To rehash some major points from my last post, poor sleep habits can lead to impaired judgment, memory loss, and anxiety/depression (among other things). It can also factor into major health complications such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes.
The lack of sleep can also lead to eye health problems such as dry eye, spasms (twitch), and inflammation. Furthermore, prioritizing sleep can take a lot of hard work (since we’re all creatures of habit).
In this post, I’ll make some (hopefully) habit-forming suggestions and go over a simple bedtime routine that should make you want to shut your eyes more often.
Hard-wired for Sleep:
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “A key factor in how human sleep is regulated is exposure to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake.”
Lots of big words there, but it basically means that human beings are hard-wired for activity during the day, and sleep during the night. I understand your nightlife will fight this every step of the way, but it’s something to consider if you’re concerned about your health.
Making the Transition:
Prioritizing sleep is the right thing for me, but it does come with a major price. Since my day starts early, I’m usually in bed while the rest of New York stays up. In my younger years, I could seemingly burn the candle at both ends and get away with it. But life caught up (as expected), and now I look at things from a different perspective.
When I figured out the importance of a good night’s sleep, I ran with it and never looked back. Now, I tend to get about eight hours of sleep on average. If I don’t get my eight hours, I become more fatigued mentally, and I usually overcompensate with excessive caffeine.
Moreover, it seems as if my body knows what it wants. I don’t feel too good when I get more than eight hours. When I try to sleep in on weekends, I rarely wake up after 8AM, even if I stayed up late the night before.
Finding a Simple Sleep Routine:
A great to way to build good nighttime habits is to set up a simple sleep routine. This routine can (and will) be different for everybody. As for myself, I start to unwind about an hour before falling asleep. This typically includes a cup of herbal tea, a book, and a bit of gentle stretching.
The next step is to eliminate excess blue light from the room. This includes cell phones, computer screens, and even the television. If this isn’t done, the body will have a hard time releasing melatonin, which is our sleep inducing hormone.
After your devices are in check, you should make the room as dark as possible. This can be done by shutting off anything that generates light. You should also consider keeping the room cool (about 68 degrees fahrenheit or 20 degrees celsius). We tend to toss and turn when the room’s too hot.
If you use an alarm clock (and I definitely do), try to wake up to an easy sound and not something too loud. You can also consider a wake-up light instead of an alarm. A wake-up light slowly increases the lighting in the room to match the outside sunrise.
Natural Sleep Assistance:
Caffeine WILL cause you to stay up at night. It’s the main contributor to sleep problems, although the effect can be subtle. Every time you drink a cup of coffee during the day, it does a number on your nighttime habits. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, try to drink your last cup no later than 2PM. Even so, you’ll still more than likely need some sleep assistance.
Three ways to counterbalance the effect of caffeine at bedtime:
- Melatonin – a natural sleep inducing hormone. Extra doses are available in pill or spray form at your local natural grocer
- Natural Calm Magnesium – an extra shot of magnesium can help the body rest. Also available at your local natural grocer
- Herbal Tea – available in many variations. Chamomile tea is known for its calming effects
Improving your sleep quality is a simple, cost-effective way to better overall health. If you can incorporate a simple sleep routine to get back on track, you’ll eventually feel much better during the day.
- Relaxing with a book (instead of television) will keep your mind occupied and reduce blue light exposure
- Some gentle stretching will keep you loose and limber throughout the night
- Reducing blue light on your devices will help to get your mind ready for sleep (use Night Shift and/or f.lux)
Also remember to:
- Shut off all electronics
- Remove all light from the room
- Keep the room temperature cool
- Use an easy alarm sound to wake up
For natural sleep assistance, consider:
- Melatonin (in low doses)
- Natural Calm Magnesium
- Your favorite (Chamomile based) herbal tea