Sleep is the salve that allows our mind and body to rest, regenerate, heal and grow. Lack of sleep has been linked to deleterious effects later in life: heart disease, cancer, depression and obesity among other things.
This may not be rocket science, but the way to get more sleep is to identify current lifestyle habits which aren't helping you sleep and to establish new bedtime routines. Start by keeping a sleep journal.
10 SOLUTIONS TO SLEEPLESSNESS:
- SET YOUR BEDTIME - If you wake at 6am, aim to be asleep by 11pm in order to snooze the recommended 7 hours. This means you should initiate your new bedtime routine by 10pm. Routine is very helpful for setting your internal clock. If your routine is erratic, your cortisol levels stay elevated, making you feel alert for the ever-changing activities.
- UNPLUG - Technology has become an addictive distraction. If we aren't meandering around the internet then we are high-speed processing our emails and juggling work/family commitments and stressors late in to the night. At a basic level, the bright lights and high-functioning nature of computer use is not conducive to down-regulation. Once you've set a time for bed, no computer-related tasks for 45 minutes or an hour prior to bedtime.
- DARKNESS - This is a no-brainer, but we discount how a little bit of light can trigger a wake-up. When I was an undergrad at the University of Miami we used to put aluminum foil on the windows for a cave-like effect. You can come up with something more tasteful, just get it reeeeaaaaalllly dark!
- SOOTHE YOURSELF - Calming down after 12-15 hours of high intensity running around and problem solving is no easy task. Powering down and reducing our own anxiousness is a skill. Developing any valuable skill necessitates training and diligence. First you have to want to change the status quo, then you need to make a commitment to change it. We literally have to learn to calm down. It sounds daunting, but these same skills that allow us to transition from day to night will also assist us in fight or flight emergency situations. I often instruct my clients to start with 3 long, slow breaths when it's time to initiate their new bedtime routine behaviors. Breathe slowly and deeply filling belly to chest and really allow yourself to settle (into a chair, the floor, your bed, the bath tub, etc.) What else can you do during your bedtime routine that's soothing?
- CHAMOMILE TEA - Any nervine herbal tea is a great idea. Some have names like Calm and Bedtime. Get a few and alternate.
- WARM BATH - A warm bath is a great way to distance yourself from your day and take 5-10 minutes to yourself. The warm water will calm anxiety and soothe your muscles and cardiovascular system. If you combine #3 and #4 so that you are breathing slowly and deeply in a warm bath with a soothing cup of tea, you're way ahead of the game! A warm shower is a bit more "active" but that works too.
- SNACKS - Avoid carbs: No crackers, bread, cake or cookies. Choose a light protein snack instead such as a handful of cashews or a spoon of almond butter. In the cooler months I like to heat up a cup of almond milk with a tiny dash of cinnamon and half teaspoon of date sugar or honey.
- TART CHERRY JUICE - A recent study in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that tart cherry juice reduced insomnia in older adults.
- MAGNESIUM - You can take 500mg of magnesium but personally I prefer to absorb magnesium through the skin. Taking an Epsom Salt bath several time per week will accomplish this. There are also sprays and creams available, but I've not found one that I like, so I stick to the cheap and easy Epsom Salts. In addition to relaxing muscles, magnesium is terrific for the nerves and is very important for optimal heart function. I could go on and on about magnesium, but that'll be another post. Read more about magnesium from Dr. Carolyn Dean.
- EXERCISE - This is a two-part tip. We need to move and be active in order to get tired. Often as we age, we become more sedentary and then wonder why we're not sleeping through the night. Go for a walk, play tennis, climb the stairs in your home a few times, be creative with increasing your daily movement. On the other hand, if your overly stressed all the time, high cortisol and adrenaline will increase muscle contractility (as in fight or flight) without rest. In this case a nice roll out session on the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls is an instant down-regulator and a wonderful ambassador to relaxation. I strongly recomment using the balls in the tote, high on the neck, snuggled just under the base of the skull as demonstrated in this Jill Miller video. This yummy self-massage technique quickly elicits your body's relaxation response and should help a great deal to ease aching neck tension.
So there you have it, ten Solutions to Sleeplessness. It's just a start and I realize that these simplistic suggestions don't address many real life situations. That's why I work one-on-one with people in my Holistic Health Coaching and Nutrition Counseling practice .
Sleep is elusive for many but it's a worthy chalice to chase. This blog does not attempt to solve all your sleep problems in 500 words but I hope that it at least motivates you to resist the status quo and start again in your quest for healthier sleep.
CREDITS: The gorgeous mermaid gracing the photo for this blog is my friend and YTU colleague, Ariel Kiley. I took the photo while on the set with her shooting the fabulous Soften your Hardbody video to promote Equinox's signature YTU Therapy Ball program, called RxSeries