if you’re going to maintain strong mental performance, stable mood, strong immunity, healthy stress response and a well-functioning metabolism. During sleep, our body does much of its cellular maintenance and repair work, so falling short does a lot more than just leave you groggy in the morning.
When sleep proves elusive, many will chase it with prescription meds, OTC aids or late-night TV binge-watching and maybe a bottle of wine. Trouble is, these things come with side-effects and addiction risk – and, in the long-run, don’t help you sleep better.
So where are you going wrong? Most likely, it’s a combination of less-than-stellar habits which, over time, wind up teaching our bodies how not to sleep. To truly to sleep well – unaided and crutch-free – you’ll need appreciate that how you go about your day impacts how you’ll sleep at night.
What follows are a few of the most common mistakes we’ve all made at one point or another and my best advice on how to get your sleepy-time groove back:
SHAVING OFF HOURS
The problem: Thinking 5 -6 hours of sleep is enough.
The fix: Getting 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night. Though millions of people think they can get by on 5 or 6 hours a night, for the overwhelming majority, it’s simply not enough according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco. Researchers there discovered that only 3% of the population has the gene that enables them to do well on 6 hours of sleep a night. Odds are, you’re one of the 97% who need more, if nothing else, to give your body enough down time for proper maintenance and repairs.
HIGH STRESS LEVELS
The problem: Unrelieved, and relentless, stress is the enemy of good sleep as it keeps body and brain in a state of perpetual high alert, pumping out those fight-or-flight hormones that keep you jacked up.
The fix: Bust stress throughout the day. As soon as you roll out of bed, take a few minutes to preemptively release the pressure with a brief meditation. Squeeze in a few early morning sun salutations and take a short walk at lunchtime and another mid-afternoon if you can. Book some regular sauna time and always close out your day with a quick round of restorative yoga to relax mind and body before turning in. By upping the number daytime stress-breaks, you’ll blunt the impact of the mental and physical stressors that can keep you up at night.
ARTIFICIAL LIGHT & GLOWING SCREENS
The problem: The artificial, glowing blue lights of LED light bulbs, phones, tablets, laptops and TVs disrupt the body’s ability to release sleep-inducing hormones that would otherwise by triggered by natural cycle of light and darkness.
The fix: Granted, most of us aren’t going to hit the the hay as soon as darkness falls or spend our evenings in candlelight. But as bedtime approaches, start dimming the lights throughout your home to help ease the end-of-day transition. Next, create an ‘electronic sundown,’ to enable the entire family to begin powering down from the day. Banish all electronics from bedrooms and put a timer on your router to keep the wifi off while you sleep. Use low, amber light bulbs on your nightstand, and read a good old fashioned paper book to help you drift off.
THAT AFTERNOON CUP OF COFFEE
The problem: Caffeine, even in small doses, blocks sleep neurotransmitters, the calming chemicals your body produces to make you sleepy.
The fix: If you’re sensitive to caffeine, try cutting out all caffeinated beverages, including decaf coffee, sodas and even some herbal teas. They all can jack you up, and caffeine’s stimulating effects can last up to 7 hours or more. So that 3 p.m. latte may keep you buzzing well into evening, tossing and turning ‘til your body calms down.
The problem: A bedroom that’s not set up to encourage sleep.
The fix: To sleep better, you’ll need an organized, serene, quiet, dark room. Blackout curtains, an old-fashioned sleep mask, earplugs, plus a white noise machine will help block out common sleep-disrupters like street noise, streetlights and early morning sun. And turn the heat down! A cool room, 60 to 67 degrees is best for most people, even in winter. In hot weather, set the AC to about 70 degrees. “Chilling pillows” with cooling gel inserts can also make sleep more comfortable. Much as you love them, keep the dogs out of your bed, and, if they’re in the bedroom, wrap their collar tags in fabric to limit late-night clanking noises. Another sleep saver? Separate comforters, particularly if your 2-legged bed-mate tends to hog the sheets (you know who you are)!