for Better Health
If you want to feel your best inside and out, it starts with a good night’s rest.
In today’s “always on” society, sleep is often thought of as wasted time or a luxury we cannot afford. However, that way of thinking comes at a price—having detrimental effects on our overall health and well-being. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, impaired immunity, decreased work productivity, and more.
If you are having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve your health and longevity by being intentional with your sleep.
1. Prioritize getting regular, high-quality sleep. Sleep experts recommend getting anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Finding your sweet spot will vary.
2. Create a consistent bedtime routine, which means going to bed and waking at the same time. Adults (just like children) need a sleep routine to signal to the body it’s time to start winding down. Responding to emails or checking the news until 10 p.m. and jumping into bed is far too overstimulating to the body (and disrupts melatonin production).
Tip: Instead, try taking an evening walk, reading a relaxing book, taking a warm bath, writing a few lines in a gratitude journal, or doing a quick guided sleep meditation—whatever relaxes you.
3. Limit blue light–emitting devices (phones, iPads, laptops, TVs) to 1-2 hours before bedtime. Their light can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, which can cause lower quality sleep and insomnia.
Tip: Try placing devices in another room, away from your bed, or on airplane mode to avoid the temptation of late-night scrolling. You can also set a sleep alarm to remind you that it’s time to start wrapping things up and unwinding. If you find that you cannot avoid working late a few nights a week, try using blue light-blocking glasses and dimming the blue light on your device.
4. Create a restful environment that includes ridding your bedroom of unwanted noise or light. Also, the Sleep Foundation’s research suggests that the optimal sleep temperature is 65 degrees Fahrenheit—varying 2-3 degrees above or below based on personal preference.
Tip: If you cannot control the noise or light in your bedroom, try sleeping with white noise, earplugs, or a sleep mask.
5. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Depending on metabolism, caffeine can stay in your body for 5-6 hours, so it’s best to limit caffeine after lunch. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, studies have shown it can suppress REM sleep and is linked to sleep disruptions, lower quality sleep, and increased sleep apnea. According to the Sleep Foundation, a recent study found that “moderate amounts of alcohol (two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women) decreased sleep quality by 24%.”
(Add one more drink and sleep quality decreased by 39%.)
Tip: Try setting a daily caffeine cutoff at 2 p.m. or a few hours earlier if you’re more sensitive to caffeine. Opt for drinking decaf coffee or tea instead.
6. Lower your stress levels. Chronic stress can elevate the hormone cortisol, which can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, and disrupts your sleep cycles. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels during the day, creating a vicious cycle. The bottom line, stress and sleep are interconnected.
Tip: One of the quickest ways to lower your stress levels is through deep breathing, which activates the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. Another is getting up and moving or gently walking. While we cannot control what happens around us, we can control how we respond. Set healthy boundaries around work, the news, or toxic environments, and, more importantly, create space in your life for rest and the people and things that bring you joy.
April Likins lives in Forest and is an Institute for Integrative Nutrition- and Duke Integrative Medicine-trained health coach. Learn more at aprillikins.com.