Get Your Sleep On. A Practical Guide for Getting Better Sleep.
A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for everything. Get some sleep. Sleep your troubles away. Make sure you’re well rested. Get your beauty sleep. Early to bed, early to rise-We hear it all the time, sleep is important. But why? The importance of ample rest and sufficient sleep is incredibly significant in one’s overall health. Sleep plays a role in one’s physical, mental and emotional health.
It’s not just about not feeling tired. People who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviors, mood swings, chronic inflammation and weight gain, just to name a few. When we sleep, our bodies are able to repair and detoxify. Rest and sleep, for example, allow the body to heal and repair your heart and blood vessels, maintain a balance of hormones (including those responsible for mood and pleasure as well as those that play a role in feeling hungry and/or full) and keep the immune system in check so that the body can fight off foreign or harmful substances and manage inflammation. Restful and regular sleep is responsible in part for good decision making, a healthy sex drive, a more positive and consistent mood, a boost in creativity and motivation and sharper attention and focus.
So now that you know why it’s important, what if you can’t fall asleep or get good restful sleep?
Sometimes not being able to fall asleep, and knowing how important it is, can be a trigger for anxiety, depression or feelings of fear and disappointment. While it may not seem easy, there are some small adjustments you can make that will make getting a good night sleep more attainable.
Create a routine and stick to it. Routine is so incredibly important in so many aspects of our lives, sleep is one of them. If and whenever possible (because life can more certainly be crazy and unpredictable), make sure you are going to bed at the same time every day.
Raise Your Body Temperature
Engage in some easy to moderate form of exercise about 4-6 hours before bed in order to raise the body temperature. When the body temperature is raised during the day, the body will engage in a deeper sleep. It is important not to over stimulate so close to bedtime (no running or interval training) but instead to engage is something slow and controlled. If exercise is not an option, elevate the body temperature by taking a hot bath 3-4 hours before bed.
Mind Your Sugar and Caffeine Intake
Make sure to consume any heavier meals, foods high in sugar (carbs included) and alcoholic beverages at least 2 hours before bed. Any caffeine should be consumed no later than 12 PM. These foods interrupt deep sleep as they keep our blood sugar high during sleep and impact the body’s ability to rest, repair and detoxify.
Herbal teas that contain herbs like chamomile, valerian root, lavender and lemon balm have a mildly sedative effect and are known to help calm the nervous system. Sipping on a hot cup of these teas an hour or more before bed are a great addition to your nighttime routine.
Turn Off the TV and Electronics. We’ve all heard of the dark side of the “blue light” emitted from cell phones and computers. Blue light wavelengths are known to boost energy, attention and mood and suppress melatonin secretion, which doesn’t sound SO bad, but at night, it being full of energy and highly focused can really put a damper on your sleep. If you must look at your phone at night, see if your phone has an “yellow light” or “night shift mode” setting for night time instead. TV can be extraordinarily stimulating as well. Listening to calm music or a podcast, reading a book and turning on some ambient noise (aka a sound machine) are much better alternatives.
Clear The Air and Set the Mood
Clean air helps improve the quality of the breath, oxygen intake, bodily functions necessary for detoxification and repair and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Opening a window to let out stale air before bed is a great way to improve the quality of one’s sleep. Essential oils also have a wonderfully calming effect on the body and mind. Lavender, chamomile and bergamot are helpful in inducing relaxation and improving sleep. Dab your wrists, temples and the back of the neck or add some to a hot bath before bed.
Soft belly breathing can have a major impact on our body's ability to calm itself. Engaging in 2:1 breathing (aka Making your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation (breathe in 2 counts, exhale for 4)) can stimulate the part of your nervous system that is responsible for "rest and repair," which will ultimately lead to deep relaxation. If lying in bed and practicing soft belly breathing isn't doing the trick, try using an affirmation and guided imagery to support sleep and relaxation. For example, say "I am calm and relaxed" or "I control my inner peace" while imagining yourself in a state of peace (wherever that may be/whatever that may look like for you) while experiencing calm and deep relaxation.