Why has sleep become one of our modern casualties? We know that sleep is important and that without the recommended 7-8 hours our decision-making, emotions, and even physical health can all suffer. According to the NIH, without sufficient sleep, the body doesn’t repair itself properly, isn’t able to solve problems as easily or balance hormones effectively, and the immune system can become weakened.
Scare tactics aside, improving sleep habits matters from a quality-of-life standpoint. So many of my clients complain about a constant tired-but-wired feeling – a sense of exhaustion without the reprieve of deep, restful sleep. Why is it that we push so hard, go so fast, and ignore the time our bodies desperately need for integration, healing, and rest?
Sleep is not glorified in a culture that values productivity and busyness as a badge. But things are changing, and your health and happiness depends on the choices you make each and every day and night. The good news is there are small and simple ways to change old patterns of bad sleep. You can begin to elevate and prioritize your need for rest. You can adjust your before-bed rituals to actually help you unwind and you can sleep better tonight. Here are 10 ways to do just that..
1. Give yourself permission to sleep. This sounds obvious but it’s an effective practice I use with my clients often. Write yourself a permission slip literally allowing yourself to go to sleep when you are exhausted, and to remember that with better rest you’ll be a better partner/worker/friend. Place this “permission slip” prominently in your home.
2. Put your phone to sleep before you. An hour or at least 30 minutes before bed tuck your phone in first by setting your alarm, and setting the device down. The bright lights of screens can interfere with your body’s natural sleep rhythms and disrupt your internal sleep cycle.
3. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for before you go to sleep. Research has shown that gratitude can have a profound impact on health and happiness so why not try it before bed? It’s a great way to gain perspective and count your blessings.
4. Carve out 5-10 minutes for meditation. Meditation is an excellent way to calm the body and nervous system before bed. Try this guided sleep mediation tonight.
5. Eat for sleep. We know that food can be medicine, so use it when you need to sleep. Foods that are high in magnesium, calcium, and potassium like pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens, cherries, avocados, and bananas can increase production of melatonin (your body’s ‘sleep hormone’) and help you rest easier.
6. Cut back on the caffeine. In a world of delicious artisanal coffee, this may sound difficult, but reducing intake by a small margin may have a big pay off. Try reducing your caffeine by 50% or even 25% if you’re having trouble sleeping. You may be surprised how your quickly your body unwinds and relaxes.
7. Smell some lavender. Studies have shown the scent of lavender can help to calm the body and even ease anxiety. Use a lavender eye-pillow or dab a drop of lavender essential oil on your pillow for sounder sleep.
8. Sip chamomile tea. Many of us know this tea to be soothing to the digestive tract, but new research shows it may be associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes muscles, nerves, and can act like a mild sedative, naturally helping the body prepare for bed.
9. Get 30 minutes of exercise every single day. Our bodies need movement just as much as they need rest. Go for a mid-day power walk, take a yoga class, or crush it at the gym. Find a workout you enjoy that also tires out your body.
10. Sleep with an eye mask. It seems very princess-and-the-pea but even a tiny bit of light from an appliance, or a beam of city light shining in through a curtain can disrupt your very sensitive brain. Blocking all light sends a signal that it is time to turn off the activity of the mind and just get some rest.
So please, don’t sacrifice sleep for the sake of your daily productivity. Know that even trying one or two of these practices can dramatically improve your sleep and, in turn, your life. Resting your body well is your right and it deserves a high spot on your to do list.
In the words of the poet John O’Donohue: “There is nothing else to do now but rest/ And patiently learn to receive the self/ You have forsaken for the race of days.”
Joanna Andreae is a health and happiness consultant here in Washington, D.C. and the founder of Wandering Wellness. To learn more about her work, listen to her meditations, or try some of her healthy recipes visit www.wanderingwellness.com.