Did you know that a good night’s sleep is just as important as eating a healthy diet and exercising? This year has certainly had some unique challenges, and our clients are reporting more stress and sleep disruptions as a result. Working and schooling from home has made it difficult to unwind from the day—and the boundaries between work and home have become significantly more blurred.
Incorporating these 10 strategies below can help promote better sleep for both children and adults. For more specific recommendations for children, please see Dr. Roy’s post: How to Establishing a Healthy Bedtime Routine with Children.
Our goal with these 10 tips is to help you enhance the quality of the sleep you are getting and to re-train your body to a healthy sleep cycle.
1. Create a consistent sleeping and waking routine
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm (your body’s time clock) and levels of melatonin (your body’s sleep hormone). Try to get into a consistent sleep-wake cycle to best support your circadian rhythm.
2. Decrease (or eliminate) refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine—especially in the evening
These foods and drinks stimulate your nervous system and can make it difficult for both your mind and body to unwind and relax. Caffeine can overstimulate the adrenal glands and nervous system. When you eat refined sugars and processed carbs, blood sugar levels spike and the body releases more cortisol, interfering with sleep. Alcohol, is known to cause, or exacerbate, the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns by decreasing melatonin and human growth hormone (HCG) production.
3. Get regular exercise—but not in the evening
Although daily exercise has been proven to contribute to a good night’s sleep, exercising too late in the day may cause sleep disturbances for some. If you like to move your body in the evening, stick to exercise such as yoga, stretching, tai chi, or qi gong.
4. Get exposure to natural light—especially first thing in the morning
Exposure to natural light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as night time sleep quality and duration. Darkness triggers the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for helping you sleep. Early morning sun exposure halts melatonin production, enabling you to feel more awake, alert and ready to begin your day.
5. Be mindful of blue light after sundown
Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This inhibits production of the hormones that help you relax and get deep sleep. Consider turning off electronic devices (phones, laptops, television) 1-2 hours before bedtime. If you do use electronic devices, wear amber glasses that block blue light. (Our oldest daughter named them “melatonin glasses” when she was younger.) You can also download an app such as f.lux which regulates the colors on your laptop or computer so it can match the time of the day properly. Similarly, there are apps that block blue light on your smartphone.
6. Create a relaxing evening ritual
Encourage relaxation by taking an Epsom salt bath, diffusing lavender oil, drinking chamomile tea, or by doing a relaxation technique such as deep breathing, journaling, or meditation. See this excellent article about using essential oils for sleep.
7. Do not eat or drink within two hours of going to bed
Eating very late at night can affect both sleep quality and the body’s natural release of sleep hormones. However, do not go to bed hungry either. Nocturnal hypoglycemia can cause a drop in blood sugar that signals the release of other hormones (such as cortisol) that may cause you to wake.
8. Be sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
External noise from traffic or loud neighbors can disrupt sleep. Create a relaxing and quiet environment by using a fan or a “white noise” machine, or by wearing earplugs. Darkness encourages sleep. Consider investing in blackout shades or curtains, or wearing an eye covering to sleep. (Or, like me, you can use ALL of these!)
9. Consider temperature and humidity
Body and bedroom temperature can profoundly affect sleep quality. Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature and add moisture to the air. In this post, we share our recommendations for humidifiers.
10. Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillow and sheets
The comfort and support of your bed can affect the quality of your sleep! Our favorite pillows are the Coop Home Goods and Sleepgram. These are both adjustable, hypoallergenic pillows. We personally own and recommend an Organix bed. We will be sharing more details, and a special offer for our community, in the next post in this sleep series.