In case you haven’t heard, sleep is now the number 2 factor in weight loss and maintenance! That’s right, it bumped exercise! Now, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to move your body! It simply means that sleep has a much bigger impact on your health than was previously believed. We now know that rather than cutting into your sleep time to be more productive and hustle more the real goal is to prioritize those 7 – 9 precious hours. Unfortunately, we know this because so many Americans are getting 5 or less hours a night and suffering the consequences. So, it’s time to make the adjustment! Don’t just get some rest but get a peaceful full night’s sleep using these tips!
Why is Sleep so Important
Just to quickly motivate you to take this seriously let’s start off with a quick rundown of why sleep is SO vitally important!
Weight loss and maintenance
When you don’t get enough sleep, you eat more, and you mess with your metabolism. Being over tired causes you to have terrible cravings (mostly for fast energy sources like sugar and starchy carbs). And your impulse control is hindered, and mind is foggy so it’s impossible to resist the temptations!
Productivity and Creativity
Not sleeping causes fatigue and brain fog. These hinder productivity and creativity. Everything from grades and athletic performance to projects and creative expression are impacted by sleep!
Depression and Mood
Not being well rested is a likely way to put a damper on any day. You’re likely to be irritable, short tempered and anxious. And not only that but lack of sleep can contribute to clinical depression and anxiety.
Improve Health and Life Span
Getting ample sleep reduces inflammation in the body. Since inflammation is linked to everything from heart disease and stroke to autoimmune diseases reducing it has a significant impact on your health and life span. To continue feeling healthy and delay aging, restful sleep is imperative!
Brain Health and Memory
I always think of sleep as a brain reboot. Kind of like when your computer is really slow or glitchy and needs to be restarted. This isn’t technically how it works but it’s a good analogy and sleep IS necessary to brain health. So, it’s no surprise that it has a profound effect on memory. When you sleep your brain sorts information and consolidates things you’ve learned. Your cognitive skills and memory improve after a good night’s sleep!
Did you know that lack of sleep effects our brain and response time in the same way alcohol does! Driving, operating machinery or doing complex tasks when sleep deprived is completely unsafe. You are far more likely to have an accident!
Sleep: Quantity vs. Quality
So, here’s the big question… what matters more when it comes to sleep? Quantity or Quality? Is it possible to get too much sleep? And can you make up for lost sleep by binge sleeping later?
You can’t skimp on sleep and expect to perform at your best! But when you sleep too much there is also a negative impact. On average adults need 7 – 9 hours a night. Though there are some outliers of course, who need more or less. Getting the optimal amount of sleep for YOU is key!
The amount you need says nothing about your motivation level, laziness etc. It is a biological fact and not up for debate or judgment. It can’t be adjusted to suit your preference. So, just sleep the appropriate amount of time for your body!
And, FYI, you also can’t make up for lost sleep on the weekends. It is possible to sleep bank and get a couple extra hours after a shortened night. This doesn’t mean that this works on a regular basis and it doesn’t mean you should plan for it. All nighters should be avoided whenever possible and sleep should be prioritized!
How to Determine the Amount of Sleep You Need
Every time I read that people need 7 – 9 hours of sleep I wondered how I would know what was right for me. And finally, I figured it out!
To determine the perfect amount of sleep for you, start a regular routine. One in which you go to bed after the sun sets and wake in the morning. Try to schedule 9 hours for your sleep time to start. Every night, go to sleep at the same time and wake after 9 hours.
The Alarm Clock Challenge
Within a week or 2 you may notice that you either wake on time without an alarm or maybe even early. If this is the case, you are sleeping your ideal amount. If you still need your alarm to wake, try adding a half hour to your sleep time and see if you wake on your own after 2 weeks. Do this until you notice that you usually wake on your own.
When you are getting enough sleep and sleeping at night you should be able to wake without an alarm. This doesn’t mean you don’t want to set one but it’s a good indication how much sleep you personally need. For this experiment to work you must continue even on weekends (no sleeping in) and you need to be well. When you are sick (or menstruating, ladies,) your body often needs more sleep.
Reassess as needed. Just because 8 hours is perfect for you now doesn’t mean it will be in a year or if something changes in your health. And don’t be surprised if you need more sleep in the winter than you do in the summer.
In this department, there is no quality that allows for you to minimize the quantity. That said, not getting quality sleep can drastically impact the benefits! It’s vitally important to not just be in bed or ‘resting your eyes’ for 7 – 9 hours but to actually get restful sleep complete with REM cycles.
This can be the most difficult part for many people. You can make yourself go to bed and stay there but oftentimes getting quality sleep feels impossible. Truth is, you can’t control this directly because well, hopefully you’re asleep! But, there are some things you can do in your waking hours to help improve your sleep.
Timing (same time & nighttime)
The best quality sleep happens on a set schedule and at night! Our bodies are hard wired to rest at night, which is why we don’t have night vision like some other animals. Regardless of the invention of electricity and the light bulb, we are still meant to sleep at night. Our bodies physiologically change with lack of exposure to sunlight. This is also why people tend to be more tired in the winter.
Having a bedtime routine really helps improve your quality of sleep. Getting your brain prepared can make all the difference. So, establish a bedtime routine and stick to it. Your brain loves routines and it’s an easy way to ensure restful sleep!
