Sleep is one of the most important processes for the human body. Along with the digestion and assimilation of nutrients from our food, sleep ensures that the body heals, grows, and replenishes itself. Unfortunately, sleep is often an elusive state that escapes us, causing a myriad problems with health, happiness and productivity.
Sleep issues can arise for many different reasons.
Physical or emotional stress, changes in schedules and routines, dietary changes and disruptions to our natural circadian rhythms are the most common reasons that sleep problems arise. Often, when sleep problems do develop, they can become the norm rather than the exception for many people, and reversing dysfunctional sleep patterns takes some time and effort. Here are five practices that’ll help you re-establish healthy sleep patterns.
1. Make sleep a priority.
Our bodies are always changing, rebalancing, repairing and healing. Abundant, deep sleep is a critical component of the cycle of repair, and crucial to the proper functioning of your body. Your first step is to recognize just how important sleep is and to make the loving commitment to yourself that you are going to make sleep and your health a priority.
You deserve to wake up feeling refreshed and energized and to be in control of your weight, mood, food cravings and productivity. All of these things, and more, are impacted by the quality of your sleep. So commit to making it a priority by writing it down and sharing your intention with your partner and anyone you live with.
2. Go to bed at the same time every night.
The human body thrives on routine. While change can be exciting, day in and day out, it’s routine that the body craves and thrives on. When it comes to sleep, routine means getting up and going to sleep at the same time everyday.
This practice will help your body be its best, as well as establish a circadian rhythm that the body recognizes. Look closely at your daily schedule and decide what time you could commit to going to sleep each evening and what time you should get up, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep, and then as much as possible, stick to it.
Having a predictable routine will allow the endocrine system to effectively cue the body and prepare for sleep or wakefulness.
3. Establish a food routine.
Just as your body appreciates you staying on a wake and sleep schedule, it also appreciates you staying on an eating schedule. To improve your sleep, it’s important that you establish personal habits around the idea of a time to stop eating in the evening.
This practice will help your body in many ways. When you stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, your body receives the signal that you are making the transition into a less active time of day, allowing itself to reduce some of its responsibilities and functions as related to digestion, and begin to focus on rest.
Stopping eating long before bed also allows the body to repair itself while you’re sleeping, instead of using that energy to digest your food — which your body would rather not do while it's resting and repairing.
If you want a late-night something, drink herbal tea before bed, as it's non-stimulating and does not require a lot of digestion.
4. Shut off all electronics.
Although there are many advantages to living in this incredible time on our planet, there are disadvantages to our sleep. Humans weren’t designed to do anything outside of the rhythms of the sun, moon and seasons. And yet, today we are afforded the opportunity to do virtually anything we like at any time of day because of the technology available.
The pineal gland is responsible for many things, including the production of melatonin. This chemical hormone is responsible for sending a sleep signal to the body and preparing it for sleep. For this process to function, the pineal gland requires a few things, especially a reduction in light. When we have screens in front of us in the form of T.V. or computers right up until we attempt to go to sleep, melatonin doesn’t have the opportunity to influence the body and prepare it for sleep.
So while it may be inconvenient, it’s rather necessary to turn off screens at least 1 hour before bed.
In the hour or so preceding sleep, consider doing something quiet and soothing. Reading a good narrative, listening to some calming music while you make lunch for the next day or engage in an activity that does not require too much thinking. You want to avoid anything that is too stimulating, including things like important conversations with family members or listening to a thought-provoking program on your phone or computer.
5. Make your room as dark as possible at night.
As turning off screens brings about a decline in the amount of light entering the retina of your eyes, establishing a sleep practice will also promote your body’s understanding that it is time to rest and that the day’s activities are coming to an end. Evaluate and address the level of darkness in your bedroom, the room temperature, the comfort of your bed, sheets and clothing.
For the continued production of melatonin and the emergence of the deep sleep provided by the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) part of the sleep cycle, a dark room is essential. Consider buying blackout curtains or layering several pieces of fabric upon each other to create a dark a space as possible.
If darkening your room this way is too difficult, consider wearing an eye mask. To further promote darkness in your sleep space, use an alarm clock that allows the time display to be completely turned off and do not keep cellphones and other electronic devices in this space.
The temperature of your room is also an important consideration. The body needs a slightly cooler space for falling asleep. Turn the thermostat down at least one hour before you’d like to fall asleep, and adjust the temperature over a few days or a week to determine which temperature you prefer to sleep in.
Consider sleeping nude or minimally dressed to keep your body temperature cool. Also give some thoughts to the sheets you sleep in. Cotton is very comfortable for most people. A high thread count is nice, but the color of the sheets is also important (because it impacts how you are feeling in bed). Are the sheets a soothing enough color for you? Is their pattern distracting or too stimulating?
By considering and integrating some of these ideas into your daily and nightly routine, you’ll improving the quality of your sleep and feel more healthy and vibrant too. Good luck!