Sleep is essential yet can feel so elusive. Adequate rest is necessary for the proper functioning of almost every single system in our body. With the long summer days slowly coming to an end and the autumn/winter holidays just around the corner, it’s not too late to prioritize better sleeping habits (especially for anyone going back to school soon). It is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans, across all ages and socioeconomic levels struggle with chronic sleep deprivation and 1 in 10 Americans report insufficient sleep every single night.
But why is sleep so important? Short-term, lack of sleep affects our ability to focus, our mood throughout the day, our energy levels, and how present we are able to be for various tasks and responsibilities. The long-term picture is what I want to talk a little bit more about. Chronic Sleep Deprivation, as defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is curtailed sleep that lasts for longer than 3 months…which, let’s be honest, probably affects most of us reading this right now. Long-term studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with significant risk to mental and physical health including heart disease, diabetes, improper immune function, hormonal abnormalities, increased pain, anxiety, & depression.
This may sound daunting but there are small steps you can take, starting today, to get you on the track to more restful sleep! Some of these things may not be possible for the stage of life you’re in & you don’t have to start making these changes all at once. Find what works for you and stick to it as much as possible!
Keep a consistent sleep schedule. When starting the process of prioritizing sleep, one of the fundamental steps is to find a time at night that you can stick to to fall asleep. Make sure you leave enough time for the process of actually falling asleep and then waking in the morning so you don’t feel groggy the next day.
Set boundaries. Many of us have high demand lives between families, work, school, & social obligations. Try to set a boundary so you can prioritize your health. For example, I stop doing any sort of work-related tasks at 7 pm. This gives my body enough time to go into that relaxed state before going to bed.
Create a nighttime routine. This, for me, has honestly been such a game changer. There is something so gratifying about creating “rituals” for yourself and I really look forward to my nighttime routine. It doesn’t stay the same every night (and also varies in time) but it usually consists of journaling, listening to a meditation or spa music while doing my evening skin care & changing into my pajamas, and taking some deep breaths/light stretching.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR ROOM:
Design your room. Whether it’s purchasing black-out curtains, a white noise machine, or comfier bedding & pillows, tap into making where you sleep your own little sanctuary. I was recently gifted a cooling blanket for these hot desert summers and I LOVE IT! 10/10 I’d recommend.
Stay away from the electronics. Let’s be honest, we’re all scrolling through social media or checking emails at night on our phones or laptops…and that’s totally fine! However, I’d suggest putting devices down 30 mins - 1 hour before you want to fall asleep to help regulate your circadian aka “sleep-wake” cycle and to limit your blue light exposure. If you’re like me, your devices are all probably low battery at the end of the day. Instead of charging them close to you by your bedside table, set up a charging station on the opposite side of your room.
Sun exposure. Trying to get sun exposure, especially the first thing when you wake up, does wonders for your circadian rhythm so you actually feel alert through the day and get sleepy towards the evening. My blackout curtains are a little too good at their job so I’m not “naturally waking up with the sun”. Therefore, as soon as I’m awake in the morning, I’ll draw back the curtains & blinds and look out my window (avoiding direct sunlight) for a few minutes.
Physical Activity. Yes, I know. This may sound redundant but studies show that daily physical activity of moderate intensity can contribute to a normal sleep schedule.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS:
Meal & snacktime. Try to avoid eating a big heavy meal, alcohol, and caffeine right before bed, especially if you struggle with heartburn. On the flipside, if you’re eating dinner earlier in the evening and are feeling hungry before going to bed, don’t be afraid to eat a small snack that will keep you satiated throughout the night - that could include sliced apple + peanut butter, cucumber + hummus, hard boiled egg, popcorn, or a handful of nuts.
Herbal support. Drinking herbal tea is a gentle & great way to support restful sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and that have sedative effects on receptors in the brain that promote relaxation. I’ve talked about some of these before on my Instagram but some of my favorite sleep-promoting botanicals include Chamomile, Valerian root, Lavender, Passionflower, Skullcap, Hops, Kava kava, Lemon balm, California poppy, and Ashwagandha.
Nutriceuticals. Supplements are another helpful option to incorporate into your daily routine to enhance sleep for deeper non-REM sleep, which helps the body & brain recharge. Here are some of my favorites - GABA (a relaxing brain chemical), L-Theanine (a unique amino acid derived from green tea), 5-HTP (the precursor to serotonin: “the feel good hormone”), and magnesium (helps with relaxing the brain and body).
As always, this information is purely educational. Please speak to your healthcare provider before starting any supplements and to get thoroughly evaluated to figure out what could be at the root of your sleep troubles so you receive proper management & medication.
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