Over the years I have researched and studied sleep disorders, consulted with experts and unfortunately some charlatans and have been an obedient consumer of many many sleep aids and remedies. I know full well the health ramifications of insufficient sleep (minor: irritability, forgetfulness & major: heart disease, diabetes, weight gain) and often wonder what a powerhouse I’d be if I were to get an abundance of sleep.
I want to share what I have learned about sleep from my viewpoint as a Nurse but also as a challenged sleeper in search of dreams and deep sleep. I will list some gold standard sleep techniques as well as a few holistic tips and tricks. These “pearls of wisdom” can be applied to anyone’s life whether you are sleep deprived or not. They can help the insomniac achieve sleep goals or help the easy sleeper enhance the quality and depth of their zzz’s! Sleep is THE key to a healthy, beautiful life!
So let’s dive in. Here’s a fascinating fact: humans spend about 1/3 of their lives sleeping. It is necessary for a high quality of life because scientists say it is restorative, energy conserving and helps with memory consolidation. It means, sleep is the major building block to emotional resilience, physical stamina, mental clarity, creativity and heck, lets throw in healthy relationships. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend seven or more hours per night on a regular basis for optimal sleep health. It is reported that 30-35% of the US population gets insufficient sleep (six or fewer hours/night) making this a significant public health problem.
Whether you have difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, the quantity and quality of your sleep are equally important to obtaining adequate sleep necessary for optimal daily performance and long-term health. Insomnia is defined as: difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep throughout the night or waking up too early in the morning. Short-term insomnia lasts up to three months and represents approximately 20% of people and the other 10 % have chronic insomnia.
Regardless of the concern, there are a few things that all sleepers should know and practice routinely to improve total sleep time. In the medical world, we call the steps and rituals that set you up for a successful night’s sleep on an ongoing basis, the practice of good “sleep hygiene”. Everyone has the occasional bad nights sleep and those with chronic sleep problems should definitely seek out medical care to identify any underlying cause but in general, regardless of the etiology, the initial treatment of insomnia or even one night of sleeplessness will pretty much always be the same. The foundation of best sleep habits from a traditional medical but non-medication based approach that may help your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep are:
1. Develop and stick with a bedtime routine/ritual
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Try to keep this schedule even on the weekends as your body loves to stay in a perfect sleep/wake rhythm for optimal health and to receive the full rejuvenating benefits of sleep.
2. Maintain a sleep schedule
Set a healthy and firm boundary for maintaining 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Experts suggest (this just may be impossible) not varying your bedtime and waking up time by more than 20-30 minutes (ha! easier said than done but we can try!)
3. Exercise daily
At least twenty minutes per day, early in the day, helps you fall asleep faster and get deeper and more beneficial sleep. Exercising right before bed may be too stimulating to the body to allow you to fall asleep at your normal bedtime so listen to your body and plan exercise accordingly.
4. Create a serene calm environment conducive to sleep
Set yourself up for sleep success: disconnect from stress and connect with peace! The bedroom is for comfort, rest, peace and sensuality. Get rid of the outside world (TV’s, computers, paperwork or exercise equipment). Make it your haven of calm bliss.
Keep it cool! Experts recommend 65-68 degrees (which I find a tad bit chilly) but find your coolest temperature that keeps you from getting hot or cold during the night. Our bodies naturally cool at bedtime so setting the thermostat to help your body progress to a sleep state is a good idea!
Your brain continues to process sounds while you sleep. So if complete silence is out then consider soothing soft sounds of white, pink or brown sounds could help mask other disruptive noises. (white noise: static noise of a fan or air purifier, pink noise is found in nature waves, leaves rustling or rainfall and brown noise is lower frequencies such as thunder or the low roar of a waterfall)
7. Respect your body’s day/night cycle (your circadian rhythm)
Our body’s internal clock sleep cues stem from the light of the sun and the darkness of the night. As the sun goes down your body’s natural melatonin (the sleep hormone) begins its release to help you get to sleep and is slowed down with the morning light to help you wake up and start your day. Bottom line: bright lights at night keep you stimulated and possibly stunts the release of melatonin so try dimming the lights at night 1-2 hours before bed. Install dimmer lights, a string of fairy lights, candlelight, blackout curtains, and silk eye black out mask – you get the picture!
8. Manage your blue light exposure
Use amber color or other blue light blocking eyewear at night.
Blue light emitted from our devices can also trick the brain into thinking it is daytime and can interfere with falling asleep. Your eyes need protection and so does your skin: Use THE EVERYTHING NIGHT with blue light blocking antioxidants for your skin - there is evidence suggesting that blue light is having a detrimental effect on skin tone (brown spots and pigmentation).
9. Avoid consumption of known sleep disruptors
Caffeine is a stimulant that has a purpose to keep you awake and mentally focused during the day so stopping its consumption by 2pm ensures it will not disrupt sleep.
Alcohol consumption, especially right before bed is associated with fragmenting our sleep.
10. Essential oils to encourage restful sleep
Try diffusing essential oils (plant extracts/fragrant essences) that work to stimulate your smell receptors to calm you, promote relaxation and an easier transition to sleep. Breathe in lavender, bergamot, neroli, sweet orange, ylang ylang and sweet marjoram to name a few.
11. Preparing for bed
A warm bath 90 minutes before bed to allow for the cooling down process to begin or a cooling shower at the end of a bath or on its own to help the body self-regulate for a restful night’s sleep!
Other indulgences can include a magnesium foot scrub, Epsom salt foot soak or Dry brush body scrub.
Consult your healthcare provider for what it is best for you but if you think you may need some temporary help with sleep you can ask about melatonin, magnesium, CBD and valerian.
Mindfulness, loving kindness meditation, healing crystals or nature walking are examples of types of meditations that will help with sleep quality. Restorative yoga’s child, bridge and cobra poses etc. have far-reaching benefits that includes improvement in the quality of sleep.
Mindful breathing exercises are a trustworthy companion for peaceful sleep. I often talk about box breathing; simply counting to 16 with inhalation and exhalation (four counts per side of our imaginary box), progressive breathing, alternate nostril breathing all have powerful sleep benefits.
14. Dreamy Visualization
Creating a detailed mental image of a peaceful and pleasant environment to allow your mind to go to a dreamy place in preparation for bed. Visit your happy place; the ocean, the mountains, manifest your ideal life, choose your dreams for peaceful slumber!
15. Gratitude Journal
Write in your gratitude journal for perspective, to slow yourself down, acknowledge the beauty of the day and recognize even the smallest of victories. This practice is directly related to an increase in overall happiness and greater well-being. It breaks the cycle of negative thought or worry that can postpone or interrupt your sleep.
Sleep experts say incorporating even one of these practices can help you sleep better starting tonight. Try one or try them all and I hope you (and I) can enjoy a lifetime of deep, peaceful restorative sleep for a happy, healthy, beautiful life!!
xoxo Nurse Nanzzzzy