Are you getting enough sleep? Do you fall asleep effortlessly and sleep through the night? Do you feel refreshed and ready to start your day in the morning? Do you have enough energy to get your through the day – or better yet, THRIVE throughout the day – without a sugar or caffeine boost? If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, you are in need of some sleep restoration: your health and well-being depend upon it!
We all know what happens after a sleepless night. For one thing, we are less alert – and possibly to a dangerous degree. Reducing sleep by 1 1/2 hours for just one night can result in a 32% decrease in daytime alertness. Consequences may include impaired cognition and memory, difficulty maintaining attention, and a significantly increased risk of work-related and automobile accidents.
If you continue to get poor sleep, the effects deepen. Your risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, mental illness, and much more increase with a prolonged lack of sleep. But really, the most important point is: don’t you want to feel as good as humanly possible??
If you are answering with a resounding “YES!”, consider the following tips:
1. Get your nightly dose of darkness.
Believe it or not, this may be one of the most important tips for getting a good night’s sleep. Whether your eyes are open or closed, the pineal gland responds to any light exposure, regulating that all-important sleep hormone, melatonin. Light exposure suppresses melatonin, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.
- As the sun goes down, dim the lights in your house as well.
- Once it’s dark, limit your screen time (TV, computer, cell phone – especially computer!).
- Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Cover all glowing alarm clock displays and indicator lights on electronics. Get blackout curtains, if needed.
2. Get your daily dose of daylight.
Just as our hormones respond to darkness, they also respond to natural, full-spectrum light. Make sure you are spending at least 30 minutes outside each day, preferably in the morning. Exposure to daylight suppresses melatonin and boosts cortisol, improving wakefulness. In turn, it helps regulate the hormonal cycles associated with sleep.
3. Stay on a schedule.
You’ve probably heard it before: get up and go to bed at the same time everyday. I know, I know – no fun at all. I love to sleep in, but if I’m careful about staying on a regular schedule, I find that I don’t need to sleep in. Fact of the matter is, your hormones love routine. And when your hormones are balanced, sleep comes much more easily.
4. Avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates at night.
Here’s the thing: when you eat simple carbs (like sugary snacks or bread/crackers/chips/cereal), the body has to release insulin to take care of all of that sugar in your blood. The body tends to over-compensate a bit (especially if you have unhealthy metabolism), and after your sugary high, there is still some insulin around but no sugar. This causes a drop in blood sugar, triggering cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up in the morning, or, if you had a late-night sugary snack, in the middle of the night. If you are hungry at night, eat a small, protein-rich snack (nuts, seeds, spoonful of nut or seed butter, slice of meat, cheese, etc.).
5. Make your bedroom your haven – whatever that means to you.
Comfy, cozy, and clean works for me.
- Not to sound like your mother, but keep your bedroom picked-up! Clutter will cause a rise in cortisol in most people – and remember what cortisol does?
- Consider investing in a high-quality mattress. Think of it as an investment in your health.
- Keep the temperature cool at night, as this mimics nature and helps decrease your core body temperature, improving sleep. Studies suggest 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Also, natural fiber bedding and sleepwear (cotton, wool, bamboo, etc.) breathe better, allowing optimal body temperature regulation.
Last but not least, don’t stress over not sleeping! Do what you can to improve your chances of an excellent night’s sleep, and embrace the occasional sleepless night. Read by candlelight, write in a journal, knit, give yourself a foot massage – whatever you find relaxing – and when you are sleepy, go to sleep. If the problem does not self-resolve, see your naturopathic doctor to explore more sleep-improvement strategies.