Are you burning the candle at both ends? 115 MILLION Americans are regularly sleep deprived. Many of us are not sleeping and if we are sleeping, we are not sleeping well. If you are not sleeping, well, you just aren’t healing. Could this be you? Are you sleeping smart for your self-care?
Sleep manages and protects you. It is important for cleanup and repair of the body. Sleep is fundamental to your health and immune system and is essential for life success. The QUALITY of sleep you get is paramount and just as important for your health as diet and exercise.
When sleep is discussed there is a lot of focus on the amount of sleep – less than 6 hours a night is considered sleep deprivation. However, it’s not just about how many hours of sleep you get BUT how efficient your sleep cycles are. Poor sleep results in an increase in your cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone. Sleep deprivation can also be linked to depression, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
To take better care of yourself, create your sleep routine from a place of self-love. Let’s take a closer look at sleep and how it can affect your life.
What Leads to Lack of Sleep?
There are numerous factors that contribute to sleep deprivation, broken sleeping cycles and insomnia. Poor sleep habits, stress, eating too much too late, and caffeine intake can play a part in disrupted sleep.
There are also additional risk factors for women including hormonal imbalances and shifts during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause or being over the age of 60 years old (due to changes in production of hormones, chronic pain, inflammation or other chronic conditions.)
What Exactly is Sleep Apnea?
25 million Americans have sleep apnea. That number is quite disturbing. The simple fact is when you have sleep apnea, you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain and your body. This lack of oxygen leads to rising cortisol levels which causes stress. Stress causes even more sleep trouble, and so you are now caught in a cycle of poor sleep!
Sleep apnea causes a pause in your breathing that happens intermittently and frequently. These pauses sound like a gasp or a snort and may wake you from your slumber. Every time you wake up, it disrupts your sleep. Sleep apnea is very common and under diagnosed – especially in women.
Sleep apnea can also induce weight gain in the belly, create high levels of inflammation in the body, cause high blood pressure, and increase levels of insulin.
But there is good news for those who have sleep apnea! Getting a continuous supply of oxygen into the body from a CPAP machine can significantly improve your sleep quality. The CPAP machine keeps your airway from collapsing and helps you breathe continuously while you sleep. The bottom line is, this machine could improve your health and lead to a peaceful night’s sleep. If you think you are experiencing sleep apnea, please reach out to your doctor and get tested!
Strategies for Better Sleep
Sleep apnea is a medical condition, but you can begin solving other sleep concerns with some behavioral changes. Setting yourself up for sleeping success is part of self-care. Here are some practical lifestyle solutions from Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter : 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Betty Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. These simple and effective ways can be a life saver … no pun intended.
1. Know the Value of Sleep
Your body’s healing and rejuvenation happens during sleep. It is also during this time that your body and mind recharge. Sleep is the natural periodic state of rest for the mind and body.
Benjamin Franklin said, “There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead.” Although this may be true, without adequate sleep and great sleeping habits, you may not be able to sustain your lifestyle long term.
Luckily, Franklin also said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Sleep is not a waste of time nor is it something to neglect. Understanding the value of sleep to your health and mental well-being will help you create proper sleep habits today.
2. Have a Caffeine Curfew
Caffeine is a powerful nervous system stimulant. If your nervous system is lit up, you can forget about sleeping. Caffeine can interrupt sleep.
You don’t have to cut caffeine out completely, just have your caffeine early in the day. Depending on your metabolism, the caffeine you have in the late morning or afternoon can affect your sleep. Caffeine actually has a half-life of two to six hours depending on your system. That means there could still be some caffeine lingering in your body several hours after consumption. Start your caffeine curfew at 4pm.
Finally, reconsider your sources of caffeine – instead of coffee, maybe try tea. Many teas are packed with antioxidants as well – double bonus. Green tea contains less caffeine milligrams than coffee so you can sip throughout the day without worrying about overstimulation.
3. Go Easy on the Bottle
You booze, you lose. Alcohol may help you relax and fall asleep faster BUT it interferes with your sleep stages.
Alcohol affects your deep sleep and REM cycle. Memory and emotional processing happen during this sleep cycle. A majority of your dreams take place during REM sleep. Dreams are helpful and play a pivotal role in processing emotions. This serves as an important function for your well-being.
In addition, your short term memories get converted to long term memories during REM sleep. This is when you consolidate memory. If you are not getting REM sleep, it’s going to be harder for you to function the next day. You will be fatigued and forgetful.
Lastly, drinking increases your chances of snoring – or snoring even louder – because it relaxes the muscles in your body. Your throat muscles
It is recommended to have at least a 2 hour alcohol curfew before bed.
