We humans tend to make our lives very complicated. However, the most basic components of good health are actually very simple. Getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, breathing properly, bathing in the sun and getting sufficient daily activity can greatly impact our bodies’ functioning. Getting good sleep is listed first because this is a foundational principle for good health – without proper rest none of the body’s systems can function optimally. Some people can easily fall asleep when they are tired and sleep soundly for the majority of the night. However, getting good sleep is a big challenge for most of us. When restless sleep or difficulty falling asleep becomes the norm, bedtime can be accompanied by a sense of frustration and hopelessness. However, assuming there are no underlying health conditions, good sleep is more under your control than you might think. This is where good sleep hygiene comes into play. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene consists of habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. Finding and sticking to the sleep practices that work for you can have a profound effect on your nightly rest. The following are things to consider when determining the sleep hygiene practices that will work for you.
Exercise: Getting enough exercise and gentle movement during the day will help to tire the body by nighttime when it’s time for rest. However, be aware of exercise too close to bedtime. A mellow walk after dinner might be enjoyable, but a more intense workout can increase cortisol in the system, which will make it difficult to fall asleep.
Natural light: Aligning your body with natural light cycles will help your body wind down when it’s time for sleep. Make sure to get some sunlight exposure during the day and dim artificial light after dark. The hormones that govern sleep and wakefulness (melatonin, serotonin, and cortisol) are very sensitive to light.* For example, artificial light exposure shuts off melatonin production for 4-6 hours, so keeping to natural light patterns is key to re-educating your body for healthy sleep.
Digital stimulation: It is a good practice to stop using cell phones, computers and TVs at least two hours before bedtime. These devices emit blue light, which registers more intensely to the human brain than midday sun. If you must use them, biohacker Ryan Frisinger advises downloading f.lux on your devices, which warms the colors on your screen to dampen the stimulating effects of nighttime illumination. (https://justgetflux.com).
Caffeine, alcohol, food: Caffeine can stay in your system for six hours or longer, so if you are not sleeping well, it is best to avoid coffee, tea, chocolate and soda after 3:00pm. Alcohol has an initial sedative effect, but can disturb sleep during the second half of the night, so moderation is advised close to bedtime. Finally, while you don’t want to go to bed hungry, you want to allow enough time between your last meal and your night’s sleep for digestion to occur, so most people find it best to stop eating a few hours before bed.
Supplements: Ryan suggests taking natural remedies such as Biochemic Phosphates or GABA with L-Theanine fifteen minutes before bedtime. These help to alleviate nervous exhaustion and help the brain to wind down by flooding it with calming neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin. (I, personally, take all of the above and find the effects profound). For more information, visit Ryan’s site: https://kosmicanimal.com
Pre-bedtime ritual: Many people find it helpful to have a soothing night-time routine to get the body and mind ready for bed, like taking a warm bath and pleasure reading in bed until it is time to fall asleep. I use this time for my evening gratitude practice: I think of one thing for which to be grateful that is specific to that day.
Sleep environment: The bedroom should be comfortable and inviting. The general rule for most people is quiet, dark and cool. Quiet for some may mean earplugs to block out all noise and for some it may mean using a white noise machine (I use one in my massage practice to block out any distracting noise). Reducing ambient light sources through windows or from other rooms is important, as well as keeping the room at a comfortable temperature.** You should have good pillows and position yourself for good body alignment (see my prior blog post https://rootsaustin.com/2017/02/05/best-sleep-positions/).
Keep it cyclical: many sleep experts suggest going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day, even on days off. The body functions best on rhythmic cycles, so keeping to a schedule will ultimately signal your body and brain when it’s time for sleep.
Good sleep is critical for a well functioning body and happy brain. Without adequate rest, you may experience fatigue, brain fog, unexplained hunger and mood swings. Prolonged periods without adequate rest contribute to chronic hormonal disruption, creating conditions that favor ill health. By being mindful of your sleep hygiene, you can help your body restore itself. Waking up every day refreshed and recharged is within your power, if you remember to practice good sleep habits.
*”Primal Endurance”, Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns, 2016.
**“7 Energy Sapping Culprits and Ways to Prevent Them”, Lisa Murray, RDN, LD, blog.emersonecologics.com