Illustrations by Charlotte Shen
Hi Homebodies, it’s time to start rounding out our game plan for creating a healthier, happier, more organized homebody life.
When most people think about getting healthier, they start with 2 themes: diet and exercise. Of course these are crucial aspects of a healthy lifestyle, which is why we talked about them here, here and here!
Recently, I even started delving into improving mental wellness with this article on meditation.
However to date we haven’t talked about one habit that is so important and yet so neglected when it comes to devising lifestyle plans. It’s something that has really and truly come home to roost on me in the last year. Can you guess what it is? Well darn, I suppose the title was a bit of a spoiler? Yes of course I’m talking about sleep!
Many people tend to downplay the effect that insufficient or poor quality sleep may be having on their lives. But here are some stats to consider:
- 3% adults report <7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period. Americans currently get on average 6.8 hours of sleep each night.
- Since 1985 the percentage of adults getting less than six hours sleep each night has increased by 31%.
- In 1910 the average person slept 9 hours a night.
- 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder.
- 97% of teenagers get less than the recommended amount of sleep.
- 100,000 deaths occur each year in US hospitals due to medical errors and sleep deprivation have been shown to make a significant contribution.
- In a poll by the American Sleep Association, 4.7% of respondents said they had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving in the preceding month. Drowsy driving is responsible for 1500 deaths and 40,000+ injuries every year in the USA.
- Sleep deprivation costs the US $411 billion annually.
So how is sub-optimal sleep affecting you? How much more productive, energized and “on the ball” do you think you could be if you got enough good quality sleep every night?
Well, I’m speaking from experience on this: I’ve found that as I get older, a) my sleep duration and quality has suffered, and b) I haven’t felt as sharp as I used to.
I’ve always been a natural night owl, but since my work was in the afternoons and evenings, I used to be free to fall asleep and wake up when I felt like it. This usually meant sleeping from around 2am to 9 or 10am every day. Seven or 8 hours on average. Pretty good. I’d wake up slowly, feeling groggy for a few minutes, but ultimately well-rested.
For the past 1 year+, I’ve been keeping “regular” work hours in an office job. So I need to be up by 6:30am daily. This means that to get 7-8 hours (the recommended amount for adults), I should be sleeping by 10:30-11:30pm latest. No problem. What IS a problem is waking up during the night, tossing and turning, and I often find myself up at 4:30-5:30am, unable to fall back asleep. Yuck! Not the ideal setup for the day to come.
A worldwide research project conducted by Rand Europe found that tired or absent employees had a huge impact on the economy of a country.
They also looked at how small changes could make a difference and found that if people slept just one extra hour per night it could add over $200 billion to the US economy!
I think part of the reason for my own poor sleep may be natural changes in sleep patterns with age, and the shift in lifestyle that has me trying to keep the same hours as normal people! Nevertheless, I’ve decided it’s time to start taking sleep seriously. I have some serious goals to up my overall health game over the next year, and good sleep will play a critical role in helping me reach those goals. So I’ve scoured the interwebs to find what I thought were a few of the best tips for improving sleep quality and thus feel more well-rested, friendly and smart again!
Note: One tip you will NOT find on this list is sleeping pills. I’ve had my own bad experience with them, where just a few days of use had me feeling dependent on them to get to sleep. That’s really a helpless feeling, especially when you start to feel the need to increase dosages for the same effect. Not all medications are the same, but we can agree that it’s better to find natural ways to sleep tight. Moreover, according to a major study published by the British Medical journal (BMJ), those who had regularly taken sleeping pills were 35% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
The study revealed that sleeping pills could have potentially caused 320,000 to 507,000 extra deaths in the US in 2010.
Further research is needed in to the impact of sleep medication, however the controversial study suggested the use of the sleeping aids could be as detrimental to your health as smoking.
Top Tips for Tip Top Sleep
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
Keeping regular hours helps to train your body to sleep more consistently.
- Exercise during the day.
Not only does it provide a great general health benefit, I’ve personally found that cranking up my metabolism for a while contributes greatly to a more relaxed, less stressed body AND mind later, resulting in a much more restful sleep.
- Control your exposure to light
- During the day: Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. The closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. The light on your face will help you wake up. Spend more time outside during daylight. Take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Reduce Blue Light Exposure in the Evening. Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime. The blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer, or TV is especially disruptive. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software such as f.lux.
- Say no to late-night television. Not only does the light from a TV suppress melatonin, but many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead.
- Don’t read with backlit devices. Tablets that are backlit are more disruptive than e-readers that don’t have their own light source.
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask. Also consider covering up electronics that emit light.
4. Limit caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
- You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it!
- Similarly, smoking is another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep, especially if you smoke close to bedtime.
- While a nightcap may help you relax, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night.
- Avoid big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble and heartburn. Cut back on sugary foods and refined carbs
- Keep noise down. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from neighbors, traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan or sound machine. Earplugs may also help.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. Your bed covers should leave you enough room to stretch and turn comfortably without becoming tangled. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam toppers, and pillows that provide more or less support.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex. By not working, watching TV, or using your computer in bed, your brain will associate the bedroom with just sleep and sex, which makes it easier to wind down at night.
- Keep your room cool. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
Now that you’ve got the biggies covered, here are a few bonus tips that just might do the trick and help you get off to LalaLand tonight.
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light / Listen to soft music / Listen to books on tape
- Take a warm bath
- Do some easy stretches or yoga poses
Finally, getting to sleep is one thing, but what if you’re like me and often wake up during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep? These tips may help:
- Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, because that stress only encourages your body to stay awake. To stay out of your head, focus on the feelings in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.
- Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you find it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.
- Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up.
- Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.
A Deep Breathing Exercise to Help You Sleep
Breathing from your belly rather than your chest can activate the relaxation response and lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels to help you drift off to sleep.
- Lay down in bed and close your eyes.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
A Body Scan Exercise to Help You Sleep
By focusing your attention on different parts of your body, you can identify where you’re holding any stress or tension, and release it.
- Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes closed. Focus on your breathing for about two minutes until you start to feel relaxed.
- Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any tension while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for at least three to five seconds.
- Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. Then move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up your torso, through your lower back and abdomen, your upper back and chest, and your shoulders. Pay close attention to any area of the body that feels tense.
- After completing the body scan, relax, noting how your body feels. You should feel so relaxed you can easily fall asleep.
Try one, try all of these sleep tips, and let us know in the comments which ones worked or didn’t work for you! Night Night!