At ten-years-old, I hid under my covers with a flashlight, my imagination bright with with lives of Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. My parents had no idea that I regularly stayed awake until midnight, or at least until my little eyes were simply too exhausted to read one more word …
This innocent girlish love for late-night reading laid the foundation for a my sleep habits. While the reason for staying up has changed with every season of life—homework, deadlines, crying babies—my identity as a “night owl” has held fast. But now in my early thirties, my body is rebelling, making it perfectly clear that it is time to forge a new relationship with sleep.
In contrast, my father is the paragon of a healthy sleeper. This wasn’t always the case; he certainly lost some sleep in medical school and when working the night shift early in his career. But at some point he recognized sleep as a major priority that cannot be ignored, the linchpin of our health.
As he regularly explains to his patients, restorative sleep is essential for complete wellness. It affects hormone balance, weight management, emotional wellbeing, and a whole host of other health issues. Many aging studies reveal that healthy sleep is at the foundation of productive, vibrant aging.
This is why The Doctor always strives to educate his patients on healthy sleep habits, and this is why we’re sharing his “20 Tips for Great Sleep” with you today!
THE DOCTOR’S 20 TIPS FOR GREAT SLEEP:
1. Listen to relaxing music or “white noise,” which could be a ceiling fan, a CD of ocean waves or nature sounds. You can create your own "white noise" mix for free on this website.
2. Avoid before-bed snacks of grains or sugars. These can raise your blood sugar and have a stimulating effect. Do try a protein snack such as almond butter.
3. Sleep in complete darkness. Even small amounts of light can affect our brain’s sleep hormones of melatonin and serotonin. If you can’t get your bedroom totally dark, wear an eye mask.
4. No TV right before bed. It’s too negative and stimulating. Even better, get the TV and computer out of the bedroom.
5. Read something spiritual or religious. This can calm & relax.
6. Avoid loud and bright alarm clocks. A soft crescendo sound or a radio set on low volume which will avoid the high stress of a blaring alarm. Also, it’s a good idea to keep clocks out of view to avoid adding to your worry & to keep clocks and any other electrical device (iPad, smart phone, etc) at least 3 feet away from your bed, as the electro-magnetic fields can disrupt the brain’s sleep hormones.
7. Journaling can help prevent the mind from racing when you lay down to sleep. Write down your thoughts, ideas, and tasks, and then let them go so you can have a good night’s sleep.
8. Melatonin or its precursor. If behavioral changes don’t work, it may be helpful to try melatonin (but do not mix with prescription sleep meds without checking with your doctor).
9. Get to bed as early as possible. Our bodies get the most restorative sleep between 10PM and 2AM.
10. Keep the temperature to no higher than 70 degrees F. Warmer temps tend to impair restful sleep patterns.
11. Avoid caffeine. Its break down is highly variable. Some people can have substantial levels twelve hours after drinking a caffeine beverage. Watch for hidden caffeine in medicines such as head ache or diet pills.
12. Avoid alcohol. Yes, it does make you drowsy, but it retards falling into the deepest sleep stages, which is where you get the most rest.
13. Lose Weight. Being Overweight can increase the risk of sleep apnea, a potentially harmful condition.
14. Avoid foods to which you may be sensitive. Dairy and wheat are the most common.
15. Don’t drink fluids within 2 hours of bedtime. It’s pretty clear why :-)
16. Take a hot shower, bath, or sauna before bed. The brief rise in body temperature will help you relax.
17. Be consistent on sleep time. Go to bed and get up about the same time every day (including weekends), as this helps the body set a natural sleep rhythm.
18. Regular exercise for 30 minutes most days is a great stress reducer, but don’t do any vigorous exercise in the evening, which can be a stimulant.
19. Set a bedtime routine. Deep breathing, relaxed stretching, meditation, prayer are all great ideas. The key is to find something that is relaxing to you.
20. Put your work away 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. This will give you some time to wind down and get into your bedtime routine.