Do you know that a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health? We try to get a restful refreshing sleep every night. However, sometimes we just don’t get the rest we need. There are some simple techniques and habits we can develop to improve our sleep both in quality and quantity.
A few things to know first, during sleep our body seems still and inactive, yet sleep is a time when the body is quite busy. During the night, we restock our supply of hormones, process significant toxins, repair damaged tissue, generate vital white blood cells for immunity, eliminate the effects of stress, and process heavy emotions.
Falling is ultimately governed by the pineal gland. As the day ends and darkness abounds, the pineal gland secretes a neurotransmitter and hormone called melatonin. Melatonin suppresses the activity of other neurotransmitters and helps to calm the brain. For ideal sleep, melatonin should be rising steadily and cortisol, our stress hormone, should be super low at bedtime. Cortisol is produced in response to stress and loud noise, meaning our evening habits have an enormous effect on our hormone levels.
Simple things such as watching TV and using our phones/tablets that usually display full-spectrum light cause confusion in our brains about whether night has truly come. Also, we frequently watch shows, play games, or do a little work before bed which can be loud and stressful. Additionally, digesting a heavy meal eaten later in the evening can also prevent or interrupt sleep.
Being mindful of the habits we have a couple of hours before bed can greatly improve our ability to fall and stay asleep. Having good hygiene toward sleep and implementing some simple changes can be quite powerful. Here are a few suggestions:
- Choose more calming, quieter evening activities that help you to relax, both mentally and physically such as reading a book, taking a bath, going casual walk, or just playing with a pet.
- Turn off all full-spectrum lights for 1-2 hours before bedtime. This means no phones, TV, or computers.
- Avoid amping up your brain. Avoid activities such as next-day planning, catching up on work stuff, or even stressful conversations an hour prior to bedtime.
- Make it quiet and peaceful. If your bedroom can be too noisy, you can try soft foam earplugs at bedtime. Or if you sleep best with some white noise, turn on a fan or get a white noise machine and gently float away on the waves.
- Mind the temperature. Temperatures naturally drop at night and our body expects it to be a little cooler. However, don’t go overboard with the cold as temperature extremes, hot or cold, naturally increase our stress hormones waking us up.
- Take time for a relaxing ritual. Enjoy a nice cup of herbal tea to relax and set the tone for sleep. (Avoid caffeine after 2 pm, even chocolate! as it can affect you many hours later.) A hot bath with Epsom salts is soothing. Reading an inspirational book (not the news) or doing 10 minutes of gratitude journaling.
- Let your stomach rest too. Do not eat for three hours before bed. This change can be surprisingly powerful.