Join Skyterra’s Director of Integrated Wellbeing, Kate Hannon, for a webisode examining this fundamental human need, sleep. Explore some possible habits that are getting in the way of your sleep and ways you can begin to practicing good sleep hygiene.
The Importance of Sleep
You know how good it feels when you awake refreshed, recharged and ready for the day. It’s something I ask our guests when they visit Skyterra Wellness “how many hours do you sleep per night?” I’m hoping they say somewhere between 7-9. The recommended amount for adults according to the Amerian Sleep Association. Unfortunately, most do not. And they’re not alone. Did you know 70 million Americans report sleeping problems? How did we get to this point? And what do we do about it?
Here are a few of the most common obstacles, and what we can do about them:
Rushing Out the Door
This is a common scenario for many Americans. Running off to work, or to take care of others, to tend to a never-ending to-do list. When living in this fast, chaotic pace, we tend to skip meals. Eating regular meals helps regulate our body’s daily hormonal rhythms. When we skip meals, we can disrupt this rhythm and cause a change in our sleep pattern. Missing breakfast can put us into “fight or flight” and turn off “rest and digest” responses which negatively affects our cholesterol. Skipping meals can be especially stressful on our sleep when it pushes us to eat close to bedtime, as eating late meals can also cause negative changes in our sleep.
What to do: Try to eat within the first few hours of waking, even if it’s a small portion. Some almond butter on a banana or yogurt with fruit. Eggs can offer great protein for a busy day ahead as well some fiber to help fill up your belly and if you give you energy for later. When we wait too long to eat, we tend too much and too quick later on.
Stress at Night
Most of us are aware that stress can cause a surge in cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) and adrenaline. Some of the more common stress-causing things I hear from our guests are watching the news, discussing work, politics or money troubles, and working on the computer. In our house, we have a rule (that I struggle to stick to) of not checking email in the hour before bedtime. In many cases, the stress isn’t even something “negative,” it’s exciting and sometimes stimulating, but it can make it hard to sleep nonetheless.
What to do: Keep work stuff out of the bedroom, as well unfinished tasks that send stress signals to the brain. Like all that laundry that needs to get folded. The bedroom is a sacred space, keep it that way. It’s the place for sleep and sex. not work and tv. Be aware of how artificial lights trick our brains into staying awake and especially the blue lights from our phones and computers that send signals to our brain Stay Awake; They were designed with exactly this intention. This prevents our brains from releasing the sleep hormone, melatonin. Maybe even ushering your phone out of the bedroom at night, so you’re not tempted to use it, or at least keep it far enough, so you have to get out of bed to get it. Chances are, you’ll stay put. Even that middle of the night glance at the phone, what are you looking for? Time? Work emails? Receiving voicemails from family members? All of these could increase your stress, and the blue light will stimulate an awakened state.
Unhealthy Food Choices
We know our diets are important to our overall health, and sleep is no exception. Our bodies use amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to create the calming neurotransmitters that allow us to sleep. When our diet lacks variety or contains a lot of processed foods, we miss out on some of those beneficial nutrients. Our bodies then struggle to complete the biochemical reactions that help us get to, and stay asleep. Drinking high amounts of caffeine and soda drinks will negatively affect our sleep because they keep us wired and tired.
What to do: Try to drink these drinks earlier in the day esp if you know you’re caffeine sensitive. Eat foods high in magnesium, like halibut, almonds, cashews, and spinach, and foods high in vitamin B complex, like leafy green vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Some experts also recommend taking supplements of taurine, vitamin B6, and magnesium.When we eat healthy (think fruits, vegetables, whole grains and quality meat, if you’re into that), we give our body the best chance of putting us to sleep naturally.
Inconsistent Sleeping Schedule
Having a work week is good for us in a lot of ways, but if we operate on an entirely different schedule on the weekends, we confuse our natural rhythms. Our hormones don’t know it’s Saturday.
What to do: It can be tough to pass up the opportunity to sleep in, especially if we’ve been having trouble sleeping the rest of the week, but setting a consistent pattern is one way to help get back on track.
While a drink can bring on a relaxed feeling and maybe even make us a little sleepy, drinking can cause us to wake up later in the night. This effect is likely because breaking down alcohol makes it tough for our livers to balance our blood sugar. If we binge or chronically exceed the recommended drink amounts, it causes us to sleep longer and throw our schedules off.
What to Do: If you are going to drink, try to give your body some time before sleep to metabolize it. If you suffer from insomnia, avoid drinking altogether until your sleep schedule has normalized. Sorry night caps, you’re not helping us. And since we’re on the topic, cigarette smoking also contributes to poor sleep because nicotine withdrawal can wake you up.
Not Moving Consistently Throughout the Day
We’re talking about Exercise, Of course, is good for us for so many reasons. And 30 mins a day, five days a week, even if its just moderate aerobic activity like walking, will do wonders and help you get solid sleep.
Talk it out. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia is a pretty common technique. Also called CBT-I, the therapy typically involves self-monitoring, mental strategies (like developing positive thoughts about sleep), and creating an environment that promotes sleep—and it’s been shown to improve sleep quality Not into seeing a therapist? Check out Sleepio, a digital program that helps users learn about and implement CBT practices. There’s also apps that can help turn down the blue light like F.Lux and Sleep Cycle to help you track your sleep patterns.