4. Eat for Sleep
Dr. Mark Hyman, physician, author and founder of The UltraWellness Center, says, “Think of your kitchen as your pharmacy.” and he couldn’t be more correct. There are so many wonderful foods that provide the nutrients and minerals you need to facilitate sleep. Deficiencies of some vitamins may contribute to your sleep problems. Make sure you are getting enough servings of these good sleep nutrients below.
- Vitamin C, which is found in strawberries and sweet peppers, not only supports your immune system and regenerates tissues but also regulates sleep. Vitamin C can increase your length of sleep as well as minimize restless leg syndrome symptoms (“pins and needles”) Lastly, Vitamin C can reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Other sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, brussel sprouts and tomatoes.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve your sleep. Studies shows omega-3 can help you fall asleep easier and improve your quality of sleep so you get deeper, more rested sleep. Foods rich in Omega-3 include salmon, anchovies, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Omega-3s also prevent inflammation and heart disease … what a bonus!
- Magnesium is thought to be the “super sleep” mineral. It helps improve sleep quality and quantity. It is also linked to deeper and less interrupted sleep. Magnesium is found in salmon, cashews, almonds, black beans, pumpkin seeds, bananas, avocados, and leafy greens – kale, collard, spinach. spirulina, corella – just to name a few. Magnesium also supports muscle and nerve function as well as stress management. It promotes the optimization of your circulation and blood pressure. It relaxes tense muscles and reduces pain. Because it is used so quickly, it is zapped out of your system quickly. Some studies show that 48% of Americans are affected by magnesium deficiency.
- Iron helps transport oxygen to cells, tissues and organs but, it is also important for sleep. Low levels of iron can be associated with fatigue. Iron rich foods include red meat, fish, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, and broccoli. Eating these foods along with a good source of Vitamin C will help iron absorption. Lastly, it is important to remember that women could be especially vulnerable to iron deficiency due to menstruation cycles.
- Fermented foods can improve mood and sleep. These foods include pickles, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. The probiotics in these foods boost serotonin levels which is the precursor for melatonin, which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.
A helpful thing to remember when eating for sleep and health … Eat the food that “God made”, not “Man made”.
5. Use Smart Supplementation
Whenever possible, it is important to start with remedies that are natural like Chamomile Tea, Lavender, Valerian Root and Kava.
Chamomile tea is great before bed. It relaxes the nervous system and calms muscles.
Valerian Root can be taken in capsules or as a tea. Not only does Valerian Root promote uninterrupted sleep, but it also helps with cramping and PMS.
Kava also can improve sleep quality because it regulates anxiety and stress. This herb can be found in evening hot teas as well.
If you are going for a short term supplement use, a popular high quality supplement is Magnesium Calm. Although a fan favorite by many, it’s not good to become dependent on. It is more of a short term fix. There is also a topical magnesium you can use because your skin absorbs magnesium fairly well.
6. Have a Food Curfew
Eating late at night can affect your sleep patterns and your REM sleep. You may also have higher rates of daytime sleepiness when you eat close to your bedtime.
Sleep and weight are also connected. During sleep we release melatonin, which is also a fat burning hormone.
7. Get More Sunlight During the Day
The number one thing for sleep and optimizing alertness during the day is exposure to light within the first 30 minutes to an hour of waking up. It times a cortisol spike to wake you up and also sets a timer on your melatonin release, which would be about 14 to 16 hours later.
Early morning natural sun exposure boosts your serotonin and helps to set your cortisol rhythm. Take a walk in the early morning or go outside without sunglasses to reset your circadian rhythms. Set a goal to get two to ten minutes of bright natural light exposure before starting your day.
Another suggestion is to make sure you have an office with access to windows. Even if it’s cloudy, sunlight is beneficial, it helps your body produce melatonin.
8. Avoid Screens before Bedtime
Homes are full of screens to stare at – TV, tablets, laptops, video games and cell phones. Every hour you’re on a device at night, suppresses your production of melatonin for 30 minutes. The artificial light exposure throws off your Circadian Cycle
As a human, you are programmed to seek. The Internet and Social Media Apps are perfect for this as there are infinite opportunities for endless scrolling to take you down another rabbit hole. Screens are designed to hook the brain and humans are addicted to the dopamine release . It is like a slow drip of drugs and a very difficult pattern to break.
Become more conscious and aware. Have a screen curfew of 60-90 mins before bedtime.
9. Use a Blue Light Blocker
Not only do you need to be conscious of your screen time but the blue light coming from your cell phone, iPad and computer at night also disrupts your natural sleep cycle. Exposure to blue light late in the evening suppresses melatonin production and throws off your Circadian Cycle resulting in a harder time falling asleep, less REM sleep, and waking up groggy with less energy.
