5 Tips for Better Sleep
Sleep seems like one of the most talked about health tips and yet it might be the hardest for people to manage. Sleep needs can range based on age and activity level, with newborns requiring 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day and adults requiring, on average, seven to nine hours per day. With days full of demands -- work, family, errands and, hopefully, exercise -- it may seem impossible to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep affects both our mental and physical health and, when possible, shouldn’t be sacrificed due to a busy schedule. Sleep impacts productivity, mood, growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health. With a list as extensive as that, you might be thinking “I am sold on the benefits of sleep, but how can I prioritize good sleep?”
Good sleep is truly an art form, and sadly, technology and screen use can disrupt this art. Looking at a phone or television screen can negatively impact your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour internal clock that knows your sleep/wake cycle. In order for your body to know it is bedtime, a few things need to occur. First, your eyes see darkness and signal your hypothalamus (a portion of your brain) that it is time to feel tired. Second, your brain signals the release of melatonin, a hormone that makes your body tired. Finally, you feel tired and your body is ready for bed. Light in the nighttime can significantly impact your hypothalamus’ signaling of melatonin and disrupt your circadian rhythm. While it is unrealistic to not have any lights on at night, minimizing and eliminating some light could have great impact on your sleep. The easiest light to control is the light coming from your phone or television screen.
Here are some other tips to help you power down at night:
1. Stop screen use one hour before bed. Allowing your body a full 60 minutes to see darkness and release melatonin will help create a natural flow into restful sleep. Try turning off the television and powering down your phone, not only to stop the light, but to not become engaged and stimulated by what is on the screen.
2. Establish a relaxing routine. Once screens are put away, how can you unwind? Practicing the same nightly routine can help your body know that sleep is coming. Some examples of things to include in your routine could be having a cup of decaffeinated tea, meditating for five to 10 minutes, completing a skincare routine, reading a book, or journaling about positive aspects of your day. Completing the same routine around the same time each night will improve the quality of sleep and lessen the time it takes you to fall asleep.
3. Invest in a traditional alarm clock. This is a really simple way to break free from your phone. We are all guilty of tossing and turning a bit, and then looking at our phone to check the time or even the notifications that may have popped up. By investing in a traditional alarm clock you can free your nightstand table of your phone. Once your alarm clock is set up and ready for the next day, try charging your phone in a different room to reduce temptation of sneaking a peak at bedtime!
4. Eat your way to better sleep. Mealtime is crucial for a good night's sleep. It is recommended to have a balanced diet throughout the day and to have your last meal at least two hours before bed to allow proper digestion and reduce acid reflux at bedtime. At night, it is especially easy to turn to food when bored, stressed, or out of habit, rather than when truly hungry. Check in with yourself about the actual reason you are reaching for a snack. If it is truly hunger, opt for foods high in protein and fiber and consume them in small portions without distractions.
5. I have done all those tips and I still can’t fall asleep – help! Staring at the clock and counting down the now remaining hours of sleep before the alarm goes off will create an anxious environment, making sleep nearly impossible. If you have done your nighttime routine, screens are out of the room, you've had a nutritious snack, and you are still unable to fall asleep after about 20 minutes, it is recommended to get up and change your environment. This could be sitting in a chair and reading or journaling, doing some breathing exercises, sipping on a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea, or even coloring. All of these tasks are meant to help your brain unplug without creating anxiety or a significant stimulation.
Bottom Line: Prioritize your sleep and try not to let it drop to the bottom of your to-do list. Once you have perfected your personalized sleep routine make sure to stick with it for lasting impacts on your physical and mental health.
Learn more about healthy habits and the wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Claire Rudden, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.
6. Eat Right