"I need a nap." I find myself uttering this phrase throughout my workday more than any other phrase; however, I do believe, "I don't get paid enough," is a close second. I admit that like most other people, I sometimes fall victim to the demands of society's fast paced, do more, mentality. My sleep schedule is often one of the first things to go. I work and work until my brain cannot handle anymore. Then I veg out in front of the TV or my cellphone screen. Before I know it, I should have been in bed an hour (sometimes two hours) ago. I wake up groggy and a little grouchy and I prepare to follow the same routine the very next day. My sleep sins are more egregious on the weekend. Circadian rhythm all out of whack.
Circadian rhythms are not something we think of outside of our school biology class or those annual visits with our primary care doctors. However, it is responsible for assisting us with falling asleep. The blue light from our modern technology such as our phones, our computers, our tablets, and our TV disrupts our natural cycle and keeps us awake longer. Sleep allows our body and brain to replenish energy and repair themselves. Sleep helps us improve our memory, improve our ability to process information, improve our immune systems, and improve our moods. During our sleep, our bodies also engage in physical growth and muscle repair. Therefore, as we can see, disruptions to our sleep-wake cycle are not good for our overall health due to the important processes that occur during sleep. How to get back on track?
Sleep hygiene and yes sorry to remind you of those dreaded conversations with your doctor. However, sleep hygiene is the totality of the behaviors, rituals, and environmental factors that aid us in improving our individual sleep. When examining our sleep hygiene, we have to take a look at our overall sleep habits and implement positive and consistent routines. Below, I will list 7 behavioral and procedural tweaks we can make to improve our sleep which in turn will improve our stress management and overall wellness.
Not literally because we need our devices fully charged for the day ahead. However, we need to set boundaries for ourselves by identifying a certain time to turn off or disconnect from our devices. A good rule of thumb is at least 1 hour before bed. Speaking of...
I can vividly remember my mom shooing me off to bed and thinking I couldn't wait until I was an adult, and I could stay up as late as I wanted to. I made good on that promise over the years and often to my disadvantage when I awakened grouchy due to lack of sleep or experienced that overwhelming daytime fatigue. Setting a consistent nightly bedtime is important for us to improve our sleeping habits. Try to schedule between 7 and 9 hours of sleep but experiment to find what time best suits your body and brain.
#3 Easy on the Caffeine
Soda, coffee, tea, chocolate-our most common means of consuming caffeine. However, try to cut off caffeine consumption at least 2 hours before your bedtime.
Find your Zen. Whether it be a relaxing shower or bubble bath, followed by self-massage by moisturizing with a lotion or relaxing soothing music or white noise find your mix to help your body relax.
#5 Beds are for sleeping and sex.
By now you should know I do not shy away from discussing the "S" word so don't get shy on me now. Your brain can be trained. When you read in bed or watch TV in bed, your brain lessens its association of your bed with sleep. If you aren't sleeping or getting it on, get out of bed.
#6 Be careful with the alcohol
If you have taken a drink, or two, or three you know that alcohol can have a relaxing effect even making us sleepy. This is why many reach for it when they are having trouble sleeping. However, there is a caution here that I must address. You may think I am about to lecture on the dangers of alcoholism but that isn't it this time. Alcohol has been known to suppress the body's ability to enter REM sleep and to disrupt the circadian rhythm. The after effect of this is a person who awakens feeling groggy and poorly rested (REM disrupted) and who has increasing difficulty with feeling sleepy in the future (circadian rhythm disrupted).
#7 Even on the weekend
I imagine I will lose a few of you here but please just hear me out. I get it. I do. It is my current Achilles heel. I want to sleep in on the weekends and I often do. However, people a lot smarter than I recommend that if we aim to improve our overall sleep quality, we have to be consistent with waking up at approximately the same time each day. Each time we sleep past our normal wake-up time, we risk disrupting our circadian rhythm making it more difficult to fall asleep the next night. Each and every weekend that I have chosen not to follow the advice of the experts, my Sunday night tells on me, and my Monday morning kicks me in the rear end.
We need to both implement positive sleep habits and consistent bedtime routines along with diminish bad sleep habits in order to improve our sleep quality. Knowing when to consult with a professional is also vital. If you have a sudden onset of sleep issues when there is no perceivable changes in your life or routine, go ahead and err on the side of caution and notify your doctor (who will probably ask you about some of the things listed here but I am the first to admit my articles are NEVER a substitution for medical advice and evaluation). However, some of you know your sleep routine is less than stellar and you may choose to make some of these behavioral changes first before consulting your doctor. If after making appropriate changes and your sleep quality does not improve within four weeks, it is time to talk with your doctor about further assessment. As always, please remember as you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
And as promised. The big reveal.
"Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people's souls. ~Melody Beattie
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