A good night’s sleep seems like a luxury these days.
In a culture where everyone is overworked, stressed and under-rested, putting priority on a healthy nighttime routine and a good night’s rest are sometimes seen as unnecessary or unimportant. When in reality, lack of quality sleep will impact energy levels both immediately and long-term. As sleep disturbances become more common, the effects, like immune system failure, diabetes, obesity, depression, and memory loss are more likely to occur.
Generations ago, this was unheard of. You went to bed when it got dark outside and woke up with the rising of the sun. It was as simple as that…but it doesn’t seem to be that easy or simple now.
So what are the first steps we should take to get better sleep?
Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule
10pm-6am is ideal. If you are having a hard time going to bed at this time each night, move towards 10pm by getting in bed each night 15 minutes earlier than the night before. So if you go to bed at 11:30pm now, your sleep goal the first night should be 11:15, 11:00 the following night, 10:45 the next night and so on. Once it’s a habit it becomes very doable.
Why 10pm-6am? Our brains are hard-wired to go with the flow of the earth’s natural circadian rhythms. When it gets dark outside, our bodies naturally want to rest, but with electricity and technology came an entire culture of night owls. Exposing our brains and bodies to artificial light at all hours of the night has significantly decreased our quality of sleep. And once you’re up past 10pm, you have a really good chance of catching that “second wind”. The problem is that this energy you’re feeling is actually meant for healing your body (repairing your cells, restocking hormones, processing toxins, generating white blood cells) instead of helping you watch another episode on Netflix so you’re literally trading your health for your habit! At this point falling asleep becomes more difficult and you’ll have a harder time getting out of bed in the morning! Bottom line? Make 10pm a priority!
Reduce blue light exposure
All the screens we have in our life are messing up our cortisol and melatonin hormonal production in a bad way. The more artificial light we are exposed to (blue light from a computer or smart phone or TV) the more disoriented your body’s natural preparation for sleep becomes. Aim to turn off screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime or use blue light blocker sunglasses if you need to be on a screen. I also use the f.lux app on my computer that eliminates blue light from the screen as the day goes on.
Avoid additional brain stimulation
We’re talking about activities AND food/drinks here. Try to avoid any activities that require a lot of mental focus (including stressful conversations) leading up to bedtime. I also recommend no caffeine after 2pm (which includes black tea, green tea, maté, coffee, soda). Avoid large, late-night meals and eating 1-2 hours prior to bedtime.
On the flip side, try to create a very calming nighttime ritual that focuses on calming the mind. Herbal teas (any time of day or evening) that promote sleep include chamomile, valerian, lavender, and passionflower. Take an Epsom Salt bath, which provides the body with a dose of magnesium, and try gratitude journaling or brain dumping (writing everything down on paper that you may keep your head spinning at night).
Create a restful environment
Rooms that are too hot or too cold tend to wake us up so setting the temperature to the low to mid-60’s is ideal for sleep. Some people may need to sleep with soft foam earplugs to help reduce noise or include white noise if the environment is too quiet. I recommend sleeping with your phone in a separate room to reduce radiation exposure and to prevent the temptation of being on social media late at night (which can lead to us comparing ourselves to others, giving in to impulse purchases, and starting the cycle again with exposure to blue light). Don’t bring your phone into bed with you! Try diffusing lavender essential oil, running an air purifier, bringing in live plants such as snake plants and spider plants (both which promote a calming environment and help to purify the air).
It seems like a lot to keep track of, but once you start a new routine and developing new habits, you’ll start to subconsciously set yourself up for success by taking your nighttime habits to the next level. And you’ll feel SO much better, too!