How to Improve Your Sleep: Part 1

Sleep is essential for optimal health as it affects all bodily systems. For more information on why you should prioritize sleep, read this article. Studies have shown that a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep is crucial for our wellbeing and health. “But I don’t need more than 6 hours of sleep” one might say. Try cutting out coffee or other stimulants and check-in with yourself about how much sleep you actually need. If you are having a hard time making it through the day then you, my friend, are sleep deprived. So whether you are struggling with falling asleep, staying asleep or you are simply sleep-deprived, this 3 part series will teach you important sleep hygiene tips to help you get those restful nights of quality sleep.

What to do during the day to set yourself up for a good night of sleep:

Your sleep is impacted by what you are doing when you are awake. From the food you eat to the lifestyle you live, it all affects your sleep.

Make sleep a priority
Unfortunately, every day only has 24 hours and there is nothing you can change about that. However, for many of us, it is simply a matter of getting our priorities straight, reevaluating our schedule, and setting firm boundaries. Examples of optimizing your time could be batch cooking, multitasking, outsourcing, and asking for help. Finding time for sleep also means that you probably will have to start saying no to certain things that don’t serve you. If it is hard, remember how important sleep is for your health and productivity. Additionally, talk to your partner or anyone you live with. Ask them to be supportive of your new goal and or to offer accountability. If you live alone reach out to friends or family members. In case the conversation makes them interested to join you, even better for both. Working with a certified health coach can be beneficial if you are having trouble figuring out how to fit enough sleep into your schedule.
Get in tune with your circadian rhythm
To get in tune with your circadian rhythm you should get plenty of blue light (preferably in the form of daylight) exposure during the day, even better right in the morning, and avoid blue light in the evening. The circadian rhythm is your internal clock that regulates your sleep/wake cycle. Physiological processes in your body operate on a 24-hour schedule and are assigned to specific times during the day or night. Besides the sleep-wake cycle, other bodily functions such as hormone release, digestion, and body temperature are directed by your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is influenced by daylight. The presence or the absence of light, especially blue light triggers the release of hormones that either make you alert and awake (cortisol) or sleepy (melatonin). Many light bulbs and electronic devices emit blue light. Dimming your lights in your home and staying away from electronic devices such as tv, computer, and the phone is important, as these artificially keep you awake by suppressing the production of melatonin.
Establish a bedtime:
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day if possible. This again links back to your internal clock. If you can, the more in sync you are with the sun the better for your circadian rhythm.
Skip the coffee/ caffeine:
If you need coffee, or any other form of caffeine, to not walk around like a zombie then something is not quite right. There is nothing wrong, at least for many people, with having a cup of coffee here and there. But if you are using it to get through the day you might want to get to the root cause, which often simply is a lack of sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant. So if you are having trouble falling asleep at night or show any signs of being sleep deprived then try ditching the coffee or at least don’t drink it during the second part of the day.
Drink the majority of liquids during the first part of the day:
Yes, it is important to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to have to get up a couple of times a night and interrupt your sleep cycle because you have to pee. Therefore avoid drinking too much liquid close to bedtime.
Moderate exercise has been shown to be beneficial for sleep. The timing of your workout can be important considering your circadian rhythm. A mild drop in body temperature induces sleep. “Body temperatures rise during exercise and take as long as 6 hours to begin to drop” (National Sleep Foundation). Working out too close to bedtime can, therefore, disrupt your sleep. What time a workout is best for you may be highly individual and tuning into your body will help to find out what is right for you. The bottom line is, getting any form of movement into your day is important.
Work on stress reduction:
Stress has a negative impact on your health and overall wellbeing. It comes as no surprise that it negatively affects your sleep. And what makes matters even worse is that once you sleep less, your body is not able to handle stress as well. Evaluate your life and check if and how you can avoid certain stressors. Again working with a health coach can be beneficial if you are having trouble with this part. We cannot control all stressors that present themselves but we can find ways to cope with stress better. Adopting a mindfulness and meditation practice is an incredibly powerful tool to help with that. I highly recommend the book “Stress less, accomplish more” by Emily Fletcher. Other tips that you can immediately incorporate are taking a few deep breaths through your belly if you feel stressed, practicing gratitude (it really puts things into perspective), make time for self-care, laugh a lot, spend time in nature and hang out with people that truly make you happy. If none of that helps reach out to a licensed therapist.
Balance your blood sugar levels:
It is no secret that a healthy and balanced diet has many benefits. And surprise surprise, better sleep is one of those amazing side effects. If you constantly wake up around 3 am with anxiety, low blood sugar may be the culprit. Getting your blood sugar levels balanced is important for your sleep. This might look different from person to person. But a general rule of thumb is to eat a high protein breakfast, 3 balanced meals a day, ditch processed foods, and high glycemic foods such as sugar, soda, refined grains. If you are having trouble with this part working with a functional doctor and a health coach or a nutritionist will help you troubleshoot this area. 

In part 2 and part 3 of this series, you will find out about the do’s and don’t’s before you go to bed and how to establish the best sleeping environment.


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