Sleep! What is it good for? Absolutely everything!
If you watch The Walking Dead and relate a little too closely with the zombies endlessly dragging themselves around looking for snacks… chances are you, like so many of us, struggle with sleep.
And that needs to change.
why is sleep so important?
Aside from helping you not feel like literal death, sleep helps with:
Emotional well being
Recovery from illness or injury
Immune system functioning
Performance during the day
And you know what else? Sleep helps you not feel hungry all the time!
Yeah. I know.
Sleep helps your body regulate the hormones that make you feel full or hungry. So if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to overeat and give into cravings.
So, sleep is critical for overall health in general and for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
how much sleep do I really need?
I’m glad you asked! The ideal amount of sleep for adults is 7 to 9 hours a night.
But it’s not that simple.
The quality of your sleep is critical. Without going into detail, there are different phases of sleep that make up a sleep cycle. You need a few cycles, with all the phases, for it to be good sleep.
So if you’re asleep, but noise from a neighbor, or light from a streetlamp prevent your body from achieving full, restorative sleep cycles, you’ll still wake up feeling groggy.
my sleep is crap. What gives?
There are a LOT of things that can mess with your sleep. Including:
Large, heavy meals
Stress or anxiety (If you worry about sleep, it will harm your sleep. Ugh. Vicious cycle.)
Digestive problems (10PM bean burrito? Not a great idea.)
Certain medications or supplements
Too much ‘screen time’
It goes on and on and on.
what do I do about all that???
Here’s the good news. You can fix most of these with two things.
Before I get to those two things, a quick word. If you suspect a nutrient deficiency, hormone imbalance, interference from medication or any other medical reason for your sleep problems, see your doctor.
For everyone else, here are the two things you need to fix: environment and routine.
ENVIRONMENT AND ROUTINE!
I’m shouting because they’re so important for helping you get good sleep.
What is your bedroom like? Is it comfortable? Do you feel relaxed in it? Your sleep environment should be a place of calm and serenity. You should feel at ease in it.
Here’s how to achieve a restful sleep environment:
Clean and declutter.
Mess = stress, so clean your room!
Keep phones and tablets out of your bedroom and get rid of the TV.
Keep it cool
We sleep better in cooler temperatures, so open a window, crank the AC or get a fan.
Make it dark
Get blackout blinds or heavy curtains and ditch any electronics with a light. If your alarm clock lights up, put a Post-It over the display to block it out.
Make it quiet
If you can’t get rid of noise, cover it up! White noise creates a background sound that your brain tunes out along with any other sounds.
Invest in your bedding
Upgrade whatever your budget allows - sheets, blankets, pillow, even mattress if you can. Your sleep is worth the investment!
Maybe you love red, but do you really feel relaxed in a bright red room? Go for calming, muted colours.
Invest in aromatherapy
Air out your room during the day and get some aromatherapy going, either with a diffuser, linen spray, body lotion or my favourite, essential oils. Scents for sleep include lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine, chamomile (not just for tea!), vetiver, sandalwood, marjoram, cedarwood and frankincense. Find one that helps you feel dreamy.
Aim for a feeling of calm and relaxation. If you love a bedding pattern, piece of artwork, wall colour or scent, but it makes you feel kinda jazzed up, it’s not right for sleep. Jazzy sleep is not good sleep.
We are creatures of habit. Sights, sounds, smells and practices tell our brains to get ready for something.
When your bedtime routine starts, all your brain cells should start swarming around the idea of restful sleep.
Here’s a sample bedtime routine for restful sleep:
9:00 PM: Turn off all screens, open the bedroom window, turn on the fan, light a jasmine scented candle, turn on some relaxing music.
9:10 PM: Make a cup of bergamot or chamomile tea and sip while reading a paper book (no e-readers or tablets).
9:40 PM: Begin your pre-bed toilettage (isn’t that a great word for brush your teeth and wash your face?). Apply a relaxing, lavender scented lotion or essential oils on your wrists or temples.
9:50 PM: 10 minutes of deep breathing meditation.
10:00 PM: Blow out the candle (skip the candle if you think you’ll forget - fire hazards are not relaxing). Close the window if you have to. Snuggle into your soft, comforting, relaxing bed. Sleep.
Remember that your new routine is not yet a habit. It won’t work “out of the box”. But if you commit to following your routine several nights in a row, you will start to notice your body relaxing and feeling ready for sleep the moment you shut down your iPhone or turn on the kettle.
On top of environment and routine, it also helps to change a few daytime habits. Caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals can all interfere with sleep. Avoid caffeine after about noon. Eat nourishing, but not heavy or rich meals, no later than an hour before bedtime. Don’t rely on a ‘nightcap’ for sleep. Alcohol may help you “get” to sleep, but can interfere with those critical sleep cycles. A little exercise or physical activity during the day will help too!
If you’ve achieved a sleep environment worthy of the world’s top relaxation spas, but still struggle with feeling rested and restored during the day, that’s the time to see a doctor.
Sleep is not an afterthought. Your health, well being and enjoyment of life depend on it.