Sleep: The Health Habit You Should Prioritize (and How To Do It)
The Rx for good sleep requires an integrated approach. We’re sharing our key tips to upgrade your sleep hygiene and maximize the benefits of rest.
Many of us are quick to discuss our dietary preferences, favorite workout routines, and even how we tackle day-to-day stress. What’s often left out of the wellness conversation is how we’re doing in the sleep department. Adequate rest is integral to our overall wellness and the lack of sleep can negatively impact our health. It can have a domino effect on our decision-making, mood, and productivity the following day—and those are merely the short-term consequences. If you’re looking to improve one health habit, upgrading your sleep routine may be the best place to start.
More than beauty sleep
Quality sleep helps us look and feel our best. When rested, we’re more likely to make healthier food choices, show up for our workout class, perform better at the office, and have more patience when tested. At the opposite end of the spectrum, poor sleep leads us to look and feel miserable. Our brain function is compromised, our reaction time slows, and we’re more tempted to reach for an energy substitute—often sugar—which ultimately backfires causing us to crash even harder.
Aside from helping us feel well, sleep is vital for our immune function, metabolism, learning, and memory function. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it’s not all about quantity—quality is key.
Five Tips For Better Zzzz’s
Starting your morning off on the right foot begins the night before. While factors beyond our control can impact sleep (major life changes, medical conditions, etc.), we can do our best to set ourselves up for a restful night by adopting a healthy evening routine. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, so we may as well make this time count!
Follow these tips for better shut-eye…
1. Consistent sleep and wake times
Even as creatures of habit—endless demands, kids, or Netflix can interfere with a consistent sleep schedule. We’ve heard the recommendation that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help us get adequate rest, but new research shows that irregular sleep times can actually have negative consequences on our health. This study found that varying sleep times (both bed time and length of sleep) could increase risk of metabolic syndrome. Irregular sleep disrupts our biological clock, which negatively impacts our circadian rhythm. So what to do if your schedule fluctuates due to work or weekend activities? Researchers suggest trying to be as consistent as possible (especially during the week) and not altering your total sleep time by more than 120 minutes or your bedtime by more than 90 minutes.
2. Set boundaries with booze and caffeine
While alcohol may help you drift off to dreamland, it’s actually a stimulant. It impairs overall quality of sleep by increasing the number of wake-times during the night and preventing the brain from entering the deepest levels of sleep. It’s recommended to avoid drinking three hours before bed if you choose to imbibe and limiting intake to one or two per day. Giving your self several consecutive nights without wine or limiting to just the weekend may be a better strategy to build a healthy sleep routine.
Timing of caffeine may impact people differently, but as a stimulant, it’s recommended to avoid any caffeinated products four to six hours before you hit the sack. In addition to coffee and tea, caffeine is also present in chocolate, hot cocoa, some energy bars, and certain medications so be mindful of overall intake.
3. Create a bedroom sanctuary
Setting up your bedroom to create a calm and peaceful environment will help support better sleep habits. Reducing clutter, removing electronics (TV, ipad, computer and phone if possible!), and blocking out light is a great place to start. Staring at a stack of bills or pile of laundry reminds us of all the things we have to do, which can increase anxiety levels. Tidying up before bed helps de-clutter both your physical space and your mind—and gives you a clean, fresh space to wake up to in the morning.
Essential oils diffuser or room sprays are additions that can enhance relaxation (lavender is a great choice). A sound machine can help drown out background noise. A ceiling fan may do the same trick while providing cool airflow. Adding items that feel luxurious to you may help you feel at ease. A silk pillowcase, quality sheets, salt lamp, or comfy pajamas may help set the tone for a good night’s rest.
4. Incorporate de-stressing activities
An evening routine signals to your brain that you’re ready to unwind at the end of the day. In addition to limiting technology and screens before bed, and spending a few minutes to clean your space, there are other activities you can try incorporating to help you transition from day to night. While Netflix is great, binging in front of the T.V. for hours can actually deter you from getting quality sleep. Instead, try setting a time for reading (a physical book) before bed. Some find that writing a to-do list for the following day acts as a brain dump to free up the mind. Others enjoy gratitude journaling at the end of the day or doing a short meditating just before bed. Stress is a definite sleep deterrent. While it’s impossible to avoid stress altogether, we can alter our reaction to stress and how much it affects us. Taking small actions that support a peaceful mindset can help you sleep better.
Incorporating supplements at nighttime may also be useful. A few favorites include sleepytime or chamomile tea, magnesium water, and CBD oil. If you try magnesium, start with a small amount as it can have a laxative effect. It’s recommended to consult with your doctor before taking CBD, especially if pregnant or on blood thinners and to do your brand research (stay tuned for a post on CBD soon!). Tart cherry juice may also help improve sleep, especially in older adults, due to the natural melatonin found in cherries.
5. Get active!
Physical activity can help promote more time in deep, restorative sleep. With exercise, we expend energy and physically feel more tired at the end of the day. It’s also a great stress management tool; even yoga or low-impact stretching can help reduce cortisol levels. In addition to a consistent workout schedule, incorporating several active bursts into your day can make a big difference. This may include taking the stairs, setting a reminder to get up from your desk throughout the day or taking a leisurely walk after dinner. Our bodies are designed for movement, and sedentary activity can cause us to feel more sluggish—not tired—for sleep.
It’s important to note that overtraining can have the opposite effect on sleep. Too little recovery time, inadequate nutrition or increasing the intensity and duration of your workout regimen too quickly can lead to sleep disturbances.
If you continue to experience restless or sleepless nights after making adjustments to your lifestyle, we recommend consulting a medical professional. Sleep is too important to overall wellness to leave unaddressed.