Sleep is so vital to your physical and mental health. During this time your body is recharging its battery and repairing itself. You can’t go, go, go all day without giving it some much-needed down time. The goal is to aim for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye a night. Don’t skimp or you’ll pay the price.
Sleep deprivation throws your appetite and satiety hormones out of whack, leading to weight gain. It also messes with your brain’s ability to function properly – reaction time is slowed (bad if you’re driving or operating heavy machinery), ability to process new information is less than normal, and multitasking becomes very difficult.
So, what can you do to improve your sleep habits? Here’s a bunch of great tips to try out:
- Turn off all electronics 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light that’s emitted from the screen suppresses production of melatonin from the pineal gland in your brain. Shut all devices down and get into bed with a book or cross-word puzzle – it will make you sleepy.
- Try lavender to help you relax. A drop or two of essential oil on your pillow or a sachet with dried lavender leaves near your head with infuse the room with the aroma that will unwind you.
- Take a bath before bed. A warm (not too hot) soak in the tub is very relaxing and will bring your heart rate down, readying your for a night of slumber.
- Drink a cup of chamomile or “sleepy time” tea before bed.
- Eat a light snack of carbs before bed. Carbohydrate-rich foods increase the production and release of serotonin in the brain – the relaxing neurotransmitter. A bowl of Cheerios, a slice of toast and jam, a glass of milk are all great choices. Keep it small, otherwise a too-full tummy will keep you from sleeping.
- Don’t smoke
- No alcohol before bed. It’s true that alcohol can make you sleepy, as it’s a depressant, but it will interrupt your sleep in the middle of the night. Forget the notion of a nightcap and stick with warm milk.
- Get exercise earlier in the day. This keeps your biorhythyms in sync. People who exercise later in the day tend to have higher heart rates, making it more difficult to settle down.
- Lose weight. Being overweight increases your chances of sleep apnea, making it difficult to get a full night of restful sleep.
- Cut caffeine – coffee, tea, chocolate, within 6 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid large meals late in the day.
- Relaxation breathing – if you’re feeling anxious or just want to wind down before bed, try this simple breathing technique. Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 , and slowly exhale for a count of 8 (through pursed lips, making a “swish”ing sound). Repeat this 3 more times.
- Establish a consistent bedtime – go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Check your mattress and pillow for comfort and quality. If they’re old and sagging, then it’s time to replace them.
There are some herbal remedies that can be used as well, but it’s best to consult a naturopath, homeopath, or dietitian who has experience with herbal remedies, so that you know how much to take, and that you get a pure herb. Remember, supplements are not governed by the FDA, so there are no standards in place for purity and dosage.