How many times have you heard this conversation?…
Person 1: “I’m so exhausted I’ve worked a 60-hour week and only slept 5 hours last night and 4 the night before”
Person 2: “Yeah me too, I only got 4 hours of sleep in the last two nights combined and worked almost 80 hours this week.”
What’s wrong with this conversation, besides the fact that neither person is sleeping? I’ll tell you: it’s that it almost seems like they are bragging, and there is a competition on who can get the least amount of sleep.
Our society today is run on the idea that sleep is for suckers, and the less you sleep, the more productive and successful you will be. So we load ourselves up with caffeine and slave away at our work, only catching some shut-eye when we nod off at our desks or can grab a few hours in our beds. And even then, we wake up constantly tossing and turning, worrying about the day ahead or the day before, never truly experiencing that precious, uninterrupted sleep our bodies crave.
No sleep = success right? This statement could not be more false.
Our bodies NEED sleep, and plenty of it. The old saying that we need 7-9 hours per night holds true, and more importantly, that sleep needs to be uninterrupted. So how do we do that? What’s the secret, and how can it help you?
It turns out that sleep plays a HUGE role in your overall health, including weight loss. There are many important hormones that are released during sleep that help to heal and repair the body from the days work. You tear break down your muscles during exercise and you actually repair them and get stronger and leaner in your sleep. So if you’re not seeing the results you think you should be from the gym and your nutrition, try adjusting your sleeping habits and see what happens.
Here are 6 ways you can improve your sleep right now. These are strategies you can begin to implement into your routine tonight, and see immediate results:
- Reduce intake of caffeine and stimulants
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that morning cup of joe, but you should be aware of how it can affect your sleep, especially if consumed in excess or at the wrong times of the day. There are some great health benefits to coffee, but it can also pose a risk to your health by interrupting your sleeping habits.
Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant, and this raises cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is your stress hormone, and when we are chronically stressed, it causes some serious problems. I won’t go into full detail, but to learn more about stress and cortisol, read this article I wrote here.
Basically, when cortisol is high, melatonin is low; this is how our circadian rhythm works. Melatonin is your sleep hormone, naturally released by the body in the later parts of the day to start preparing the body for sleep. However, because we are consuming so much caffeine, and especially after 2pm, melatonin takes a hit and so does your sleep.
So instead of hitting Starbucks at 2pm, try doing something else that will energize you such as light exercise, taking a walk, meditation, deep breathing, a 20-minute nap, etc.
If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to try giving it up all together for a while. You may experience withdrawal symptoms at first, but that will quickly pass and you’ll be amazed and how quickly your sleep and overall energy improves. If you’re not willing to give up the coffee that’s okay too, just reduce your intake to 1 cup per day and only in the morning hours.
- Adjust your nighttime routine
Do you do your chores at night? If you’re running around trying to get the laundry done, the lunches packed, the dishes cleaned, and the bathrooms scrubbed at 10pm, you may want to rethink your routine. These activities more often than not are stressful and cause the body to produce cortisol, resulting in the same effect that I discussed in #1. Prioritize your day so that the chores can be done in the earlier parts of the day, and if that’s just not realistic, find a way to make the chores more relaxing. You could turn on some relaxing music or an audiobook, practice breathing patterns, or include the family in the chores to get them done faster and make it a fun family activity.
- Avoid blue light 1 hour before bed
Blue light is what comes off the screens from our cellphones, computers, tablets, and televisions. We are constantly being stimulated by blue light, and blue light stimulates cortisol. Are you starting to see the pattern here? Cortisol is not a hormone you want running high through your body in the evening, as this will affect your sleeping habits.
At least one hour before bed, turn off the TV, computers, and try really hard not to stare endlessly at your phone. Also, keep these items out of the bedroom as well, as this is your sacred space for sleep, and the temptation is just too good if your phone is within arms reach. Try reading a book instead or spending some quality face-time with the people you love.
- Consume a snack containing protein and healthy fats before bed
Consuming a snack higher in protein and fat before bed can help you to experience that uninterrupted sleep I was talking about. Try eating a handful of nuts, a hard boiled egg, some slices of avocado, or a full-fat plain Greek yogurt. Most people consume carbohydrates before bed such as popcorn or foods high in sugar. These foods will cause dysregulation of the blood sugar, causing you to wake up more often during the night. Side note: there is NOTHING wrong with eating after a certain time of the night, just be sure you are consuming the right foods in healthy portion sizes.
- Practice something calming like drinking herbal tea or doing some meditation
I don’t know about you, but I find sitting down with a cup of hot tea to be extremely relaxing. There is an excellent bedtime tea by Yogi that you can find here. It contains small amounts of melatonin to help you sleep and spearmint which is extremely calming. Give it a try, and if you’re not a tea person don’t worry, meditation is excellent as well!
A lot of people will sort of laugh or brush off the idea of meditation, however it doesn’t have to be the stereotypical sitting cross-legged on the floor saying “oohhhmmm” over and over again. The beautiful thing about meditation is that, much like yoga, is it a practice, and it is YOUR practice and it can be whatever you want it to be. This could mean you do some silent deep breathing, listen to a guided video or meditation music, or simply write out your thoughts and worries and practice the art of letting go. Meditation is simply just being mindful, and this can be done a lot of different ways. I find that just lying down with one hand across my heart, and the other across my belly to be extremely calming.
If you need guidance, you can check out my FAVORITE guided meditation video by clicking here.
- Get Playful
You may or may not find this surprising, but engaging in sexual activity before bed can actually significantly improve your sleep. Aside from the fact that it expends large amounts of energy, it also releases our “feel good” hormones in the brain, which can improve sleep and overall mood.
These are just a few strategies that you can implement into your routine tonight and start seeing the results immediately. Remember, don’t try overhauling everything at once, change takes time, especially if you want those changes to be sustainable. So pick the habit you think will be the easiest and most realistic and start there. Even one change can improve sleep significantly.