by Jacquelyn J. Core JD PhD
If you are like me you are on a constant quest to find enough, good, quality sleep.
My problem is that sleep gets added to a long and busy to do list. That same list keeps me firing on all cylinders. When we get and stay moving at a fast pace, we can be productive, but we also can be operating in the sympathetic nervous system where adrenaline is king and relaxation seems like a myth. In order to find this sleep we need to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system so we can relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep.
Why is sleep so important? Research suggests that we need between seven and eight hours sleep for optimal health. In addition, “[d]ata from numerous studies suggests that insufficient sleep can be linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, early death, high blood pressure and a wide range of other health problems.” (https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6129/the-science-behind-a-better-night-s-sleep)
Knowing sleep is important to our health (and makes us feel like a million bucks… nothing beats the feeling of waking, well-rested, from a great night’s sleep), how do we find that elusive sleep experience? Our bodies need to be governed by the parasympathetic nervous system to get restorative sleep. The parasympathetic nervous system gets accessed when we are relaxed, we are not in danger, and stress is low. As a result, what happens when we are asleep depends a lot on what we do when we are awake. Here are some things we can do to get the best chance at a great night of shuteye.
Consistency is king. Your body loves a good clock, so to the maximum extent possible try to get to bed and wake up at about the same time each day. This rhythm signals the body that it is time to slow down.
Slow your pace. Making time just before bed for relaxing, slower activities helps us transition from thinking to resting. Just before bedtime is not the time for higher level math or horror movies… Lower the lights, focus on quieter, more relaxing activities like yoga, meditation or prayer, or a bath. While working out helps your body prepare for sleep, do your heavier workouts at least three hours before bedtime.
Eliminate the blues. Here we are talking about the lights on your electronics, not your mood. Limit your screen time of any kind in the hour before bed, and make a rule that you will have no electronic use in the bedroom altogether. The blue light transmitted by our electronics keeps our minds more active than rest dictates.
Watch your mouth. Drinking caffeine late in the day, or even in the afternoon, may disrupt or prevent sleep for some people. Remember that even decaf coffee and tea still have some amount of caffeine. Energy drinks and alcohol can also lead to sleep disruption. You will also find caffeine in chocolate. Chamomile or lavender teas, which are both naturally caffeine free, are good nighttime options for a relaxing evening drink.
Clean your room. No dust cloth needed… instead call in a hand to help you move the TV out. Your bedroom should be only for activities that are supposed to happen in your bed, and eating and watching TV are not among those. So clean your room of anything that does not below. No cell phone. No Facebook. No computer. Instead create an oasis where your focus is calm and relaxation. The sheets matter. I have already told you how I feel about good sheets. Get the best bed and sheets you can afford, and keep your bedroom cool. Consider adding soft light before bedtime, eliminating light altogether (including the clock) when it’s time to sleep. I recently bought an essential oil diffuser, and I love it. It has been one more way to signal the time to sleep. I only turn it on just before bed. A good friend of mine swears by her salt lamp.
Find what works for you. If you believe it helps, it will help. Good, restorative sleep is within your reach.
Here’s to your good health!