Sleep: A Key Ingredient for Optimal Well-being.
With so many stressors surrounding our every day, the thought of trying to sleep more can almost feel like another overwhelming task on our to-do list. And who has time for more sleep when there are tasks left undone, kids’ needs to be met, and social obligations to fulfill. But what if we reframed our mindset to put sleep first, with the promise that better sleep quality would in fact make us less stressed, more productive, and more richly engaged with enjoying our life.
Sleep not only helps our mind to function more efficiently, but it also increases our body’s ability to fight infections, regulate hormones, and properly metabolize nutrients. Studies show that quality sleep actually decreases our risks for infection, heart disease, obesity, and depression. And while many of us wish we slept more, it has been shown that while we all need between six and eight hours of sleep per night, it is actually the quality and length of staying asleep that is more important. So how do we get started? Let’s first remind ourselves that by making sleep a top priority, we are actually making our overall health and well-being a priority. Next, we can make small changes in our daily lives that have been shown to have significant and lasting impacts.
Here are a few tips to get steer us towards a better sleep life:
Increase outdoor sunlight during the day. Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of outside, direct sunlight per day can help to regulate our body’s circadian rhythm and endorphin release, both leading to better sleep at night. Aim for morning or mid-day sun if possible, and during the winter months or in areas with less sunshine, a light box can be used indoors during the morning for 20-30 minutes with similar effects.
Use food as medicine. Making sure you are getting adequate intakes of Omega-3s, Magnesium, and Vitamins D and C are vital to ensuring deeper, more restful sleeps. Good sources of these important nutrients are salmon, oysters, walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables, citrus, acai, and elderberry. And if you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough, it is always best to have your levels checked by an integrative practitioner and consider appropriate supplementation and/or nutritional counseling in needed.
Decrease blue light exposure from screens at least two hours before sleep. Many studies have shown that the artificial blue light in screens actually triggers our body to produce more daytime hormones, altering the regulatory sleep-wake cycle of cortisol, and actually delaying the body’s natural sleep preparation phase. If screens cannot be avoided, try downloading one of the many apps that block the blue light emissions during evening hours. Don’t forget this includes all devices: TVs, phones, tablets, and laptops. It is sure to be one of the fastest ways to improve sleep quality with immediate results.
Aim for cooler than normal bedroom temperatures. Our body temperature naturally rises overnight, and too warm an environment has been shown to drastically decrease sleep quality even when we aren’t aware we are waking. Studies have shown that the optimal temperature for sleeping is actually between 60 and 68 degrees F. While this may seem to cool for some, adjusting to comforting but aiming for cooler is always a good idea when it comes to more restful sleep.
Be mindful of alcohol intake. Consuming too much alcohol late in the evening (especially for women who tend to metabolize alcohol more rapidly) will alter our natural hormone production that regulates our circadian rhythm leading to poor quality sleep. While we may think the initial benefits of alcohol are sedative, in fact several hours later it is likely to have the opposite effect, leading to poorer quality sleep over time.
While it may seem challenging, getting adequate high-quality sleep is essential to our health and overall well-being. By adjusting just one or two aspects of your daily routine at a time, we can all make positive impacts on caring for ourselves and investing in our total body health.