What is the one thing that can make you slimmer, healthier, smarter, better-looking and even super human without ever lifting a finger?
Like an awesome red cape that protects us from disease, chaos, and bad choices, sleep effects the way we look, feel, perform and impacts our quality of life. Continually not getting enough effects our quality of life, impairs judgment, decreases productivity, shortens memory and in short, makes us unpleasant to be around.
For many, good sleep doesn’t come easily and takes some effort. As your slumber protects you, so should you protect your slumber. Don’t let sleep sabotaging villains steal your super power rest. Keep it safe by developing well-timed routines that promote good sleep and then, like any good super hero, protect them. Here’s how to time (and protect) a great night of sleep:
Time your bedtime:
It’s easy to get in a rut of staying up late during the workweek then playing catch up on the weekends by sleeping late. However, consistent timing reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle to promote better sleep. Keeping these two events routinized (same time each day, even on weekends) sends clear signals to your brain making it easier to fall sleep at the end of the day.
Protect your sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off.
Time your food. . .
Don’t go to bed stuffed or starving. Eating a large meal within three hours of bedtime can cause acid reflux, heartburn or gas issues preventing the nod off. Having an empty, growling tummy is distracting and prevents sleep.
Protect your sleep by keeping later meals light and like goldilocks, find the timing that is just right.
. . . and your beverages.
If you drink a large glass of water right before bed, guess whose sleep will be interrupted walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
Alcohol is a depressant, so a little nip should help me sleep, right? Wrong. While providing an initial comforting snooze, alcohol disrupts sleep later in the REM cycle pulling you out of a restful night.
Protect your sleep: keep alcohol to a minimum especially late in the evening and drink a lot of water early (and continually) in the day so you aren’t dehydrated before bedtime.
Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can also wreck a good nights sleep.
Protect your sleep: cut off your caffeine after lunch and if you smoke, add this to the long list of reasons to quit.
Time your body temperature:
A decrease in body temperature signals it’s time to sleep to your brain.
Protect your sleep by keeping your bedroom a cool temperature at night.
Why would I take a warm shower or bath before bed then? The warm water raises your body temperature and relaxes your muscles. When your warm body enters your cool bedroom, the drop in body temperature sends the right signal to create drowsiness.
Time your Exercise:
Did you ever see a puppy, kitten or small child run around like a crazed maniac only to crash out later in a REM twitched deep state of sleepy bliss? That is the power of physical exercise. Harness it for the good of your health and sleep like a champ.
But not too late . . .
While regular physical activity will help you sleep deeper and get there faster, raising your body temperature and energizing your mind right before bed can have the opposite effect.
Protect your sleep by timing exercise sessions to end no sooner than two or three hours before bedtime. If late night workouts are your only option, experiment to see what works well with your sleep timing.
Time a nap (if you need one):
Lengthy daytime naps can steal from a good nights rest.
Protect your sleep: if you need a nap, don’t let it be longer than 30 minutes and take it during the afternoon (not too close to bedtime so as to prevent nodding off).
Time your mattress:
Is your mattress twenty years old and hangs like a suspension bridge? It’s time.
Protect your sleep by investing in a good, comfortable mattress that is conducive to rest.
Time your morning light exposure . . .
There is a group of cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which control your master clock and synchronize your circadian rhythm with the light-dark cycle of your environment. When you get up in the morning and expose your retinas (and thus your SCN) to daylight, you anchor your circadian rhythm for the day and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
Protect your sleep: look out a window or step outside to expose your eyes to bright daylight soon after waking.
. . . And your night time light exposure.
When it starts to get dark, your body begins to release melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel drowsy and signals your body to sleep. Melatonin is meant to peak in the evening but thanks to our modern industrialized world, is suppressed by artificial light. For more information on how light effects our circadian rhythms, check out this article published by the NIH.
Protect your sleep: avoid bright lighting before bedtime and keep your bedroom dark while you doze. If complete darkness is tough to attain, consider a sleep mask – light from windows or bright alarm clocks can penetrate your eyelids!
. . . So most importantly time your tech:
Electronic devices are special in that they emanate short wavelengths of blue light that convey brightness. Receptors in your eyes are especially sensitive to this light and it diminishes your body’s release of melatonin.
Protect your sleep: turn off the television, computer screen, tablet, smart phone, etc. an hour or two before bedtime so your brain gets the right signal – it’s time to sleep. If you really can’t live without your nighttime shows, consider investing in a pair of blue-blocker (orange tinted) glasses that filter out the blue light.
After you’ve been busy all day, you may feel like you need to sit and watch television to wind down. Many people feel they need the television to fall asleep but as you can see, the blue light is counterproductive to that goal.
There are other options. A nice evening ritual will prep your body for sleep and keep you super human. Here are some well-timed suggestions for how to decompress the hour before you nod off (if you last an hour!):
- Dim the lights (a great signal, your brain will know what’s coming next).
- Take a relaxing bubble bath or shower.
- Climb into cozy PJ’s, the fuzzy, comfy pair you love most.
- Close the curtains, turn down the heat, and (if you need it) turn on some white noise.
- Read a book with a warm mug of (decaf!) tea.
- Listen to music. No heavy metal here. Think mellow instrumental or light classical.
- Meditate. Sit quietly and listen to your breath.
- Mind buzzing? If meditating isn’t your thing, consider journaling. Write down all the things weighing on your mind so you can let them go. Relax knowing they have been captured on paper and will be there for you tomorrow if you decide you want them back.
- Bedroom activities (you know what we mean) can be a natural, healthy way to reduce stress, relax muscles, balance important hormone levels, and deepen relationships.
Sleep is a powerful activity that recharges us and makes us better versions of ourselves. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Sleep should be regarded as something precious worth working for and protecting. A few well-timed rituals can provide you with a great night’s sleep leaving you feeling like a super hero in the day to come.
Please note: sometimes illness or high levels of stress may result in a few sleepless nights making you feel less than super human. Chronic and prolonged trouble sleeping may be a sign of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or a mental issue like anxiety or depression. Concerned? Seek a medical professional for further assistance.