Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP
Everywhere we look there are ads that suggest if we take this or do that, we will have found the secret to more energy, vitality and zest for life. And if there was a magic pill or miracle ointment, would you down it or rub it in? I think it is safe to say, most of us would. Well, no need for special pills nor ointments, and it’s free! What is this magic potion? Sleep. And this one thing has helped me in so many aspects in my life.
Instead of considering how much sleep you can get by with, a much more productive and healthier question to ask is, “How much sleep do I need?”
Interestingly, there are competing beliefs about how much sleep we need. Is it six hours? Seven hours? Eight hours? Is there an optimum amount of sleep necessary for a healthy adult? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe it really depends on the individual and his/her lifestyle and needs.
One thing I know for sure is that sleep offers many benefits for those of us wanting to live healthy lives, such as enhanced memory, helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, decreases stress, stabilizes mood, and strengthens the immune system. But there is one additional benefit that often flies under the radar. Do you want in on the secret? The huge hush-hush is something that can positively affect any adult, no matter your gender, ethnicity, height, weight, personality style, financial status, etc. Have you figured it out? The clandestine advantage that sleep provides is that it also defies the aging process. Securing “forty winks” is known to be an important time for the body’s repair mechanisms to spring into action, producing growth hormones to help repair tissue damage. Who doesn’t want to capitalize on looking younger and preventing wrinkles?
Now, many people I talk with say, “I realize sleep is important and that there are numerous benefits, but I have a tough time getting a good night’s sleep.” If you happen to have similar struggles getting enough quality shut-eye, you’re not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-quarter of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10 percent experience chronic insomnia. If you are one of those unfortunate individuals or know someone who struggles with sleep issues, here are ten practical prescriptions to sleep better tonight:
Rx #1: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Start by getting to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. As tempting as it may be, don’t try to make up for a lack of sleep by staying in bed on the weekends. Sleeping in won’t make up for a sleep deficit. In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, when you snooze extra hours to compensate for sleep deprivation, your ability to focus is worse than if you had stayed up all night.
Rx #2: Create a comfy and cozy haven. Make your bedroom environment conducive to how you sleep best in terms of the amount of light, temperature of the room, and appropriate background noise. Plus, if you are able to crawl into a bed that is lined with super soft sheets, it often helps you feel like you are in a positive, comfortable and welcoming space, rather than one you want to jump out of.
Rx #3: If you nap, keep it short. According to the experts, naps can provide significant health benefits, like repairing a body at the cellular level, improving heart function, and providing a more balanced regulation of hormone levels.
Rx #4: Exercise by day to sleep at night. Engaging in regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night. However, you should avoid revving yourself up with high-intensity exercise near bedtime. If nighttime is when you are able to exercise, though, and that part of your schedule cannot be altered, choose a more relaxing type of exercise, like yoga versus running. As always, check with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen.
Rx #5: Wind down your brain. Shortly after dinner or at least two hours before heading to bed, take a little time to tie up loose ends from the day and plan out your next one. This way you can have time before bed to let go of anxieties and relax. However, even with your best efforts, clearing your mind before laying your head down for bed can be tough. If this happens, keep a pen and paper handy, within reach of your bed, so you can write down what is on your mind. Even though you are writing in the dark and your penmanship may not be the easiest to read in the morning, you likely will be able to understand the scribbles. More importantly, though, this strategy provides assurance that your concerns or tasks won’t be forgotten and they can be addressed the next day.
Rx #6: Choose evening snacks wisely. When you want to snack in the evening, choose a healthy one, like a piece of fruit or low-fat crackers. Avoid foods that are spicy and contain a significant amount of oil, as they can trigger heartburn or an upset stomach.
Rx #7: Indulge in a bath. Before going to bed, try relaxing in a warm bubble bath. It’s also helpful to add a few drops of aromatic lavender oil to the water, which has known calming effects.
Rx #8: Enjoy bedtime reading. Reading is another useful aid to falling asleep gently. Choose short stories or articles that don’t require too much thinking or invoke high emotion.
Rx #9: Treat yourself to a massage. Every time I get a massage, my body feels like a wet noodle and all I want to do is slide into bed and say, “Lights out.” If you have never tried a massage, I highly recommend it. A skilled masseuse will help your body relax and make the tension disappear.
Rx #10: Listen to soft music. For many of us, listening to soft, instrumental music has a relaxing effect, often helping us to fall asleep. Soothing music like this can easily be downloaded to create your own calming collection or you can use a music application to hand-curate a listening experience that is uniquely yours.
Ignore those who say, “If you snooze, you lose,” as that is a very unhealthy view. Realize all the health benefits that sleep provides, and give your body the sleep it needs rather than just the bare minimum. After all, consistently getting the right amount of quality sleep for you is “just what the doctor ordered.”