… And no, I’m not referring to taking a shower before bed, unless that helps you get a better night’s rest!
I believe we can all agree that the way you feel during your waking hours hinges on how well you sleep at night. Previously, I spoke about WHY you need a good solid night’s sleep. By learning to avoid common enemies of sleep and trying out a variety of healthy sleep promoting techniques, you can discover your personal prescription to a good night’s rest.
Experiment! What works for some might not work as well for others so it’s important to find the sleep strategies that work best for you. The key is once you have strategies to help you achieve the R’s of sleep, keep as much consistency in your routine as possible. Now we are going into delve into HOW to achieve this.
Sleep Tip 1: Routine
Imagine your typical work day, from waking up in the morning to returning home at night. You have a bit of a routine, right? It may vary a little from day to day, but for the most part, you have it down to a science. Your sleep patterns shouldn’t deviate too much from day to day either. If you keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times.
Find a period of time when you are able to experiment with different sleep and wake times. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally (no alarm clocks!) If you are waking up refreshed, then do your best to stick to this time, every day. I understand that there will be nights where the time will differ, but this should be the exception, not the norm.
How do you go about doing this?
• Set a regular time you want to retire for the night- a time where you naturally feel tired.
• Get up at the same time everyday- even on weekends! If you wake up tired, go to bed earlier the night before.
• Fight after dinner drowsiness
• Take a nap if you have the ability and inclination to do so. However, only nap to eliminate a sleep debt, not because you have nothing else to do! You don’t want to disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm.)
Sleep Tip 2: Sync up your circadian rhythm
Once you have established your sleep and wake time, exploit it! Do whatever you can to ensure your body is fully aware of the time of day. Recall from my previous blog, our discussion about melatonin. It is secreted at night and aids in regulating the sleep wake cycle. Production is therefore, controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert.
• Take off your sunglasses
• Let in as much light into your workspace as possible
• Spend some time outdoors, even if it’s not a bright, sunny day.
• Avoid bright lights- use lower wattage bulbs in your room and bathroom. This is especially helpful if you wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
• Turn off the television or computer- not only does the light suppress melatonin production, but these devises can stimulate your brain.
• Avoid backlit devices such as an e-reader or ipad (unless it has a night read function). Use a bedside lamp if you want to read before sleeping.
• Keep your bedroom as dark as possible- use blackout blinds or a night mask if necessary.
Sleep Tip 3: Exercise
Sleep will come easier if you physically fatigue your body through exercise. You don’t have to be a professional athlete and train 5 hours per day to reap the benefits—as little as thirty minutes of daily activity will provide you with the necessary benefits. If you don’t belong to a gym, or see a personal trainer, try a brisk walk, a bicycle ride, or even gardening or housework.
Some people prefer to schedule exercise in the morning or early afternoon as exercising late in the day can stimulate the body. Even if you prefer not to exercise vigorously at night, don’t get in the habit of coming home and sitting on the couch until bedtime. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or stretching can also help promote sleep.
If you don’t have a workout routine, and would like to speak to someone about incorporating one into your life, please contact myself (Dr. Crysta Serné), or a personal trainer to your choice. We are more than happy to help out!!
Sleep Tip 4: Diet
Some foods can increase our nervous simulation and prevent us from obtaining the sleep we need. Drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or non herbal teas (xanthine is the caffeine source in black or green teas) can stimulate the neurochemicals that are responsible for increasing brain activity. Alcohol, carbonated beverages, and cigarettes also have the same stimulating effect. Another factor responsible for disrupting our sleep is eating a heavy dinner before bedtime. It may result in snoring, heavy breathing, and reflux esophagitis.
There are however, certain foods which improve our sleep. These foods are rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that slows down nerve traffic and lulls us into a restful sleep. Eating carbohydrates rich in tryptophan allows for an increased uptake of this amino acid to the brain.
List of Tryptophan containing foods:
• Sesame seeds
Although I don’t encourage eating close to bedtime, please use discretion if you require a light snack. Ensure you are choosing from the above list, and are not eating refined carbohydrates, as they will increase the production of insulin. This will not only prohibit a good night’s sleep but may also contribute to unnecessary weight gain.
Sleep tip 5: Reduce stress and anxiety
Worry, frustration, irritation, and stress accumulating from your day can make it very difficult to fall asleep. If thoughts are reeling through your mind, and it prevents you from achieving a calm state, write them down. This technique of purging can be an effective way to minimize the quantity of thoughts you have at any given time. By writing it down, you can review the information and address any outstanding issues the following day, and once again resume focusing on relaxing.
Relaxation is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those struggling with sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques before retiring for the night is a wonderful way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep.
Some simple relaxation techniques include:
• Calming music- you can buy music that plays ocean waves, white noise, even subliminal messages to promote sleep
• Deep breathing exercises
• Visualization- imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful place with little to know activity. An example is lying under a tree on a warm, sunny day watching the leaves blow.
• Muscle relaxation- complete head to toe relaxation. Start by tensing up every muscle in your body (this provides you body awareness) and then systematically relax every muscle starting at your toes, and working your way up to your head.
Sleep tip 6: Your bedroom
Your bedroom is your sanctuary. It should be the one room in your house that as soon as you walk in, you breathe a sigh of relief, and the room emits an instant calming response.
• Keep your room cool- Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 18° C) with adequate ventilation, but avoid blowing a fan directly on you (this can cause other muscular and joint problems.) A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
• Ensure you have a comfortable mattress
• Limit the activity in your bed to only sleep and sex
• Avoid “deep and heavy” discussions or arguments in your bedroom
• Keep pets out of the bedroom- especially off of the bed.
• Keep the room dark
• Shhhhh, quiet please! – earplugs, snoring aids, or white background noise may help decrease noises like snoring, barking, or honking.
Sleep tip 7: Recognize when to seek professional help
If you’ve tried the tips above, but are still struggling with sleep problems, you may have a sleep disorder that requires professional treatment. Consider scheduling a visit if, despite your best efforts, you are still troubled by any of the following symptoms.
• Restless sleep
• Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
• Persistent daytime fatigue
• Falling asleep at inappropriate times
• Physically acting out dreams during sleep
• Loud snoring followed by pauses in breathing
• Frequent headaches
• Crawling sensations in your legs or arms at night
Remember, a consistent bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.
Here’s to a great night’s sleep,
Dr. Crysta Serné
Vancouver Chiropractor and owner of Vitality Clinic