Tired? Sit down for a minute and let me spill the secrets to a better night’s sleep. I’ve got you!
Your circadian rhythm (body clock), runs on approximately 23-25 hour “shifts”. The hypothalamus (part of your brain) controls the rhythm. It regulates much of your body functions including sleep and wake, hunger, body temperature, hormones, and hunger. Throughout your cycle, you have awake time, deep sleep, light sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. As you age, your rhythm will change (you can see it in kids when they drop their naps) but it will always be present and in charge! You need all the components of this rhythm to function. There is a whole system in your body that functions with hormones, light, food energy (glucose), and sleep. Disruptions in this rhythm are linked to all sorts of health issues. I’m talking glucose issues (Type II Diabetes), dementia, depression, chronic pain, and mood disorders to name a few. How can we get this rhythm to do what we need it to do and get the rest we need? Let’s get to it.
This body clock is influenced by light; the body knows that when it’s dark, it’s time to sleep and when it’s light, it’s time to wake up. As winter approaches, the days get shorter and it becomes dark earlier. Use lights around your home until it is time to go to sleep (and if you’re succeptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, get a “light box”). Get some time outside without glasses or contacts. Your body needs natural light (green/blue spectrum) to produce cortisol that you need for energy during the day. That cortisol is essential to function, but should decline as the day goes on so you can rest and get to bed. For sleep, reduce light in your bedroom. We’re talking black out curtains, no technology with lights, or pull a fancy move and wear a sleep mask. Even with your eyes closed, your body can sense the light coming in and will resist your efforts to sleep when it thinks you should be awake.
You’ve heard it a million times. Eat well. Exercise. When it come to getting better sleep, try to limit things that disrupt your central nervous system and body clock when it is close to bedtime. Caffeine is probably essential to your routine. I get it! Mine too. It’s important to cut yourself off no less than 4 hours before you plan to go to bed. If you’re tired later and are tempted to have just one more cup or coffee, try reaching for something high in protein. Think greek yogurt, beef jerky, or nuts. Protein naturally gives some energy without overloading you, leaving you unable to sleep later. What you eat before bed is important! Your body needs a few hours to digest before you can drift off into a restful sleep. If you eat a big meal right before bed, you’re feeling tired but are not likely to get that deep, restful sleep you crave. Try to eat no less than 3 hours before bed (when you can). Lastly, alcohol wont help you sleep.
What? But we love wine!
It makes you feel relaxed and it helps you initially fall asleep. It will not help you stay asleep. Alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythm discussed earlier and prevents you from getting that restful REM sleep. Save the booze for your day off and earlier in your evening, not before bed.
Now, a few simple tips to help with sleeping better overall. Dark and with no tech.
Screeeeeech. What? No. (You should see the look on the teenagers I see when I break that to them. Sorry bud.).
That means no iPad, phone, TV, etc. The blue light emitted from those devices activates the “wake” system in your body clock. I’ll admit, when I learned about this concept years ago, I was resistant. I always had a TV in my room and used the “sleep timer” to fall asleep. My husband and I agreed to try it anyway. It took a few weeks to adjust, but neither of us has looked back and find it to be incredibly helpful. If you really can’t avoid the tech before bed, at least wear blue-light blocking glasses. Blue light stimulates cortisol which means you’re telling your body to wake up!
Try to avoid stimulation an hour before bed with the goal of winding down and stopping the process of reliving your day, what you experienced, and perhaps what you will be walking into when you return to work. Do all of that earlier when possible. Lay out what you need for the morning, write reminder notes if needed, finish checking emails, and talk to your loved ones about your day. Then, put it away!
Reading, spending some time with your family, and “vegging out” are all great for the time before sleep. If you’re going to watch TV (hopefully in a room that you don’t sleep in!), watch something mellow. No action movies, cop shows (I’m looking at you, husband!), horror, the news (one in the same, right?), etc. Save those for earlier in the day/evening.
If you have children, or remember what it’s like to be one, you might remember how important it is it wind down gradually. Think of whatever you’re doing an hour before bed to be your bedtime story and create a routine that works for you that gives your body the message it’s time to go to bed. Sleep well!
Want more? Here’s some great sources to check out: