My problem with sleep is not falling to sleep, it’s getting enough sleep. I’m a night owl because I like to get everything done the night before. After I had my second child at age 34, I developed an autoimmune disease and getting enough sleep has been a big part of my road to recovery and feeling good.
Sleep is one of our pillars for good health. When our bodies are sleeping, our memory and learning improve, metabolism and weight are managed, we keep safe by not being tired, our mood is controlled and we do the things we want to do, and we maintain healthy cardiovascular and immune systems. The best sleep for your body is done naturally. Using sleeping pills or other artificial induced sleep methods makes you unconscious, not sleep.
There is a lot of evidence that suggests we need 7 – 9 hours for optimal body function and prevention of disease. According to the National Health Interview Survey, about 35% of US adults sleep fewer than six hours a night. More evidence links reduced sleep time and quality to a range of health problems in brain function, hormone production, cell regulation, immune function, and metabolism. It is a big stressor on your body when we don’t get enough sleep. When people tell me they function fine on 4 hours of sleep, I always respond they don’t know how much better they would feel getting 7 hours of sleep.
It is important to create a habit of sleeping 7 – 9 hours a night. If you don’t already have this, it will take repetition and a little effort each day to create this habit for yourself. Here are the steps to create a habit of sleep in your life:
- Make sleep a priority. Start with a goal of 8 hours of sleep plus the time it takes to go through your bedtime routine. This time should be like an appointment in your calendar where you schedule the rest of your day around it.
- Create a before-bed routine. This should be a sequence of actions regularly followed before going to bed. This will train your body to be tired and ready for sleep. Below are ideas and guidelines for creating your personal bedtime routine.
- Control your exposure to light. Light is the primary determinant of our circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles. Reduce exposure to artificial light at night and increase exposure to natural light during the day. If you are like me and spend time on your computer before bed, get a pair of blue-light filtering glasses. To get more exposure to natural light during the day, consider drinking your morning coffee or tea outside or taking a 30 minute walk at lunchtime.
- Move your body. There is extensive research supporting physical activity having a positive effect on sleep and too much sedentary and sitting time may decrease the quality and duration of sleep.
- Optimize your sleep nutrition. Some people, especially with digestive issues, sleep better after eating a light dinner. Others with low blood sugar do better with a snack before bed. In general, it’s best to not be too full or hungry when you go to bed. I encourage you to experiment with macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat) ratios to find what best works for you.
- Ditch the stimulants. If you are having trouble sleeping, try stopping all caffeine intake for at least 30 days.
- Regulate your nervous system during the day. We live busy lives, constantly on the move to the next activity or appointment and rushing to get things done. When our nervous system has been on overdrive for 16 hours, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes because we want to sleep. Managing your stress levels throughout the day is very important to getting a good night’s sleep.
- Create an environment good for sleeping. Your bed and preferably your entire bedroom should be used for sleep and sex. Avoid working and electronic screens in the bed, especially near bedtime. Create a pleasant and relaxing environment – make your bed as comfortable as possible and control the temperature. Most of us sleep better in a slightly cool room. Darken the room with a face mask or blackout shades and reduce the noise level with earplugs or a white noise machine.
My habit for sleep is to take a shower and brush my teeth by 9pm and then spend 2 hours watching TV or reading or writing a blog post (like this one). My bedtime is 11pm and I get up at 6am. My nights follow this routine almost 90% of the time.
Happy sleeping, Chrissy xo