“Get more sleep” is something you have heard for a while now. You probably say it to yourself, likely upon waking. Your feet have not even hit the ground yet and you are already thinking, “Oh tonight I will get in bed earlier.”
This is not a new concept nor are the benefits of sleep new to science literature, however it is a habit that we continue to not prioritize. Sleep is medicine. Let me repeat that, Sleep is MEDICINE. For starters, people that get more sleep feel better. Isn’t that the goal – to FEEL BETTER? It has been shown that those getting more sufficient and good quality sleep report less brain fog, improved clarity, improved mood, better libido and even improved weight control. If we are more exhausted, then we have less resilience to tolerate stress, setting us up to be more moody, irritable, cranky, indecisive, and foggy. We become more overwhelmed, further separating us from feeling joy and happiness. Studies show a link between chronic sleep deprivation and serious health conditions such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes and obesity. When we talk about sleep we think of quantity and quality. Quantity, referring to the hours of sleep per night and quality, referring to the depth of sleep. I also want to point out that the quality of your sleep is not solely dependant upon the 15-20 minutes preceding bedtime. Routines and sleep hygiene around that time frame is important; however, how you spend and live in your days will also affect the quality of sleep. So better stress management and slowing down during daylight hours can improve our sleep.
For the purpose of this monthly habits of health challenge, we want to encourage behavior changes to improve quantity and quality of sleep. We have listed some recommendations below for you to try out this month that deal with behavior vs individualized physiology. Please understand that sleep is a complex topic and if you are having true persistent insomnia then please see us in the clinic for more specific recommendations. If you are still fatigued despite adequate sleep, then a full functional medicine workup is suggested. Limit Caffeine – Might sound obvious, but if you are having trouble falling asleep, consider putting an end to caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime. If you are more sensitive to caffeine, then consider stopping caffeine 8-10 hours prior to your target bedtime. Busy Body – I hear it all the time, and even fall victim myself time to time, that night time is the time when “I need to get stuff done.” I know so many people that burn the midnight oil. We trick ourselves into thinking that we have to “push through” and “get stuff done.” However, if we are more rested, then what would be the impact on the efficiency of our day? Sources vary here, but the recommendation, on average, for adults is between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If you are short of that mark, then what can you do to get in bed 1-2 hours earlier. What beliefs would you have to change so that you can truly allow your body and mind to rest through the night? What needs to be reevaluated? Limit Blue Light – Devices emit blue light which is associated with decreasing melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep and circadian rhythms. If device use is required for your modern life, then check out TrueDark glasses that can be worn while on the device to limit the blue light exposure. Bedtime Ritual – Preparing yourself for sleep is ideal. We cannot go-go-go all day and then hop into bed and expect immediate sleep. Winding down is an essential part of initiating sleep. Work to create a 30-60 minute bedtime ritual (that does not involve devices or TV!!) Some ideas include:
- Taking a bath with epsom salts and calming essential oils such as lavender.
- Having a cup of tea (decaf of course).
- Reading a book or magazine.
- Mediating or deep breathing.
- Mindfully brushing your teeth and washing your face.
Clear the Bedroom – Clutter can affect sleep. So consider clearing the clutter in your sleeping area. Strive to make your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary. Monkey Mind – “I just cannot fall asleep because my mind is racing.” This is another common challenge. This can affect people at the onset of sleep or during a 2 am wake up. The minute you give into the power of your mind, you are right, you will be awake. The trick is to get out of your head and into your body by focusing on sensations. Some techniques that I discuss with my patients are:
- Deep breathing and focusing on feeling the sensation in your body.
- Body Scans – focusing on relaxing each area of your body from head to toe, sinking deeper and deeper into your bed. Give yourself permission to relax.
- Happy Place – Go to your happy place. Maybe it is the beach or the mountains, but feel the sensations – feel the sun, hear the ocean, etc.
- Slowing down during the day. I know that you think you cannot slow down. “There is too much to do to slow down!!” Right? WRONG. We have to work on slowing the pace, mindful living exercises, daily breathing exercises, as a way to build stress resilience and improved sleep. We want to inspire you to focus on your sleep this month. It will be worth it. Let us know what works for you and how it is going.