Sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for your health, and yet many of us are not getting enough. The notion that you are special if you can do well with less sleep is an unfortunate aspiration and a myth. Additionally, you may have trouble getting good quality sleep during the time that you actually devote to it.
Sleep is the time when our bodies repair themselves, detox from unwanted substances during the day, and generally reset. Good sleep is essential to burn fat effectively. Without solid sleep, our bodies cannot function to their full potential no matter how well we eat and how much we exercise. Furthermore, if you have sufficient sleep, you are much more likely to fit in exercise and to eat well.
We all need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep per night; and you cannot sleep less during the week and make up for it on the weekends. If you continually get less and think that you are ‘one of the lucky ones who can function on 5 hours a night’; your are not. You are used to functioning at sub-optimal. You may be lucky, perhaps your optimal is a really high bar, so you are doing great at sub-par. But you will feel better, get more done, and improve your life if you start to prioritize sleep. I know you are busy, and this may make you cringe, but if you want to make changes to your health and you regularly are not getting enough sleep, this should be your first focus.
Here are some tips to help you get 7-9 hours of solid sleep per night:
- Set a bedtime and try to keep it consistent throughout the week.
- Develop a bedtime routine. This may include a cup of tea, putting on your favorite pajamas, or reading a book. It should be a calming routine that signals that it is time for bed. Try to avoid looking at screens for at least 60 minutes before your bedtime (two hours is ideal), and consider blue-light blocking glasses before then.
- Take care in setting up your sleeping space. It should be dark and free of distractions, and your bed should be comfortable with sheets and a comforter you love.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
- Stop eating at least two hours (the more the better) before your bedtime.
- Exercise during the day, and eat a healthy diet.
If you struggle to fall asleep, or to stay asleep, in addition to the practices above, adding in some other practices and even products may help with your sleep:
- 4-7-8 breathing (taken from Dr. Weil): inhale through your nose for a count of 4; hold you breath for a count of 7; then exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat continuously as an assist to fall asleep.
- Go through the alphabet thinking of things you are grateful for. For example, an airplane that recently brought you home (for A); and then maybe a box that allowed you to ship something to your sister (for B), etc. Hopefully you get the idea. This is new to me and I forget where I heard about it, but it has really helped and been a fun exercise!
- Count your breaths to 10, focusing on nothing else other than your breathing. If you realize that your thoughts have wandered, start over again from 1. If you do manage to get to 10, start over again.
- Pay attention to temperature and what allows you to sleep your best. If you do overheat or get cold, or if you do better with a different temperature than your partner, consider investing in a ChiliPad. You can set the temperature for your side of the bed (if you buy a Queen or King size that allows for this and has two cube’s attached), and it uses water running through hoses to keep a consistent temperature underneath you. We have had one for about a year, and in my opinion it is well worth the investment.
–> Great resource for more information: The Promise of Sleep by William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.d.