Finding the Zen in Better Sleep for Optimal Health
Better sleep is a tenant of good health that is often overlooked. Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise. People push themselves to sleep less in attempts to get more done. They get through days with heavy doses of caffeine in a continuous haze. I was exactly like this. I would push myself to my limits and crash frequently. The more time and productivity I had, and the less sleep, the better. I even found myself Googling, “How do I sleep less?” Luckily the answer I received was sleep is important! Do not neglect it!
We would be well advised to follow this advice. Don’t sacrifice your sleep. Sleep is sacred to your health and wellbeing. So what is the big deal with sleep anyway? Why do we need it?
We think of sleep as a time when the body shuts down. However, during sleep, the body is actually actively rebuilding our lost reserves. During sleep our brains are storing memories, our muscles are building, and our energy levels are being restored. These are just some of the benefits of sleep.
Better Sleep is Primordial
You could compare sleep to hunger. Both are primordial functions that your body needs. When the body is hungry, it tells you to eat. You will seek food to feed this hunger. It is the same story with sleep. When your body tells you it’s time to sleep you often cannot avoid it!
Often sleep is more important than waking up and training or working. I even find that sleep makes me more productive. I will get more done by adding extra hours of sleep instead of extra hours of work.
So where do you begin to get better sleep? The first step is to assess where you are. Do you fall asleep easily? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? Are you sleeping at different times every day? Are you consistently getting little to no sleep? Be honest with yourself and establish a baseline of where you are. This will give you a point to build from.
Are you a Bear Or a Lion? Set a Sleep Schedule
Next, establish your chronotype. Your chronotype determines the optimal timing for your sleep. This is where the phrase “morning person” comes from. Take this quiz and find out your chronotype. My chronotype is a bear. I found this to make a lot of sense since I fall asleep around 10-11 pm and wake up naturally around 7-8 am. Many of the other traits also accurately described me.
Empowered with this knowledge, create a sleep schedule that revolves around what your body wants. If you’re a wolf, go to sleep later and wake up later. If you’re a lion, go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. Give your body what it wants.
It is important to keep the same sleep habits day-to-day. This means going to bed at the same time every day. Establish an unchanging sleep schedule that you follow every day! Get better sleep!
Create a Sleep Sanctuary
So you have established a sleep schedule that fits you. What’s next? The next step is making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Make sure your room is completely dark and free from artificial light. Use blackout curtains, turn out the lights on pesky electronics, and cover LEDs. You should be tripping over yourself in the dark. Moonlight is the only light allowed!
Turn the electronics off or get them out of your room. EMF waves disrupt sleep. You may not even realize that your sleep is being affected, but electronics can ruin a good night’s sleep. If you use your phone for an alarm, put it on airplane mode before you go to sleep.
Blue Light – Better Sleep’s Worst Enemy
Screen time is another huge sleep disrupter. The blue light from screens actually decreases melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep) and increases cortisol (wakes you up). Watching TV or staring at a computer screen before bed can wreak havoc on sleep. Stop using screens at least 1 hour before bed if not longer.
If you have to work on a laptop or use your phone, there are some programs you can use to reduce blue light exposure. Use flux on your computer to decrease the blue light from your screen. It will automatically kick in when the sun goes down. Set your phone to go into night mode when the sun goes down. Don’t let blue light ruin your sleep.
You can also be like me and wear nerdy blue light glasses at night. These block ALL blue light, especially from your light bulbs. I put these babies on about 2 hours before I plan on sleeping. I find myself to be much more relaxed when I hit the pillow. You can also buy a light that does not emit blue light for night time use.
My nerdy sleep glasses and sleep lamp!
Make your bedroom a spot for sleep. Only head there when you are ready to sleep. Condition your mind to associate your bedroom with sleep. Don’t spend time in bed watching TV. Spend time winding down with a good book or talking to your partner.
Connect with the Earth. Be a Caveman
You can also practice grounding or earthing to improve sleep. Grounding basically connects your body to the ground through a mat or sheets that connect to the ground port of your outlet. This essentially grounds you to the earth. This may seem like a crazy method, but it has been proven to work.
I was a huge skeptic of earthing, but it makes sense when you think about it. Cavemen slept on the ground in complete darkness. It makes sense that doing the same to ourselves would result in better sleep.
The Viscous Caffeine Cycle
One of the last and most important steps for great sleep is eliminating caffeine in the afternoon. People follow a cycle of being tired because they can’t sleep and drink more caffeine. The caffeine decreases their sleep quality at night. The cycle repeats until people finally crash. Different people have different tolerances, but I recommend cutting caffeine out after 4 pm. It will do wonders for your sleep.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of getting the best sleep. However, it is some of the heavy hitters. Try some of these methods and see what works for you. Everyone is different, but everyone needs better sleep. Find what works for you and do it! Start with a few methods and build.
Sleep is essential for good health. Make sure you get enough of it by:
- Establishing a baseline for your current sleep times and restfulness
- Find your chronotype and adjust your schedule to fit what your body needs
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Go to bed at the same time!
- Make your room completely dark
- Eliminate electronics in your room
- Stop using screens 1 to 2 hours before bed or use blue light blockers
- Try grounding
- Eliminate caffeine after 4 pm
There is a lot more to sleep than meets the eye. It is something that is very important and often overlooked. Try these simple steps (even if it’s just a few). Make sleep an essential part of your life. Don’t sacrifice it. Often it’s better to sleep more instead of forcing out more work or training.
Sunset in Lima, Peru
What are your biggest troubles in getting a good night’s sleep? What techniques have you found that helps you sleep better? Let me know if you have any questions!