Have you heard of blue light? Well, it happens to be the light that prevents our bodies from producing melatonin. Melatonin is what makes you fall asleep and sleep soundly. Naturally your body should produce melatonin at night after the sun goes down and once it comes up it stops. That’s why blackout curtains are necessary for daytime sleep. Even the slightest amount of sunlight will decrease melatonin production and interrupt your sleep. Therefore, sleeping at night is very important. Blue light imitates sunlight and there are many sources of blue light lingering in your house.
Obviously full spectrum lightbulbs shouldn’t be switched on at night, but this isn’t the primary culprit when it comes to blue light. The big problem is screens! Shutting down electronic screens at night can make all the difference in the world. So, turn off cell phones, computers and TVs at least a half an hour before bed to stimulate melatonin production!
It’s very difficult to sleep when your body is trying to digest food. Digestion and all other non-essential functions slow while you sleep. So trying to fall asleep and stay asleep having just eaten a big meal (or any meal) isn’t a recipe for success. Avoid eating within 4 hours of bedtime!
Be cautious about how much you drink before bed! This is especially true for women during and after pregnancy and as people get older. Drink most of your water throughout the day and slow it down after dinner. Depending on your sleep schedule and tolerance you might want to stop drinking all together 2 hours before bed.
Everyone has a different caffeine sensitivity. For example, I can drink coffee right up until bedtime but 1 cup of tea after 2 pm and I’m up all night! The best way to figure this out to be attentive to your body. Keeping a food log can be very beneficial to establishing healthy sleep habits! You may find that there are other foods and drinks that are also impactful. Things like spicy foods, legumes or sugar could also be culprits in disrupting sleep.
If you have dreams that are disruptive, you might want to consider keeping a dream journal. It can help to clear your mind to write down your dream and get it out of your head and onto paper.
To ensure good dreams try focusing your attention on something positive or happy that happened in your day or visualize a goal being obtained. It can also be beneficial to meditate before bed or practice belly breathing.
I keep a journal beside my bed because I sometimes think of something I need to do or have a great idea just before I fall asleep or first thing in the morning. Writing it down helps me let it go so I’m not distracted or worried about forgetting it. I’ve also found that sometimes my dreams provide answers to questions or problems I’ve been dealing with and writing down those solutions is very beneficial.
To Do List
Before you start your bedtime routine be sure to write your to-do list for the next day. Tidying up any loose ends and writing down any pressing business will help you go to bed with a clear head. You may also want to lay out your clothes for the next day and pack lunches. This can be the kickoff to a great bedtime routine.
Set the Stage
Or maybe I should say “dress the stage”. Make sure that your bed, bedding and pillows are all comfortable! This is the area of your house to splurge on! Having a comfortable place to sleep will pay off in the long run!
In addition to making sure your bedding is comfortable make sure the room temperature is just right. Turn down the thermostat at night. You may have noticed that nights are always cooler than the day. Our bodies are adapted to that and we sleep better in cooler temperatures.
It has also been shown that people sleep better when they don’t use their bedrooms for other activities. Watching tv and reading in bed can do more harm than good. Consider removing the television from your room along with books and magazines. When you go to bed your body should be signaled to sleep, not to read or binge Netflix.
Baths are extremely beneficial so if you struggle to fall asleep this can be a great inclusion in your bedtime routine. Even soaking your feet in warm water can help! Feel free to read while in the tub or just relax. But make sure that you are well hydrated and don’t fall asleep while soaking. To improve your sleep even more consider adding Epsom salts to your bath. They are made of magnesium which is tremendously beneficial to sleep and believed to be best absorbed through the skin.
Deep breathing and meditation are a great way to clear your head and prime your brain for sleep. You don’t have to meditate for long. Even 3 – 5 minutes can make all the difference. You can also do some light stretching or easy yoga while meditating. I love to do a few basic yoga poses followed by Shavasana (laying on the floor quietly like at the end of a class and focusing on my breath) before bed.
Getting plenty of exercise during the day is one of the best sleep aids! It’s ideal to get at least 30 minutes of activity a day. The more you can do outside, the better! There’s no reason to be rigid about this. A brisk walk after dinner is plenty to ensure a good night’s rest!
Feeling like you accomplished something throughout the day and that your life has purpose is imperative to sleep. Just as having a clear conscious is. The way you feel about your day, your contribution, your life and yourself dramatically impacts your sleep quality.
Alcohol & Other Substances
Don’t be tempted to use alcohol or other substances to help you fall asleep or stay asleep. Alcohol might appear to help but it interferes with the quality of your sleep. As for other substances, most things that help you sleep can be habit forming or even addictive. That’s just not something to play with!
Many people take melatonin to fall asleep. The biggest issue with this is that it will interfere with your body producing its own melatonin. If you are interested in taking supplements you should consult with a naturalpath, homeopath or functional medicine doctor. Due to a lack of regulations regarding supplements and herbs you should consult with a professional.
The only exception to this would be the use of chamomile tea and lavender. Both are very soothing and can be safely included in your bedtime routine (barring any allergies).
This might seem like an awful lot of work to do for something as simple and natural as sleep. But, due to our very unnatural living environment and lifestyles sleep is often illusive. The best way to get proper rest is to follow the tips above. They are sure to trigger your para-sympathetic nervous system which helps you to relax and get to sleep. However, if you’ve tried all of this and are still struggling don’t ignore it! I highly recommend you make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor. Track your efforts, food and drink in a log to be best prepared for your appointment.
Don’t give up until you’re regularly getting restful sleep. Your health and well-being depend on it!
The world will be a better, happier, healthier and safer place if everyone is getting adequate sleep. Please share this to help spread awareness!