Catch Your Best Zzz’s With Improved Sleep Hygiene

By Lisa Shanken | Healthy Living

Welcome to this month’s Don’t Get Your Gut In A Rut newsletter, which focuses on sleep hygiene. In this second half of my 2 part newsletter on sleep, we will focus more on research about sleep, how important it is to both mental and physical health, and some new habits you can implement to improve your sleep.

Sleep corresponds directly to psychology. Sleep problems are commonly exacerbated by conditions like anxiety, bipolar, depression, and attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD), creating a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health. Therefore, improving sleep can act as a preventative method of declining mental health. Plus, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability and poor mood, also making it more difficult to cope with stress.

Physically, poor sleep can be linked to diabetes (type 2), heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. I am giving you the facts not to scare you, but hopefully to motivate you to improve your sleep hygiene.

According to the Sleep Foundation, the different levels of activity in your brain, during the different phases of sleep, affect the ability to think, learn, and remember things, as well as the brain’s ability to process emotions.

So how much sleep is enough sleep? The answer is that it really depends on your age, and this article shows a nice chart displaying that. The bottom line is that most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep per night for optimal brain health, and sleep debt is how many hours per night you lose below 7-8 hours within a week. Unfortunately, naps can not be a remedy for sleep debt since your sleep phases during a nap don’t generally match the same quality/sleep phases you get during a full night’s sleep.

Since there is such abundant evidence showing how important sleep is, let’s now shift to ways you can improve your sleep to reach a consistent 7-8 hours per night. These may be suggestions you have heard before, but I will add in ways to also implement these suggestions to truly be consistent with them.

  1. The same waking and bedtimes each day are essential, including the weekends. Try to maintain these times within an hour of each other every day. The same wake time is essentially just setting a daily alarm, but the key is to not sleep through it. If you often sleep through your alarm, I strongly recommend a few things.
    1. If you use your phone as your alarm, keep your phone far enough away from your bed so that you have to get up and out of bed to turn it off.
    2. The Sonic Boom alarm clock makes a loud noise and shakes the bed to help wake you up.
    3. Leave a large glass of water next to your bed at night before going to sleep. Drink it as soon as you hear your alarm in the morning and the hydrating effects will help you feel immediately more alert.
  2. According to The Huberman Lab podcast, research shows that one of the most important ways you can set your circadian rhythms, making it easier to fall asleep at night, is to get natural light directly into your eyes within one hour of waking for a minimum of 15 minutes. You can do this by going for a walk or just sitting outside.
  3. Caffeine can last for up to 8 hours, so avoid all caffeine at least 8 hours before bedtime. If you are reliant on caffeine, start cutting down slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Try to switch your drink to half caffeinated and half decaf and slowly start to eliminate the caffeinated beverage over time. Drinking herbal tea and water with lemon may also help withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Exercising daily helps improve sleep quality. The key to being consistent with exercise is to find something that is enjoyable rather than something that feels like a chore. This can be anything that moves your body like yoga, walking, martial arts, pick up team sports, house cleaning, or anything else that elevates your heart rate for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Reduce light exposure as the evening hours begin. You can do this by keeping the lights in your home dim 1-2 hours before bed, shutting down all screens (phones, computers, tablets) at least an hour before bedtime, and possibly wearing blue blocker glasses if you are on screens 3-4 hours before bed.

I realize this is a lot of information to take in as well as several suggested new habits to adopt.
As always, I am here to support, encourage, and help you stay accountable. Please reach out with questions/feedback or schedule your free 15 minute phone call by clicking HERE.

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