Optimize Your Sleep

Sleep is the cheapest strategies in our health arsenal and quite possibly the most important. It plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep gives your body more time to heal, repair, and detoxify from the day and can revitalize your brain, allowing your brain to form new pathways and perform better the following day. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To help you get to sleep earlier, try cutting your screen time short and unwind with light stretching or yoga, a warm bath (try adding Epsom salts!), meditation, or a good book. If there is just no way that you can get 7 – 8 hours of sleep in a night, aim to take a 10-20 minute nap during the day. Studies show that a short nap can provide similar benefits to a longer one. You also don’t want to disrupt your night time sleep by sleeping too much during the day so keep it to 20 minutes if possible.

An inability to fall asleep or stay asleep can mean that something in your body is out of balance or your diet or lifestyle needs some tweaking. Here are my top ten tips for improving your sleep hygiene.  If these strategies don’t help, it may be time to seek out help from a practitioner.

  1. Keep a routine.  Help your body find its natural sleep rhythm by going to bed at the same time every night (or most nights), ideally by 10pm (especially in the darker seasons) and waking up at the same time every morning. Aim for eight hours a night. Individual needs vary some and you can decide how much sleep makes you feel your best, but eight hours is a good rule of thumb.  Avoid staying up too late because you can end up spiking your cortisol to give your body energy which will affect your sleep when you finally get into bed. 

  2. Don’t eat right before bed. Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before bed to allow your body to digest your last meal before you hit the sack.  This will also allow your body to focus on the many other processes your liver, brain and other organs go through to reset and refresh your body overnight.

  3. Leave technology out of your bedroom.  EMFs (electromagnetic fields) are all around us, night and day and we do not yet know the long-term effects of their exposure. Reducing your exposure overnight not only can improve the quality of your sleep but can give your body a break from the constant exposure.  Try putting your Wi-Fi on a timer in order to turn it off a night. You can also put your cell phone in airplane mode, turning it off or keeping it out of your room entirely. Use a battery operated analog or LCD alarm clock instead. Keep other EMF emitting things like laptops, televisions, DVD players etc., out of your bedroom altogether.

  4. Keep your room as dark and as cool as possible. Our bodies like cooler temperatures for sleep. You can go down to 54 degrees in the winter months and 74 degrees on the high end in the summer months.  Outside of this range is not optimal for your body. Additionally, aim to keep your room as dark as possible, even small amounts of light can disrupt your sleep.

  5. Reduce caffeine. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and are a big coffee or caffeinated beverage drinker, consider reducing or eliminating caffeine to see if that helps.  The link between caffeine and sleep is two-fold. For one, in some people caffeine can raise cortisol levels and keep them elevated throughout the day which will affect sleep in the evening.  Additionally, people who are slow metabolizers of caffeine (possibly up to ~half of the population) can still have caffeine in their system by bedtime which may cause problems falling or staying asleep.

  6.  Drink less alcohol.  Sorry folks. While it may appear that alcohol helps you to get to sleep, it actually negatively affects your sleep quality.  It lessens the amount of time you are in the REM (deepest) cycle.  This can cause you to wake up more frequently and you may feel more tired in the morning.

  7. Move your body every day. Exercise is known to lift mood and reduces stress. It can strengthen our circadian rhythms which will promote daytime alertness and help bring on sleepiness at night. Research has also shown that exercise can help to improve not only the quantity of sleep but also the quality. Physical activity may stimulate longer periods of the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. Try working out a different times of day to see what works best for your circadian rhythm. For many, physical activity first thing or sometime before the early evening can be the sweet spot for optimal sleep.

  8.  Avoid evening blue light.  In the evenings, blue light exposure from screens or the TV can wreak havoc on your ability to sleep. Try to avoid screen time within 1-2 hours of bed time if possible and if you can’t give that time up, consider purchasing some blue light blocking glasses. While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night is the worst culprit.. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).