Tired of counting sheep? Here are some tips and tricks to improve your sleep….
Have you ever heard of sleep hygiene? The term sleep hygiene is relativity new but the concept itself certainly is not! It refers to a range of tips and guidelines that one can do to help ensure a healthy sleep pattern. Sleep is one of the most underrated elements of health. There are numerous biological processes that occur while you sleep that are necessary for optimal health. Your body needs sleep; and ensuring you are getting sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity. Need help getting your sleep back on track? Check out the sleep hygiene tips and tricks below to help ensure you are catching some good quality Z’s.
Consistency. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep is to try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends and days off. This helps train your circadian rhythm (aka your sleep cycle) to be consistent. Babies aren’t the only ones who need to be sleep trained!
Get outside. Spending time outdoors in the natural light during the day plays a very important part in regulating our wake and sleep cycle, specifically getting some sunlight during the earlier portion of your day. A morning walk is a great way to obtain this and feel refreshed for the day ahead.
Sleep when sleepy. Only try to sleep when you actually feel sleepy, opposed to spending too much awake time in your bed. Our beds are usually super comfy and we long to be in them all day. However, our beds should be reserved for sleep. This helps our bodies associate our beds with sleep specifically. If you use your bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, etc, your body will learn to connect your bed with those stimulating activities opposed to with sleeping.
Avoid caffeine. Caffeine containing substances act as stimulants and should be avoid at least 6 hours before bed. This varies for different people; some people need to avoid caffeine for even longer.
Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol is a depressant and many people feel it helps them sleep, it actually negatively impacts the QUALITY of sleep and should be avoid 4-6 hours before bedtime.
No napping. It is best to avoid naps all together during the day to ensure you are actually tired at bedtime and that you are maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. However, if a nap is absolutely needed, make sure it is for less than an hour (set an alarm) and is before 3 pm.
Have a bath or shower. Research has shown that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature. Having a hot bath or shower 1-2 hours before bedtime is not only relaxing but raises your body temperature, causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again.
Exercise. Regular exercises is an essential component of general health and also helps with sleep. However, strenuous exercise can be stimulating and for some people needs to be avoided right before bedtime.
Sleep rituals. This is essentially your bedtime routine. Develop your own set of bedtime rituals that signals to your body that you are getting ready to sleep. Examples of bedtime rituals could be having a cup of caffeine-free tea, doing some gentle stretching, listening to a guided meditation, reading outside of the bedroom, etc.
Try to relax. We are usually all very busy during the day and by the time we get home, we have a long way to come down in order to feel relaxed. Finding a way to relax both your physical body and your mind is a game changer. Try listening to a guided meditation, doing some at home yoga, doing a deep breathing exercise, or going for a quiet walk. Play around with this, relaxing activities are different for everyone.
Limit screen time. This one is especially difficult as we live in a world where screens are always around. Watching TV (or your tablet) in bed is a major contributor to poor sleep quality. Also, try to keep your phone out of the bedroom; the constant notifications, bings, buzzes, and social media scrolling is constantly stimulating our brains and telling it that it needs to stay awake. Try to keep all devices out of the bedroom and turn off all devices 30 min before bed
Food. A healthy balanced diet is a vital part of general health and sleep regulation. But, the timing of food intake is actually super important. Some people find having an empty stomach or drop in blood sugar close to bedtime distracting and/or stimulating, so a small protein or healthy fat rich snack before bed can be beneficial for some. However, a heavy meal too close to bedtime can interrupt sleep.
Your bedroom. It is very important that your bedroom feels like a sacred space for sleep. Excess clutter can make our minds feel distracted and “busy” before bed. The room should also be on the cooler side to help our body temperatures drop a little bit to trigger that sleepy feeling. A comfortable and supportive mattress is key as well as comfortable and warm blankets. Blackout curtains or an eye mask are also sometimes needed to block out any unnecessary light exposure. A white noise machine or ear plugs may also be needed to block out any unnecessary noises as well.
Keys to success: Be patient with yourself. This is a lot of information to take in and depending on your starting point this would all require a lot of work. Be patient with yourself, great change is not accomplished overnight. And setbacks are normal, when they happen just breathe and get back on course. Start small; pick a few to implement first and then once you get those down, try adding in a few more. And like most things in life, consistency is key. Your body responds to consistency and routine because eventually things just become second nature. You got this!
If you continue to experience poor sleep quality or extreme fatigue – reach out to a member on your health care team; a deeper assessment may be needed.
Dr. Denise Patterson, ND
Note: This blog entry is for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute practice of naturopathic medicine or other professional healthcare services including the giving of medical advice. No doctor patient relationship is formed. Use of this material is at user’s own risk. Readers should not disregard or delay obtaining medical advice for any medical conditions they may have and should seek assistance from a trusted medical care professional for any condition. This blog entry does not speak on behalf of naturopathic medicine and does not represent the profession as a whole.