13 Tips for Healthy Sleep Habits
Hey, Sleepy Head ~
On a scale of 1 - 10, how rested do you feel right now?
If you’re anything less than a 10, you probably could use a little love in the sleep department.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact 40-50% of Americans have a diagnosed issue with sleep and many more suffer from “meh” slumber. Not getting adequate deep sleep on a consistent basis is a huge cause of burnout, overwhelm, stress, anxiety, depression and a whole host of nasty physical ailments like obesity.
We don’t want that.
Sleep is one of the strangest things we do each day. The average adult will spend 36 percent of his or her life asleep. For one-third of our time on earth, we transition from the vibrant, thoughtful, active organisms we are during the day and power down into a quiet state of hibernation.
While an honored part of many cultural practices throughout history, sleep has somehow lost value in today’s hectic society. We feel compelled to do but forget that we need to rest! As energy constantly bombards us in a variety of forms – light, sound, movement, and information – our bodies’ natural rhythms are disrupted. Our ability to achieve both the quantity and quality of sleep we need is compromised and we are left feeling totally exhausted.
We may reach for stimulants during the day to keep us going but then depend on relaxants to help us wind down at night. This creates a vicious cycle – and an unhealthy dependence – that may lead us to gain weight, lose mental clarity, feel emotionally drained, and eventually diminish our general health.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to improve our quality of sleep and give ourselves the deserved rest we need to function. Several factors contribute to how well we sleep, including what and when we eat and drink (nutrition), where we sleep (environment), and our energy output during the day (daily rhythms).
Here are 12 steps that you can take TODAY to begin improving your sleep so that YOU get closer to realizing your life’s biggest dreams.
13 Tips for Healthy Sleep
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. We are creatures of habit, and changing patterns disrupts our natural flow. Sleeping later on weekends won’t make up for waking up early during the week. Set an alarm for bed and for waking. If you have the luxury, skip an alarm and your body will determine it’s natural wake-up time on its own. Most adults need between 7-9 hours, no matter what.
Exercise with proper timing. Exercise makes it easier for your brain and body to power down at night. Obesity can also wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. As we age, exercise becomes even more important. Try to get in at least 30 minutes per day, bonus points if your heart rate is elevated for at least 15.
The one exception to exercise is timing: avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime as the mental and physical stimulation can leave your nervous system feeling wired and make it difficult to calm down at night.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Eliminating caffeine is a surefire way to improve your sleep, although it may make your waking hours difficult at first. Coffee, colas, certain teas and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its effects can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. The rule to live by with caffeine is “no coffee after noon.”
Nicotine is also a stimulant, and causes smokers to sleep very lightly. They also wake up earlier because of nicotine withdrawal.
If you must wean yourself off coffee, try these steps over 4 weeks:
Reduce your fully-caffeinated coffee intake by half
Switch to half-caff coffee (50% decaf, 50% caffeinated)
Drop to fully decaf (which still contains some caffeine)
Hop over to herbal coffee with chicory root and dandelion for coffee-like taste
Avoid alcohol before bed. A nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax and de-stress, but it robs you of REM while keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. Once the effects of alcohol wear off, you’ll also wake up more and be dehydrated.
Have your last glass of wine, beer or other alcoholic bevvy 2-3 hours before bed.
Avoid large meals and drinks late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep and may cause acid reflux.
If you are physically hungry (not psychologically hungry), these are the best foods to eat at night so you can go to bed without hunger:
~ Complex carbs: whole grains like popcorn, oatmeal, or whole-wheat crackers
~ A handful of nuts: Almonds and walnuts, because they’re healthy fats and contain melatonin
~ Cottage cheese: High in lean protein and packs tryptophan (add raspberries for melatonin)
~ Fruits: Tart cherry juice and whole tart cherries, bananas, pineapple and oranges contain melatonin. If you have insomnia, eating two kiwis over the course of a month may help.
~ Fatty fish: salmon or sardines
Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate. Be cautious when drinking too many “sleepy time teas,” as it can cause middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. If you would like tea to relax, opt for ginger, chamomile and peppermint.
