Sleep. We all need it. I love it. But too few of us get enough of it. When is the last time you got a really great night's sleep? Do you even remember?
Ideally, we should be getting between 8 and 9 hours of shut-eye a night, but according to sleep researchers more than half of us don't even hit the 7 hour mark. That means at least half of the people you live with, work with, and drive on the road with are sleep deprived. Including you! How do you think that chronic sleep deprivation is affecting us? We all know it increases our irritability, makes us less able to focus, and slows our reflexes but are there more dangerous consequences? Of course there are!
Recent research has shown that sleep deprivation affects us physically, and mentally. None of us look our best after a sleepless night, but aside from that aspect the physical toll can be quite high. Sleeplessness can increase our risk for hypertension, stroke, heart attack, and some cancers. It can also lead to weight gain, poor decision making regarding food choices, emotional instability, and in extreme cases, loss of brain tissue.
So what do we do about this problem? In our Go-Go-Go society where the de facto answer to "How are you?" is "Busy!", how do we slow down, unwind, relax, and get our 40 winks? Just like any other aspect of health and wellness getting enough sleep requires a conscious effort to develop new habits and stick with them. Developing good sleep hygiene isn't complex, but it does require a change in how most of us spend our evenings.
Here's what I try to do in my own life…I start by working backwards, figuring out what time I want to be awake the next morning (and here I'll recommend establishing a consistent wake-up time 7 days a week), then I count back 9 hours. From there, I count back 2 more hours, and that's the end of screen-time for me. No more laptop, no more phone. I try to finish my last meal of the day 3 hours before bedtime, preferably 4 hours. I'll also try to avoid any bright lights, intense conversation, or stimulating activity. (Note: Sex is NOT included in that list, as it actually helps promote deep sleep. So, go ahead and get your groove on!)
A few more things I try to incorporate regularly: Take a warm shower or bath 45- 60 minutes before bedtime. Warm means around 104 F, (you get bonus points for integrating Epsom Salts into your bathwater. Epsom Salts are really Magnesium salts. Magnesium is an essential mineral and helps promote muscle relaxation and sound sleep. Sadly, most of us don’t get enough of it, but transdermal absorption is a great way to boost your levels). This has the effect of relaxing the body and mind, and slightly raising your core temperature. As your temperature begins to lower afterwards that’s a signal to your system to begin falling asleep.
During the cool down period after my shower or bath, I like to indulge in a little self-massage with a blend of relaxing essential oils. I particularly focus on my legs, massaging upwards towards my heart. At this point I usually start my ambient noise app to block out extraneous environmental noises. I’m one of those people who can hear a pin drop in my sleep, so I really love my app. I can set it for a specific number of hours and even use it as a gentle wake up by programming a transition in sounds.
Then to really prepare myself for sleep I practice two specific yoga postures. First, I spend at least ten minutes in “Legs Up the Wall” or Viparita Karani. This pose has several benefits including quieting the mind and draining fluid from the legs. If you suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome or varicose veins, you’ll really love the way this makes you feel. Stay in this pose for at least 5 minutes and up to 15 minutes. Sometimes I’ll follow that up with a few gentle reclined twists to work out any kinks in my spine and massage my internal organs, but I always end in Savasana aka Corpse Pose. This is the Granddaddy of all relaxing poses, can be done in the bed, and probably should be since there’s a good chance you’ll drift off! I started using Savasana as a sleep aid when my daughter was small and couldn’t settle down at night. We’d practice it together and usually both be sound asleep within five minutes. If you aren’t familiar with these poses, just do a quick internet search. You’ll find loads of information on yoga and sleep.
There’s a lot more you can do to improve your sleep, but for now give these tips a try and see if they help. Once you start to sleep well on a regular basis the world will seem like a brighter place. And you’ll become a better you!