3 Steps to Better Sleep
By Joanne Beccarelli
Lack of sleep has been blamed for everything from brain fog, a faulty immune system, depression, a slow metabolism, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, to even cancer. When your body begs for extra sleep, it is asking for the time it needs to rejuvenate and repair, saving you from often preventable ailments. It’s important to recognize these signals and honor them. With our busy lives, we tend to push off getting the right amount of sleep until the weekend comes, but with just a few simple changes, you can move towards better sleep everyday.
Step 1: Befriend Your Circadian Rhythms
First and most important, you need to start working with, rather than against, your circadian rhythms. What are circadian rhythms? Simply put, your circadian rhythms are a 24-hour internal clock that regulates the timing of when you are sleepy and awake. Controlled by the hypothalamus, that in turn responds to light and dark, circadian rhythms rule your sleep patterns. So, when you befriend your circadian rhythms, you control not only how how well you sleep at night and how you feel in the morning, but also every other function in your body that relies on rest and rejuvenation to keep you running at your best each day.
Sleep in total, absolute, black out darkness. Buy yourself a sleep mask! This is the single easiest way to achieve the darkness you need to nurture your circadian rhythms and get restorative sleep without any extra effort. Plus, a sleep mask is portable so it travels well. If you can’t handle something on your head when you sleep, you will need to prepare your bedroom. Install blackout shades, make sure every tiny electronic light is covered and do not use night lights anywhere near your bedroom. Blackness is the best way to allow you body to do what it is designed to do at night – which is to rebuild and repair.
Since circadian rhythms are based on the rising and setting of the sun, we also need to mimic that type of cycle, even if our lives don’t literally rise with the sun and power down when it sets. To do this it is important to establish a regular wake and sleep cycle, going to sleep and waking, about the same time every day. It is also important to get out in bright daylight as soon as possible in the morning and to turn down lights and move away from electronic devices as you move into night. Recently, Harvard published findings showing that blue light from our electronic devices interferes with our circadian rhythms more severely than other lights, so steer clear of these things as much as possible.
Step 2: Prepare Your Body for Rest
Another relatively simple approach to having better sleep is to prepare your body for rest and rejuvenation. Although we tend to blast through our days until we fall down exhausted, we are ultimately cheating our overall health when we don’t honor the time necessary to unwind before bed.
The simplest way to prepare for sleep is to rethink your waking time leading up to it. Allowing for a wake-up time that is transitive, eases your body from the productivity of day, to the rest of night.
Here’s how to create a wind-down routine:
- Most important, use lighting to your advantage as discussed above.
- Starting about two to three hours before bedtime, cut back on eating. Your digestive system works hard all day long and is ready to rest. Plus, having a full stomach signals your body to create energy, not slow down.
- If you are prone to needing the bathroom at night, cut back on all drinks a few hours before bed. This is especially important for drinks containing caffeine, alcohol or sugar.
- Take a relaxing bath or shower early during your wind down time, change clothes and leave the hustle of the day behind.
- Using essential oils is one of the best natural ways to help unwind. Creating a spray with water and a few drops of oil or using a diffuser is best. Lavender is a great oil to start with and readily available. I also like to use vetiver, valerian and chamomile oils.
- Speaking of chamomile, a cup of chamomile tea is a great relaxant, too.
Step 3: Decompress Your Mind
Your mind has likely been running active and alert all day, so before diving into bed it is important to decompress and slow down your mind, along with your body. For those of you who tend to be really busy, this is often the only time of the day you have for yourself, so how you choose to spend it is key.
- Choose activities that will help you relax, rather than add anxiety, active thinking or activity.
- If you choose to watch television, stay away from news, shows that have a lot of action, death, crime and conflict.
- If you like to read, a book is actually better than an electronic device because of the strain blue light puts on your circadian rhythms. Also, the subject matter may impact your mood and brain activity, so choose the right book for enjoyment and relaxation.
- Meditation is always a great nighttime activity. It is grounding and proven to help reduce stress. If you have never tried to meditate, a quick online search will give you some starter programs and videos, many of them free.
- Finally, end your day with a reflection of gratitude. Research proves that expressing gratitude has a direct affect on your overall well-being. There is nothing better than putting your head down, with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.
Joanne Beccarelli is a holistic health coach, juicing junkie, writer, soon to be cookbook author and recovered emotional eater. Inspired by many great voices in the health-thru-food revolution, Joanne found her way out of hiding in shame (losing almost 100 lbs in the process) and stepped away from the corporate world. She now dedicates every day to helping others who are overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, find awareness, fulfilment and better health.
Joanne has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell/T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and became a Certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is also a member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and the International Association of Health Coaches (IAHC).
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