Sleep Better with these Habits
Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep may seem like a dream—pun intended. In a time where burnout has long been considered a badge of honor, it seems the norm is to sacrifice sleep in order to get ahead. However, with new research on the benefits of sleep becoming more mainstream, we’re beginning to see a cultural shift that prioritizes sleep rather than burning the midnight oil.
What’s so Bad About Missing a Few Hours of Sleep?
According to a 2016 study, 40% of Americans sleep less than 6 hours per night. We’ve all heard that 8 hours is the gold standard for sleep, so what’s the big deal with missing a couple hours each night? Well, they may have a larger impact than you think.
For starters, lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can cause hormone disruptions that lead to weight gain and make losing weight more difficult. Specifically, the hormone that tells your body when you’re full (leptin) is suppressed, and the hormone that tells your body when you’re hungry (ghrelin) is turned on.
This means that when we don’t get enough sleep, we are more likely to feel hungry, even if we’re not, and less likely to feel full, even if we are.
This cycle leads to overeating and cravings for quick sugar sources in order to give the body an energy boost to compensate for fatigue.
Insufficient sleep is also associated with an increased risk of degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, type 2 diabetes, and has been linked to ADHD and depression.
So maybe staying up that extra hour (or two) to watch Netflix isn’t worth it, after all!
Luckily, there are simple things we can all do to help improve our sleep hygiene and maybe even turn into ‘morning people.’ Ok, that last part may be a stretch for some. Either way, with these techniques, even the night owls can wake up feeling rested. Let’s take a look at what sleep hygiene is and how we can get the most out of our sleep.
What Is Sleep Hygiene and How Do I Get Some?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.
Simply put, sleep hygiene refers to the daily/nightly habits that help you get to sleep and stay asleep so you can wake up feeling rested and ready for your day.
As humans, we enjoy routine. Some daily activities can even prime the body for what comes next. For example, smelling food will trigger glands in the mouth to release saliva in preparation for eating.
Similarly, having a routine before bed can prime your brain and body for getting to bed at the same time each night, which is a key aspect of getting into that deep sleep we need.
This brings us to the first sleep hygiene tip: The Routine
Do your best to get to bed at the same time each night. Your routine may include setting an alarm for when you need to start getting ready for bed.
Turn off electronics, brush your teeth, put your PJs on, and hop into bed with a good book. Or, run yourself a nice warm bath and have some camomile tea. Ok, maybe not every evening, but it can be a great fast-track to dreamland when you’re feeling stressed and having a hard time winding down. The point here is to have a nightly routine so your brain can associate these actions with deep, restful sleep.
The second tip is one that seems to be the hardest for people to stick to: No Screen Time
The rule of thumb for this is to eliminate screen time and excess light (we’re talking laptops, TVs, cellphones, tablets, sometimes even lightbulbs) 1-2 hours before bed. The reason for this is that a certain blue light emitted from our devices disrupts our circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is essentially our body’s clock. It tell us when to get up and when to go to bed. If we’re exposed to too much of this blue light late in the evening, it will trick our brain into thinking it’s daytime. This makes it harder to get to sleep and even harder to get a deep sleep.
No deep sleep means the stress hormone, cortisol, stays higher than it should throughout the night. Repeated days, weeks, months, years of this pattern can wreak havoc on the body and its hormone balance.
“But what about Nightshift mode?” you may say. Well, it’s better than nothing; but at that stage, if the blue light isn’t what’s keeping you awake, it will be what you’re doing on the device that will.
The third tip, when done correctly, will almost always work to send you to sleep. Especially if you’re the type to lay awake thinking about all of the things that happened that day or need to happen the next day: Diaphragmatic/Belly Breathing
Spending 2-10 minutes breathing deeply into your abdomen, as is done in yoga, actually sends your body into its parasympathetic (or ‘rest and digest’) mode. If you’re caught re-playing your day’s events over and over each night, the body can perceive this as stress.
When we are conscious of our breathing, it takes our focus from the noise inside of our heads and quiets our minds. This alone can be enough to get you to switch over into a parasympathetic state long enough to get to sleep.
Long story short, good quality and adequate amounts of sleep are essential for optimal health. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.
Ensuring adequate sleep hygiene habits such as having a bedtime routine, limiting/eliminating screen time 1-2 hours before bed, and diaphragmatic breathing 2-10 minutes before bed can make all the difference in getting you off to sleep and staying asleep.
Try these tips out for yourself tonight and see how you feel!