Strategies for Better Sleep

Published by Annie Barrett: 
February 1, 2022

The truth is many of us aren't sleeping as well as we were before the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, researchers around the world have documented a surge in sleep disorders, with 2 in 3 Americans reporting they are now sleeping either more or less than desired (Partinen, M., The Lancet Neurology, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2021; Stress in America 2021, APA).


Yikes! We know there is a compound effect of not getting enough sleep.

Even if you eat well and exercise well, if you don’t sleep well, this will start to cause problems for your body. Insufficient sleep gives rise to increased inflammation that wears on the immune system. You age faster. Insulin cycle and cortisol cycles are disrupted and the body starts to suffer. Imbalances build over time. Inadequate sleep impairs your ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system, and to moderate our emotions. Chronic sleep insufficiency is related to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain and obesity, motor vehicle accidents, depression, and anxiety.


The benefits of sleep

The costs of not sleeping well may well be the motivator to make changes in your life so you can sleep better. But, what’s even more important are the big prizes that sleep can give you. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, "sleep can make or break your ability to lose weight, age slowly, prevent cancer, and perform at a high level.” Shawn Stevenson of Sleep Smarter writes, “sleep rebuilds you and keeps you youthful. High quality sleep fortifies your immune system, balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases your physical energy and improves the function of your brain.” Yes, please!


Strategies for Better Sleep

These are the strategies that I find most helpful for getting sleeping back on track.


Build stress relieving practices into your daily routine.

Stress is one of the biggest factors disrupting sleep, and this is especially in this past 16 months. Stress impacts sleep quality and duration. Chronic stress bathes our tissues in stress hormones like cortisol almost continuously, which makes us hyper-vigilant, and makes it very hard to relax and wind down. 

** Tip: Build in one or more of these stress relieving practices into your daily routine. 

  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Physical activity and exercise
  • Positive social interactions
  • Laughter
  • Affection including cuddles, hugs, and kisses
  • Creative expression such as music, art, dance


Get up early and get daylight on your skin.

A good night’s sleep begins at the moment you wake up in the morning. Get direct sunlight outside daily so that your body aligns to the solar clock and your daytime and nighttime hormones (cortisol and melatonin) get regulated. Morning daylight exposure is tied to sleep. 

**Tip: Get direct sunlight outdoors for at least 30 minutes daily. Your body is most responsive to sunlight between 6 - 8:30 AM.


Exercise your body daily.

Studies show that daily exercise can make for a radical improvement in sleep quality. Get your body moving in the first part of the day, preferably outside, even if you also plan to exercise later in the day. The Journal of Sleep Medicine found that patients with insomnia had a radical improvement in sleep quality when they had a consistent exercise routine.

**Tip: Build exercise into your daily routine.


Reduce stimulants and alcohol.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and can stay in your system for 5 - 8 hours causing your body to produce anti-sleep hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but can negatively influence sleep quality, especially for women because women metabolize alcohol differently than men. 

** Tip: if you must drink coffee, set a curfew of 2 PM. Watch your evening alcohol consumption.


Eat a healthy diet and eat an earlier, lighter dinner.

What and when you eat can affect your sleep. Big meals leave you uncomfortably full, and over time can contribute poor sleep and to obesity, a well-known risk factor for sleep apnea. Spicy meals can contribute to heartburn. Eat a balanced diet made up largely of whole foods including a variety of vegetables and fruits. Eating this way will provide your body with necessary vitamins and nutrients which will contribute to better sleep and promote a healthy weight. 

** Tip: Eat an earlier, lighter dinner and eat your heavier meal for lunch.


Create an easeful evening ritual.

After dinner, do something that is moderately active to help digest your food. Walk, spend time in the garden or yard, read, or play a game. Honor your fatigue. Engage in relaxing activities before bed for restful sleep. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea, read something inspiring, keep a gratitude journal, meditate, take a bath, listen to music, or give yourself a foot massage. 

**Tip: Wind down with the sun.


Avoid screen time before bed.

This is one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality tonight! The blue light emitted from your computer, tablet, TV and phone causes your body to create more daytime hormones like cortisol that keep you awake!

** Tip: Get off your electronics 90 minutes before bed.


Make your bedroom a haven for sleep.

Don’t use your bedroom as a workplace, or a place to watch TV.  In general, the darker the room, the better. Darker and cooler sleep environments have been shown to help people sleep better. Blackout curtains and eye masks can help those who are light sensitive. 

** Tip: Don’t bring your work into your bedroom.


Lights out by 10 PM.

Get to bed by 10 PM. This is when your body temperature and cortisol levels start to drop, and melatonin levels start to rise.The time between 10 PM and 2 AM is the money time. These hours give you the most rejuvenating power from your sleep. At this time, your body engages in detox. Beneficial hormone secretions are at their highest during this time. If you are constantly up and awake during these hours, your body won’t be able to restore itself as well.


What about night waking?

Night waking is not fun. If you suffer from night waking, here is a list of things you can try:

  • Meditation
  • Relaxing breath exercises
  • Guided relaxation with an audio app
  • Get up and move your body gently for 20 minutes
  • Try herbal remedies such as chamomile, valerian, skullcap, passionflower, nutmeg, and ashwagandha.

**Consult your health care provider before taking any new herb or supplement.

If you still can’t sleep, do some work to uncover the root issue. Is there an unresolved issue in your life? Is there a health issue? If so, seek professional help from a counselor, coach, or health care provider.

 

What strategies work for you?

Feel free to drop me an email and let me know what helps you sleep better.

Interested in a habits program to help you become a better sleeper?

Check out the Vibrant Living Habits program here.


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