Do you find yourself feeling drowsy or unmotivated during the day? Do you rely on extra caffeine or energy drinks just to carry yourself through? And what about sugar—do you tend to reach for it more often just because you feel unmotivated or without any energy? These are all common responses, particularly in the American diet and day-to-day living where we tend to be busy most of the time. Unfortunately these habits are not long-term fixes to this ongoing cycle. Instead, insufficient or poor-quality sleep is likely to blame.
According to health professionals at the NIH, “sleep is essential for emotional well-being, healthy brain function, physical health, and day-to-day safety and basic function.” You may have noticed this from pulling those all-nighters back in college, working long hours, or even during long road trips. The impact this can have on us is considerable and recovery, well sometimes that’s not as attainable as we would like it to be! But we’re here to help you find a better solution for better sleep. Try a few of these tips out the next time you are looking to get some extra ZZZZZZ’s.
1 | Get yourself on a healthy routine.
Determine the best time for you to get sleep. Is a 10pm to 6am schedule best for you? Maybe you tend to get an extra burst of energy at night and going to bed after midnight is best for your schedule. Whatever the ideal hours may be, make sure you stick with them! And, make sure you are aiming for at least 7 hours of restful sleep to get adequate rest and recovery. This may take time and diligence- you may even find you occasionally have to say ‘no’ to some evening plans, but the long-term benefits will be well worth it!
2 | Practice relaxation before bed.
Many of us unwind in front of a computer, or with a good movie or TV after work or dinner. This can be OK in moderation, but keep in mind that that added screen time can really impact our ability to relax and fall into that deep slumber we yearn for. Instead, try reading or listening to relaxing music. Opt for a warm bath or some soothing tea, such as chamomile or tulsi. Add some lavender to the air—think candles, essential oil, lotion, or find a fresh lavender plant to keep by your bedside. Lavender is naturally relaxing and can help to support the parasympathetic nervous system, which is what kicks into gear during stages of relaxation.
3 | Get plenty of physical activity during the day.
Regular physical activity helps keep the circulatory, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems healthy. But, did you know, it also supports healthy brain function, including our wake-sleep patterns?? This is great news for those of us that find sleep is impaired due to stress or even depression. Exercise is stimulating so make sure to finish any vigorous exercises approximately 3-4 hours before bedtime. And things like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are all excellent modes of activity that can be done before bed for additional relaxation.
4 | Avoid over-caffeinating.
While it seems like an easy solution to fix those bouts of energy lulls and exhaustion, caffeine consumed out of moderation can actually interfere with normal sleep cycles. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400mg of caffeine is considered “safe for most healthy adults.” That’s equal to approximately 4 cups of coffee. However, keep in mind that caffeine can also be found in energy drinks, green, black, and some white teas, yerba mate (a type of South American tea), and chocolate. And not everyone responds the same to caffeine, so if you find you are sensitive to this ingredient, try cutting down or eliminating it completely. Also, avoid consuming too late in the day as it can interfere with normal sympathetic/parasympathetic function by being over-stimulating.
5 | Make sleep a priority.
Lastly, sleep is something we all need, so make sure it is at the top of your priorities each day. Whether you need to set yourself a reminder or just get in the habit of winding down by a certain hour, just be sure it’s a focal point of your evening. Learn the things that help you to de-stress and relax. Determine the times you eat and consume beverages in the evenings. And, make it a habit to avoid those things that interfere with falling and staying asleep (e.g., alcohol, thinking about a recent or past negative situation, worrying about the day ahead, being surrounding by too much noise or light, and eating too much sugar before bed). These activities and thoughts are distracting and are not necessary at this time, so find a practice that helps you to let go of these things. For example, if you find your mind is very active in the evenings and that you tend to dwell on the day’s events, try instead to lie on your back, close your eyes and imagine you are in a peaceful place. Maybe it’s a beach or the mountains, maybe there’s a stream nearby or gentle rain. Maybe you are surrounded by beautiful flowers or that you are surrounded by soft sand. Imagine the sounds and the smells of your surrounding in this peaceful place. Imagine that time doesn’t exist and that you are entitled to this moment. Breathe slowly and deeply and allow yourself to drift into this place. If you find your mind wandering, just bring it back to this place and continue to breathe. This takes practice, but once you get it down, it can really help to get you into the right mode for sleep. Above all else, allow yourself the time and effort that sleep deserves and the benefits will astound you!