A lot of us aren’t getting enough sleep, or if we are, it isn’t restorative sleep. We know the downsides of not getting enough sleep- but here, I want to discuss practical solutions of how to set ourselves up for more and better sleep.
First...let's discuss the issues.
Then, we'll tackle solutions.
Stop Doing The Following Things:
1. Stop artificially extending your day.
We’re trying to meet deadlines, eating lunch as we work or scroll through our feeds. Before you know it, it’s dinner time, and what feels almost instantly- comes bedtime.
We've all been there, where instead of shutting down, we say, Just a little bit more. You watch one more episode, or get lost down the rabbit hole of your social media feeds. Finally. you brush your teeth, put on pajamas, and crash.
The next morning, you can’t believe how quickly the night went. You make a vow: tonight, I am going to bed earlier.
I know how hard it is to get a really full night of sleep: things just keep us up.
What can we do differently to encourage an earlier bedtime?
Let’s go back to our workday, or daytime, hours.
You were super productive, got lots of work, errands, or what-have-you done.
Consider this, though: it wasn’t how you spent those hours; it may have been what you did in between those hours kept you up at night.
Most of us work indoors. Because of that, we have a lack of exposure to natural light. When it comes to sleep, humans are built to take our cues from nature.
Part of this is our circadian rhythm, where each of ours is individualized.
The circadian rhythm is the internal process that regulates our sleep and wakefulness cycle. It turns our body system up and down throughout the day and night.
The way your brain communicates to your body during sleep and wakefulness time is through a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin kickstarts our sleep process- and is regulated by our exposure to daylight.
Takeaway: too little exposure to natural light during the day can lead to decrease in the natural production of melatonin. That can make it harder to get into our sleep cycle at night.
2. Our bodies need a transition from daytime activities to sleeping state.
We need to prep our bodies for sleep, and it can take awhile for our bodies to make that transition. That can mean it takes longer to fall asleep, or we are falling asleep but not feeling rested when we awaken.
3. Revenge bedtime procrastination.
All day long, demands are made on our time. Wherever we turn, someone needs something. Come evening, we just want to relax. But if we’re working late, or putting the kids to bed takes a long, long, long time, by the time we have time for ourselves, it might be even past our own ideal bedtime. So, we end up staying awake too late. This makes sense and is a totally legitimate need.
Unfortunately, trying to meet it in this way puts us in a sleep deficit- especially if the way we meet it is by scrolling on our feeds or watching TV, where the blue light and plot lines are stimulating.
None of this is conducive to sleep- and combined with not enough natural light during the day, waiting too long to go to bed, we the perfect recipe for sheer exhaustion.
Instead, Start Doing These Things:
1. During the day, get more sunlight.
When you take breaks, look out the window or step outside. Let your eyes take in the daylight so your body can produce melatonin that helps to kickstart your sleep cycle.
When you’re in deep focus mode at work, your brain is releasing deep neuro-chemicals to help you stay focused, but you reach a point where you have so many of these neurochemicals that it gets harder and harder to focus, until you have to quit.
When you step outside or look out a window, you expand that brain space so by the time you go back, it’s easier to focus.
2. Create an intentional sleep routine, not much different than what some parents do for their kids. This routine helps cue your body that it’s actually time for sleep. Start this routine earlier than you think.
a) Welcome the darkness: Design your environment. You can dim the lights, light candles, or turn off some of the lights to create that dimmer atmosphere.
b) Create a sleep transition period: Yes, we have that alone time at night, but often, we aren't using it wisely, increasing stress. The following standard exercises work well because we are engaging in time for ourselves, but they're activities that help get our bodies ready for bed.
Journal by hand
Meditate. This doesn't have to be a whole thing: sit with your spine straight and just take a few deep breaths
Gentle yoga or held poses. If bedtime is a hassle in your home, just do some gentle stretching by their bedside as your kids are falling asleep.
Read a book (fiction books increase creativity!), which helps to transition your brain out of work or hustle mode.
Find more time for yourself during the day so you don’t feel so overtaxed at night that that revenge sleep procrastination holds you back.
3. This is a biggie, and I find hard to implement, to be honest. Stop catching up on sleep on the weekends. Consistent sleep is better than random days with extra sleep; this doesn’t lead to overall better sleep. This is called social jet lag- where we create a similar sleep distortion in our bodies. This results in chronic fatigue.
4. Caffeine and alcohol aren’t great for sleep- limit to 1-2 cups. Caffeine gives us an artificial boost of energy that lets us down later.
Throughout the day, your brain releases a chemical called adenosine (ah-DEN-oh-seen). As it accumulates in your body, you become tired. Sleep flushes the adenosine so that you can start again the next day. When we drink caffeine, the adenosine receptors are blocked from entering our brain and telling us we’re tired. By the time the caffeine dissipates, all the adenosine is waiting for us, and we get that big drop of fatigue.
Summary: adenosine makes us tired. Caffeine blocks our body from receiving that message; but when the caffeine is out of our system, it al comes rushing forth and OMG: FATIGUE HITS!
5. Build up serotonin, the contentment hormone, by cuddling your family, fostering feelings of connection and calm. Melatonin is made from serotonin, so the more content you feel, the better you’ll sleep.
This would make sense as to why it’s hard to sleep when you’re unhappy: you aren’t producing serotonin, therefore you aren’t producing melatonin.
Good conversation, exercise (specifically strength training), cuddling, all boost that serotonin + melatonin, which aid in sleep.
In the morning, try to awaken the same time each day.
Try to have your caffeine before lunch.
Try to workout in the morning, when possible; Nighttime workouts are not ideal because your body won’t have ample time to wind down and release melatonin.
By doing this, you’ll also have done something for yourself, so that will reduce the urge to stay up later just to get some me time.
Take breaks during the day, preferably nature breaks.
Towards evening time, try to keep the light calming and sounds soothing.
Sleep in the greatest gift you can give yourself and to maximize productivity throughout the day.
N.I.G.H.T. Acronym for helpful cues:
No phone one hour before bed
Intention: set intention for the next day so you’re already prepared
Gratitude: embrace gratitude throughout the day
Heal: through writing. Anything that is troubling you, write it down and journal it
Time: set an exact time for sleep.
Inspired by Jay Shetty Podcast.