Anyone who has suffered from insomnia or had the privilege of caring for a newborn understands how a sleepless night can make you feel less than your best. Sleep is at the root of our wellbeing; Sleep restores the body, replenishes energy supply, strengthens the immune system, and–just to be superficial for a moment–gives skin a glow that a lack of sleep immediately zaps. Sleep specialists say we should all aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but there are times in our lives when stress, anxiety, work, and the demands of home life prevent that from happening. When sleep seems impossible, don’t lose hope; I’ve worked with many clients to improve their sleep and ultimately improve their lives through customized tools and techniques. But there are several tricks and tips that experts recommend helping you sleep through the night–and, yes, regain your sanity and gorgeous complexion. So, I’d like to share some of my favorite tips to help you sleep better tonight.
While the list could be exhaustively long when it comes to things that mess with our sleep schedule, today we’re going to focus on what I find in my clients to be the top three everyday disruptors when it comes to their sleep:
· Stress: something has upset you, and your mind has decided to play it over and over again. Or work or body stress.
· Poor diet choices: Drinking alcohol too often, not too late, too much sugar, not getting the proper nutrients or eating the right foods at the right time during the right season, eating a meal that's too high in sodium, or too big of a portion or not drinking enough water
· Uncomfortable or inadequate sleep environment: Think old mattress or wrong mattress, too much light, not a comfy pillow, or too much noise.
There are so many factors that contribute to a restful night’s sleep. Decisions we make throughout our waking day can affect how we settle in at night. But focusing on the shortlist of disruptors, I’ve pulled together seven things you can focus on to improve your sleep holistically.
Skip eating late-night meals and alcoholic or sugary nightcaps.
There have been conflicting studies on whether or not eating before bed can boost your metabolism or if it increases your caloric intake and can make you gain weight. The line is blurred when eating before bed, so we decided to seek counsel from the pros who know best. Summer Sanders, raw-food chef, holistic health coach, and author of Raw + Radiant, and Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, nutritionist, and founder and director of Real Nutrition, cracked the code on nighttime eating. Shapiro also believes that eating a full meal late at night is not a good idea—stick to lean, light snacks. "Eating a full meal late at night right before going to bed can be harmful, as it can cause heartburn, weight gain, and may disrupt sleep," says Shapiro. "However, going to bed hungry can also disrupt sleep, so there is a fine line here. I recommend eating dinner at least two hours before bed and then, depending on the person, a small snack may help aid sleep. Usually, carbs or foods containing some carbs (think warm milk, fruit, or crackers) can help drift you off to sleep, as the sugars hit the serotonin in the brain and can aid us to sleep. Alternatively, sugary snacks like candy, dried fruit, or juice can disrupt sleep, as they may cause a sugar crash that can wake you up in the middle of the night.
Make sure you have a comfortable sleeping environment. Set the mood! Think of sleep as a seduction. Turn the lights off, draw the curtains (or use a molded eye mask!), use calming scents. Make sure you’re making your bedroom an inviting place to let go of the day and unwind. Secondly, Invest in your rest! Take the time to find pillows, mattresses, and bedding that works for you. Finding your perfect fit when it comes to your body and bed can make a tremendous difference.
Learn to heal better or manage your stress. Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked. If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in high gear all the time. All that tossing, turning, and staring at the ceiling can leave you feeling tired and more stressed the next day. If you’re caught in this vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia, there’s good news: Simple stress relief techniques can help you sleep better and feel calmer. Activities that switch on the body’s natural relaxation response feel great, and they have been proven by research to improve sleep. They help reduce the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and slow your heart rate and breathing. Your body and mind calm down. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are helpful stress relief techniques.
You didn’t think I would write a whole blog post on sleep without mentioning meditation, did you? Meditating before bed is an effective way to wrap up your day. It’s a perfect way to transition from doing to resting, relaxing, and just being. Meditation soothes your nervous system, calms your mind, and slows any protracted problem-solving, rehashing, and future planning that’s best left for the clean slate of morning. If you struggle with letting go of tomorrow’s tasks, try writing down all your to-dos on a piece of paper before meditating to let them go.
One study from the University of Southern California has shown that middle-aged and older adults who practiced mindfulness meditation for six weeks reported less insomnia and fatigue and improved sleep quality. Sleep issues are often associated with depression, so it’s no surprise that participants also experience positive outcomes regarding their moods.
Exercise regularly. A study at John Hopkins shows that people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that night. “It’s generally not going to take months or years to see a benefit,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., “And patients don’t need to feel like they have to train for the Boston Marathon to become a better sleeper.”
Don’t immediately turn to sleep drugs. It’s tempting to want to pop a pill (many of which are addictive) and end the torture of sleepless nights, but remember … that insomnia is a symptom, not the actual problem. “It may be from sleep apnea, or restless legs, or anxiety, or psychophysiological insomnia,” Jose Colon, M.D.says. “And sleep aids may make someone comfortable, but they don’t treat the underlying symptom. It is prudent to work with a sleep specialist, not just a pulmonary doc that treats sleep apnea, but a true sleep specialist to identify and treat the underlying cause of insomnia.”
Consider hiring a specialist who will help you.
Some practices specifically help with sleep. Depending on my clients’ needs, I’ll give them a specific and personalized approach and recommend certain foods or supplements to help with this. One of my clients who had sleep issues was super resistant to change. I said, just experiment with this, this and this; strangely, her husband winded up in the hospital. She did exactly what I suggested and was shocked that it worked SO well… she fell asleep in the hospital!
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