September Health and Wellness
Better Sleep for Better Health
Melissa Martin, Certified Pilates Instructor
“I can’t sleep”. It seems that most people today utter this phrase at one point or another. More people experience sleep problems than ever before, and there are many factors contributing to this in our modern world. A lack of sleep affects every part of our being: physically, mentally, emotionally, our immunity, energy, productivity, and ability to heal. Unfortunately for some, this can develop into a chronic issue. If you are experiencing sleep challenges, you should consult with your doctor to rule out any sleep disorders. But regardless of the reason, adding in a few basic principles can drastically improve any challenge with sleep you’re having.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have a good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Everyone of any age will benefit from an adequate amount of sleep.
If you don’t sleep well, are tired during the day, and the concept of sleep hygiene is new to you, you may not know where to begin. The following is a list of tips and tricks to help you get started on your journey to better sleep:
- Try to expose yourself to sunlight as early in the day as possible. This helps with starting to regulate our circadian rhythms and being awake and energized during the day and then winding down and going to sleep at night. conversely, we want to avoid bright lights in our homes and excess of screen time at night. Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses for the evenings, especially during use of screens.
- During the day, make sure you are not napping more than 30 minutes, otherwise, this can throw off your sleep schedule. Sometimes even a short 10 or 20 minute nap can help energize and rejuvenate us if we feel we need it.
- Only use your bed for sleeping and avoid using it for lounging. This helps our brain solely associate our bed with sleep. When we are in there too long, it can start to become more and more difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Exercise! There are many, many benefits of regular exercise. It impacts every aspect of our being and promotes general wellness in every area of our lives. This also includes sleeping. When we are getting the proper movement and exercise in during the day, it drastically helps improve sleep at night. Make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime or it can have an opposite effect and keep us awake longer than we may want to be at night.
- Make sure your sleep environment is set up for your success. Ideally, we sleep best in a cold, dark room free of distractions. Invest in light blocking curtains, a white noise machine, or eye mask.
- When was the last time you got a new mattress or pillows? If your mattress is going on a decade old, you may benefit from replacing it with a new one that is aimed for your most comfort. This also includes sleeping on comfortable, high-quality clean sheets and other bedding.
- Move all technology out of your bedroom. This is probably one of the most important steps, as research has linked the blue light emitted from screens to insomnia and other sleep problems. One hour prior to bedtime, take your phone, computer, and anything else that lights up, beeps, or dings out of your room and to another location of your home.
- Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. This has a couple benefits. When we wake up at night and immediately check our phones, the light from the screen will stimulate our brains and tell it that it’s daytime and time to be awake. Also, seeing the time can cause a great deal of anxiety and the potential to lie awake not feeling like you have enough time to get back to sleep before you need to wake up. My favorite type of alarm is a sunrise/sunset alarm clock. It has features that will simulate a sunset at night to help your body wind down for sleep, as well as a sunrise effect in the morning to help you slowly and gradually wake up. This will leave you feeling more refreshed and easier to wake up in the morning.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back to sleep, it is best to get out of your bed and move to a different room of your home. While continuing to avoid using your phone and other screens, do something relaxing such as reading or journaling to help you wind down again, and return to your bed only when you are ready for sleep. Sometimes the activities we do when we wake up and can’t fall back asleep keep you up longer than intended.
- Create an evening ritual to help you wind down and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. This is highly individual and I encourage you to find what works best for you. Some ideas to get you started are taking an Epsom salt bath, using essential oils, reading, journaling, and listening to your favorite meditation or body scan. I highly recommend downloading an app called “Calm” that is full of these techniques, including adult bedtime stories- one’s from some of our favorite actors!
- Drink a cup of chamomile tea and/or a powdered magnesium supplement that dissolves in water that you can drink to help you drift into sleep and calming any stress or anxiety you may be experiencing.
- Pray. Focusing on and attending to your spiritual life can have wonderful benefits and help you unwind from the day and transition to sleep.
- Consider having pets and children sleep outside of your room. The more and/or people animals in your room, the more potential for disturbances to your sleep. If you have a spouse or partner who snores or moves in their sleep, some couples benefit from separate beds in the same room- or a different one if that suits you best.
Above all, and no matter what habits you choose to adopt, prioritizing your sleep is a habit you will not regret. Our culture sometimes views sleep as a luxury or busyness as a badge of honor. Don’t fall into this trap. You will be more productive and a much healthier and happier version of yourself when you are consistently and adequately rested. I am wishing you a very good night’s sleep!