Here are a few remedies to try. Turn your phone to night shift mode in the evening. There also is an app called f.lux. When downloading “f.lux”, which adapts your screen to look like the room you are in at the time, eliminating the blue light from your screen. You can still see your screen but it will have a more yellowish tint. You can also set the timer for when the sun goes down to start this process.
10. Be Cool
Keep your bedroom as cool as possible. As evening approaches, your body temperature naturally drops, signaling the body that it is time to slow down and rest. Ideal temperature for your room is 62 to 68°F. Above the temperature of 75 degrees and below 54 degrees Fahrenheit will cause sleep difficulty.
Lastly, a chilly pad could be something to look into. This pad goes under you when you sleep and regulates body temperature.
11. Get to Bed at the Right Time
As humans we are aligned to nature. Sleeping between 10 PM and 2 AM is when you get your best release of hormone secretions and rejuvenation for the body – melatonin. Your body operates on cycles. Your brain and body love these cyclical patterns – that is how we learn. Get in a good flow with your sleeping patterns. Your body will know what to do. Avoid having an irregular sleep schedule.
12. Get it Blacked Out
Light can affect your sleep, even the smallest light source. Light confuses the body to think that it is still day and delays the circadian rhythm, which is the natural internal process. Your skin has photoreceptors that pick up even the tiniest amount of light including your alarm clock light or a night light.
In the evening, it is better to use a softer light like a desk lamp rather than overhead fluorescent lights. Dim the lights in the evening, starting around 10 PM. Avoid bright light between 11 PM and 4 AM.
Other solutions include using an eye mask and getting black out curtains. Try to make your sleeping space so dark that you can’t see the hand in front of you.
13. Get Grounded
Grounding, also sometimes called “Earthing”, improves sleep by reducing inflammation and pain in your body. It is your body having direct contact to Earth’s surface. It activates rest and digestion. This explains why you may feel better around the beach or ocean.
To reconnect with the Earth, feel fully present in your body and connect your physical body to the Earth by standing, laying or walking barefoot outside.
There is also a grounding technique called 5 4 3 2 1 In this technique, you acknowledge FIVE things you see around you, FOUR things you can touch, THREE things you hear, TWO things you can smell and ONE thing you can taste. This exercise is also great for anxiety because it helps you shift your focus to your surroundings in the present and away from what is causing you anxiety.
Other things to try include buying a Grounding Mat, which mimics the effects grounding indoors or taking a cold shower which triggers dopamine.
14. Train Hard but Smart
Morning workouts, walks, yoga, weight training or stretching are beneficial, even if your workout is only 10 minutes. These workouts elevate your body temperature, signaling the body that it is time to wake up. You will be more alert to start your day.
Exercising outside in the morning is a double health and sleep bonus. (See Number 7 – Get More Sunlight During the Day.)
Exercise no later than 4 hours before bed so as not to affect your sleep.
15. Create a Sleep Sanctuary
Your bedroom should be designed for sleep and rest only. Use this space to wind down from your day.
Create a beautiful sleep sanctuary by setting the perfect sleep temperature of 62 to 68°F, having soft lighting, and blackout curtains. Your phone and computer should be far from your night stand and preferably out of your bedroom.
Have a calming evening routine. Journal or do a brain dump to get rid of negative thought patterns. Take a calming bath with Epsom salt and lavender.
Your bedroom could also be a place where you relax with self massage, massage from a partner or a Thera-gun Massage.
16. Improve Your Bedroom’s Air Quality
Clean fresh air is helpful for a good night’s rest which explains why so many people love camping and sleeping out in the wilderness.
To recreate that outdoor feeling, open a window to allow fresh air to permeate the room. This air can improve sleep quality.
Try an air purifier or get more houseplants (such as the English Ivy or the perennial snake plant)
Use a fan to circulate the air and improve the air quality of your room.
To sum it up, rest and rejuvenation is crucial to maintain a healthy and joyous lifestyle. You need to sleep 1/3 of your life, so get used to it. Putting a band-aid on your sleep problem can only take you so far before you crash. Take your life to the next level by focusing on your lifestyle choices and sleeping smarter. Bad sleep habits not only weaken your immune system but it can impact your mood and cause inflammation. If you are serious about improving your quality of health, prioritize yourself and sleep habits. Your body and mind will thank you!
School of Greatness Lewis Howes #302 Shawn Stevenson, 10 Ways to Sleep Smarter
The Doctor’s Farmacy Dr Mark Hyman December 19, 2018 Hack Your Sleep with Shawn Stevenson
Sleep Smarter : 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success Book by Shawn Stevenson
Looking for some GREAT ideas how to create meaningful habits for your self-care? Check out my post on “Create a New Habit Today.”
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