Sleeping. It's the only thing we pretend to do to get our brain to actually do it.
Sleep is a wonderdrug. A magic pill that can address a lot of chronic ailments. It's also an interesting topic of discussion with most of my clients. Obviously we all sleep but a common occurrence is that sleeping well is a hard thing to come by. In discussing sleeping habits and patterns, fewer and fewer people are getting well rested. Excessive screen time, poor work/life balance (stress), lacking physical activity/exertion and poor diet & alcohol consumption are all contributors to a less restful night of sleep.
Typically, a lot of hours are thrown at sleep (quantity) but what's more important is the quality of that sleep. Four (4) quality hours of sleep can be more restful and re-energizing than 6-8 hours of disturbed, interrupted sleep. A huge contibutor to the struggle for better sleep is the sheer amount of hours we spend in front of a screen. Computer, TV, phone...all of them are busting up your sleep patterns.
The following are some strategies I regularly prescribe to clients.
1. No Screen Time.
Get off your dang phone before bed. Plug your phone into the charger, set your alarms, send your texts/emails and put your phone down for at least 30-60 minutes before bed. If you’re a fan of late-night scrolling on Facebook or Instagram, the screen on your phone emits blue light (even with a filter) which acts as a stimulant for your brain which can wreak havoc on your circadian (sleep) rhythms.
2. Develop Pre-sleep Habits
Establish a routine that can be easily recreated regardless of setting. Did you have a bed time routine as a child? Maybe dinner, a bath, a bed time story and then lights out. A large part of that was your brain recognizing the same activities as a precursor to sleep. The same concept carries over into your adult life as well. As you refine the bed time routine, your brain will begin to recognize the pattern and will work at preparing your body for sleep. Taking a cool (not cold) shower will help in lowering your core temperature which will help you sleep better. If you travel, obviously you can’t take your bed with you, but you can take your pillow or the pillow case. The smell of the pillow case. The detergent and/or shampoo you use. All of these convince the brain that you are at home in your own bed resulting in deeper, more relaxed sleep.
3. Stay Frosty
Research shows that our bodies are able to enter a deeper state of sleep in a cold environment. Ideal sleep temperatures range anywhere from 62 to 68 degrees. If these temperatures are too cold for your liking, try taking a cool shower before bed or utilize a nearby fan as these this will lower your core temperature making it easier to fall and stay asleep.
4. Pitch Black
Keep your room as dark as you can. Black out curtains, sunshades or simply close the curtains. If a light must be in the room, use dim red lights. Red light has the lowest energy which results in the lowest effect on your circadian rhythms. Remember the blue light coming out of your screen acting as a stimulant?
If you travel and must use the hotel alarm clock (to avoid screen time, right?), set the alarm and place the clock face down. When you're sleeping, your brain and eyes can still detect light in the room, so things like the power button on a TV, the face on an alarm clock or even your phone screen briefly lighting up when you get texts or notifications from Instagram can all stimulate your brain and draw you out of a deep sleep.
5. Limit Alcohol
Weekends, celebrations and get togethers with friends are all great times to enjoy an adult beverage. However, when you drink and then sleep, your core temperature elevates as your body attempts to process (cook off) the alcohol. This elevated core temperature will prevent you from achieving a deeper state of sleep. This affect can last for up to 4 days after drinking.
6. Limit Caffeine
The health benefits of drinking coffee and tea are unarguable but we have way too much access to caffeine in the forms of sodas and energy drinks which offer no health benefit. While the sheer quantity of caffeine consumed may be questionable at best, the one variable that can be influenced is the timing. Caffeine has a half-life of approximately 4-8 hours depending on the person and their efficiency in processing the drug. If your bed time is typically midnight but you're pounding energy drinks at 9PM, the likelihood of you sleeping well is slim. On another note, if you're drinking caffeine to stay up until your midnight bedtime, maybe cut out the caffeine earlier in the day and go to bed earlier. Your sleeping better may actually drive down your need for caffeine.