Turn off technology 1-2 hours before sleep. Looking at the blue lights on our screen will trigger our brain to its alert state. It does not matter if it’s your phone, laptop, or TV, a screen of any sort will keep your brain “turned on.” On top of that, what you’re most likely looking at is either entertaining or stressful, both of which will impact your sleep. You should also consider charging your phone somewhere other than your nightstand AND keep it on airplane mode to reduce EMF waves.
Take ownership of your time and eliminate the need to check social media or email before bed. It can wait, guaranteed. This gives you time to enjoy time with loved ones, a good book, a long bath, some gentle yoga, journaling, or something else that’s peaceful.
Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt sleep (if possible). Some common heart, blood pressure and asthma medications, as well as over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns. If you have trouble falling asleep, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if any may be contributing to insomnia and if you can take it at another time during the day.
Personal tip from Kelly: Depending on your condition, certain natural remedies like essential oils may be beneficial. If you have a cold or seasonal allergies, consider using a non-invasive solution that does not disrupt your sleep cycles.
Nap wisely. Do not take naps after 3 p.m. as you’ll decrease your “sleep pressure” build up and then push your bedtime back by hours. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but they’re not a long term solution (much like caffeine).
Relax before bed. Going to sleep is a ritual and you should prepare your body and mind for rest. If you suffer from an overactive mind and have trouble falling asleep, give yourself at least an hour before bed to do easy activities. Some of my favorite activities include reading a non-fiction book, gratitude journaling, taking a bath, doing laundry or other mindless household chores, listening to music, listening to a meditative talk on Insight Timer, or talking with someone in the house.
Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Is your bedroom designed to promote good sleep? The ideal sleeping environment is dark, cool, and quiet. Don’t make your bedroom a multi-purpose room. Do this by eliminating any electronics, having warm dim lights, a standard alarm clock, non-fiction books to read, a diffuser and anything else relaxing. Also, be sure that your mattress, bedding and pillow are comfortable to you.
A few bedroom tips:
~ Temperature - Most people sleep best in a cool room. The ideal range is between 65 to 70 degrees F.
~ Sound - A quiet space is key for good sleep. If peace and quiet is hard to come by, try controlling the bedroom noise by creating “white noise” with a fan. Or you can use ear plugs.
~ Darkness - Make your room as dark as possible! This means blackout curtains, no LED lights on an alarm, no night lights, or even the little red light on your TV. Even while we sleep, our skin and eyelids are responding to even the faintest bit of light, and will keep you from going into the deepest sleep possible.
Get the correct sun exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. If you have trouble falling asleep, assess whether you’re getting enough sun in the morning. Try for one hour, if possible (use this time to drink tea outside, do some stretches, go for a walk, plan your day, etc.)
Don’t lie in bed awake at night. If you find yourself lying awake in bed for more than 20 minutes or if your mind is racing and you feel anxious or worried, get up! Do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety that surrounds not being able to fall asleep can make it harder to fall asleep. Just be sure to not use this time to get on your phone or another piece of technology...go do the dishes or organize your socks (you’ll be asleep in no time).
Create a solid morning routine. This might come as a surprise, but how we start our day not only determines how our day will go, but also how our night will go. This means we need to wake up in a healthy, grounded manner, so that we can set ourselves up for success in this chaotic world. Give yourself as much time as you can, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour to really get your day started on the right foot.
A few of my favorite morning steps are:
Not looking at your phone for the first hour - social media, the news, emails all trigger negative feelings and are inviting the outside world into your space
Hydrate - we lose up to 1 pound of water while we sleep, drink a big glass of lemon water first thing to rehydrate and start detoxing your liver
Move your body - You’ve been lying and rolling around horizontally for ~8 hours, so feel back into your body and get the blood flowing with some gentle movements like yoga, a walk outside or (my personal favorite) the physical therapy you probably avoid
Center yourself - Do some breathing (I like Wim Hof breathing), gratitude journaling, or visioning for your life to really create that heart-centered connection to your life