“Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic or toughness or some other virtue – but really, it’s a profound failure of priorities and self-respect.”
–Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Do you feel like you’re getting enough sleep every night?
Even if you feel like you’re really ‘putting in the hours‘ – do you wake up feeling rested and refreshed?
Sleep is one of the KEY factors in everything from maintaining a healthy weight to healing from illness or injury to simply being happy.
When we sleep, our body is able to rest, regenerate and restore itself. Your ability to form new memories and recall old ones increases, your immune system is strengthened, your digestive system gets a break and your stress levels decrease. I can’t say enough about how critical sleep is to your well-being – so instead, I’ll simply tell you how to optimize your sleep.
5 Ways to Optimize Your Sleep
1- Create a Sleep Cave
- Invest in some blackout curtains that will block outside light while you snooze. This is extremely important for shift workers who must sleep abnormal hours. If your body can sense, feel and/or see light, your body won’t produce melatonin (the sleep hormone). Some blackout curtains even provide extra benefits like improved insulation (hello money saved on energy bill) and reduced noise from outdoors.
- Don’t have TV’s, digital clocks, a neon flashing marquee – ANY kind of electronics in your bedroom. The bed needs to be for sleeping and grown-up activities only – and you want your body to make that association. Doing anything else (including working on a laptop or iPad) just signals to your brain that you need to be alert while laying in bed. That doesn’t so much come in handy when you’re trying to sleep.
- Some people can sleep through anything but I am NOT one of those people. If I can hear any kind of noise my brain will start preparing for the impending doom that awaits me outside my bedroom door. I find that turning a small, portable fan on high helps to drown out any random sounds. Other people find sound machines that emanate white noise to be super effective.
- Keep your room chilly. Our body naturally drops in temperature as we drift off to Neverland and it your room (or bedding) is too warm, it will interrupt the process. Here’s a great article I recommend on the best fabric choices for bedding and sleepwear.
2- Avoid Electronics
- As was mentioned in tip 1 – you want to avoid any kind of light at bedtime and especially in the hours leading up to bed time. Our bodies are wired to go to sleep when the sun goes down and get up with the sun – any kind of artificial light puts that wiring out of whack. The blue light that emits from electronics is harsh and stimulates the brain to WAKE UP. So if you find yourself laying in bed with spinning thoughts even though you feel tired, pay attention to how late you’re on the phone, watching TV, etc. Also pay attention to what kind of things you’re doing – Facebook stalking your ex or watching violent/dramatic TV is probably not going to help you drift off peacefully.
- If you absolutely have to be on your computer before bed, try out f.lux. It causes the color of your computer display to adapt to the time of day. So at night it starts to take on a warm, red hue and during the day it maintains the normal, blue hue.
- If you can, invest in a kindle versus an iPad – the screen does not emit blue light like other electronics.
- If you absolutely must be on your iPhone or iPad before bed, here are some things you can do to minimize the light exposure:
- “Night Shift” – Go to Settings -> Display & Brightness -> Night Shift and set the ‘Color Temperature’ to the highest ‘warm’ setting possible. You can then schedule what time period every day you want this to be active. I have mine set from 8:00 PM to 7:00 AM. It makes your screen display orange/red in hue vs. the normal blue light
- If you want something a little more aggressive, “Invert Colors” – Go to Settings -> General -> Accessibility ->Display Accommodations -> Invert Colors. This setting will make all images on your phone look like a Picasso painting but it prevents me from scrolling through Social Media late at night since I have no idea how anything is ACTUALLY supposed to look! (Note: This setting does disable night shift when activated but that’s ok, you don’t need both at the same time)
3- Consume Less Caffeine
- The effects of caffeine are different for all of us. I know some people who can drink a cup of espresso as a nightcap and go right to sleep – again, I’m not one of those people. When measuring the effects of caffeine, research marks its ‘half-life‘ to be up to 5 hours. This means that in 5 hours, you’ll have HALF the amount of caffeine you drank still bouncing around in your system. It is usually recommended not to drink any kind of caffeinated beverage at least 6 hours before you try and go to sleep – but I’ve found that I am much more sensitive. I can drink a cup at 10AM and get crappy sleep that evening. So, experiment. See what amount and at what time is best for you.
- If you’re looking to cut back on your caffeine intake overall (GO YOU!) I highly recommend this green tea matcha powder. It’s packed with antioxidants and provides a very modest amount of caffeine without any of the adverse side effects such as jitters or an energy crash. I loooove to make matcha lattes with almond or coconut milk. #NomNomNom.
- Another recommendation is to brew your coffee half regular and half decaf or limiting your consumption of regular coffee to one glass then decaf thereafter.
4- Don’t Drink and Snooze
- Ah, alcohol. Still a subject that deserves an entire post of it’s own. But for now, let me just make it really clear that drinking before bed will not allow you to get a good night’s sleep. Ever. Studies show that although alcohol may allow people to fall asleep more quickly, it reduces REM sleep – the most restorative phase – and suppresses breathing. If you really want to optimize your sleep, keep consumption at a minimum. For reinforcements, I’m going to insert one of my favorite quotes from Robb Wolf’s new book “Wired to Eat”:
- “Prescription sleep aids..and none prescription sleep aids (such as alcohol) do not cause sleep. They cause unconsciousness. This means that although you are not technically awake, you are not gaining most – or sometimes any – of the benefits of sleep.”
- If you’re gonna booze it up, keep it to earlier in the day. Make sure you have a few hours between your last cocktail and bedtime. Consume lots of water in between each beverage and in the time leading up to your snoozing.
- If none of these tips so far are doing it for you (either because you’re stubborn or you already do all of these things) then I recommend considering some supplementation.
- Tryptophan – this is the amino acid in turkey that makes you sleep at Thanksgiving. Unless you’re eating copious amounts of turkey before bed, it’s likely you don’t get much of this in your diet. This is one that I take about an hour or so before bed and have found that it helps facilitate that sleepy feeling.
- Magnesium – while it would be great to hope we get the magnesium levels we need from food (spinach, nuts, etc.) the food we produce in 2017 is not as full of micronutrients as it used to be. Magnesium has been shown to assist in insomnia relief as it decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) and helps you to unwind. This is another one I myself take at night.
- Melatonin – your body naturally produces this hormone but with stress running rampant and iPhones in everyone’s hand, it’s easy for your body’s levels to be out of whack. When I really, really need sleep, I take 2 3mg chewables and I’m out within 20 minutes. But be careful – you don’t want to rely on melatonin or take it too often or your body will stop producing it on its own. You can also become resistant to it which means you’ll have to take more and more for the same effect. Use this sparingly.
There you have it! 5 tips to help optimize your sleep. I really hope that this helps you get the best Zzz’s of your life – tonight!
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