That is one long and loaded blog post title, isn’t it? Well after months of reading, research and trials at home, I can confidently attest that sleep is directly correlated to mood, productivity, sex drive and tons of other aspects to our health and wellness. What was the catalyst behind this post? I was tired (literally) of waking up in the morning exhausted, in a bad mood and feeling like a complete zombie come 3pm. It wasn’t only me feeling this way either. My boyfriend was complaining of the same thing and the more I talked about my inability to get a good night’s rest, I discovered so many people around me have the same issue. When it comes to sleep, turns out it’s not just quantity that matters – it’s quality and what we do during the day hugely impacts how we rest at night. Our bedtime habits, sleep schedule and day-to-day routine. Because it’s something we know our body needs to survive, we often make the wrong assumption that it should come easily and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. If that were the case, 60% of Canadians wouldn’t feel tired all the time due to insomnia, sleep apnea, stress, pain related issues, restless legs, narcolepsy or 80-some other conditions that disturb our shut eye.
Before embarking on my quest for improved sleep, I decided to monitor my rest at night to see when and if I was getting any quality zzz’s with the Sleep++ app on my Apple Watch and iPhone. I’ve discovered so many amazing and useful apps for my watch and this one definitely ranks high on my list of faves. It let’s me measure the duration and quality of my sleep and as my sleep study progressed, it allowed me to gauge how effective the changes I’ve been making to my routine to benefit my sleep. Having issues getting zzz’s at night? The road won’t be easy, but I can promise you incorporating some of the tips below into your routine, you can significantly improve your quality of sleep and life.
1. Support Your Body’s Natural Rhythms
Ok, so we’re going to start with the basics here. Do you remember as a child having a strict bedtime every night? I most certainly do and used to hate my parents for it. But it turns out there is a reason behind our parents doing this and we should have been thanking them to be honest. They knew sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. So how do we do this as an adult? Set a realistic bedtime that works with your lifestyle. I suggest choosing a time when you normally feel tired and do your best to stick with it. For me, that’s around 10pm. Also, if you’re getting adequate sleep, you will be able to wake up naturally without an alarm. Some other tips for getting in sync with your body’s natural cycle:
- Fight after meal drowsiness (or what we love to refer to as “itis”)
- Be smart about napping. I know it’s hard sometimes but if you suffer from insomnia, you may want to stay away from them altogether.
- Avoid sleeping in on weekends. Having the same bed and wake times will enable you to wake up everyday feeling refreshed.
2. Reserve Your Bed For SLEEP and SEX only
Ugh…praying my father doesn’t happen to check out this post. I will die of embarrassment. Over the years I have noticed something interesting. Sleep and sex are very closely related. When I speak to people that mention that they are not having much sex with their partner, they almost always admit that either they or their better half is sleep deprived. Makes sense to me because when I’m exhausted, sex is legit the last thing on my mind. Conversely when I start to think back to my better nights of sleep, surprisingly they have come after sexy time with my man. Its a bit like the chicken and the egg theory or the horse before the cart. You need to sleep and be well rested for more sex but sex can also be the thing to help you rest better at night. To help you get more sleep and subsequently more sex, use the bed for only these things. So many people live in small urban spaces (aka condos) meaning it’s super easy for your bed to become your office, restaurant or private theatre for Netflix marathons. If you associate your bed with any of these things, it will be significantly harder to fall asleep at night. Reserving it for only sleep and sex means that when it’s time to head to bed, your body will know exactly what to do.
3. Control Your Exposure to Light & Avoid Bright Screens Within 2 Hours of Your Bedtime
Pretty sure you’ve head this before, but it’s one of the toughest things to nail down. So here’s the deal, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate our sleep cycle. When it’s dark outside, our brains produce more melatonin, which makes you sleepy. On the other hand, when it’s light we produce less making us more alert. In a perfect world we would all become sleepy when it gets dark outside but long days trapped in office with little light, too much exposure to energy efficient LED lights, working late or the night shift are just some examples that can shift our circadian rhythm and production of melatonin. Other ways to control light exposure to ensure a good night’s sleep:
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. Truth is, the darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. I swear by black out shades to block light from windows. Not having them isn’t the end of the world though. For about $15 you can purchase a sleep mask, which pretty much does the same thing.
- Keep the lights down if you get up during the night. If you feel like you absolutely need some light to navigate to the washroom safely, try installing a dim nightlight in the hallway or use the flashlight option on your iPhone or smartphone.
Limiting (bright) screen time before bed is usually one of the first tips you will find if you Google “ways to improve sleep”. Most studies suggest any and all screen time can affect your quality of sleep. This is a huge generalization in my personal opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. Originally when I started this study, I obtained from watching Netflix for the first two months, but then my boyfriend and I realized that for me, it’s the complete opposite. I actually can’t make it through an episode of Scandal without falling asleep. However, if I get started on watching YouTube videos or Instagram that’s a whole other story. I could burn away hours watching, which will definitely affect my sleep so I stay off my phone after 10:30pm. If we happen to watch something on Netflix, the screen brightness on our laptop is turned down.
4. Get Regular Exercise
Are you making time in your busy schedule to exercise? If not, this could actually be negatively affecting your ability to sleep soundly at night. Research shows that those who exercise regularly, not only sleep better but feel less sleepy throughout the day. But keep in mind, this not not a quick fix solution to your sleep woes. It could take a few months for you to see a difference. Be patient. Focus on having consistency in your exercise routine and sleep will be sure to follow.
Exercise elevates your body temperature, stimulates hormones like cortisol and speeds up your metabolism, which are all amazing and great in the morning and afternoon, but may be counter productive if you wait until too late in the day (or night for that matter!). For this to work they way it’s intended to, try to finish your sweat sesh at least 3 hours or more before your scheduled bedtime. Sometimes it can take up to 6 hours for the body to fully cool down to a temperature conducive for sleep.
5. Be Smart About The Foods and Drinks You Consume
You know you take your sleep seriously when you nix your caffeine intake altogether. That surprises most people when I meet up with them at a cafe…”wait, like don’t all bloggers drink coffee and fancy lattes that they take pictures of for Instagram?!” is the response I usually get. All jokes aside, I swamped my regular cuppa joe for matcha and I’ve found it considerably easier to settle down later into the evening. Caffeine can cause sleep issues 10-12 hours after consumption. Yup, you can pick your mouth up off the floor now. After speaking to a few friends, turns out eliminating caffeine is just not doable for a lot of people. Well, if you happen to fall under this category, try steering clear of anything caffeinated after lunchtime. Additional tips:
- We all know how important H20 is for our diet, but try not to drink too much close to bedtime. Interrupting your sleep with a trip to the washroom is an easy way to off-set your sleep cycle at night.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. A nightcap may sound like a good idea to help you relax just before bed, but in actuality it 100% disrupts your sleep cycle while you’re out. Just trust me, I have had to learn the hard way.
- Stay away from big meals late at night. It may be too much for the stomach to digest and can leave you away for hours due to heartburn and indigestion.
- Not all foods before bed are bad though. I swear to you, tryptophan is pure magic, so foods like turkey, soy beans and pumpkin seeds can help calm the brain of some which can help induce sleep. Just think about how sleepy you get after a turkey dinner during Thanksgiving. Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin – a hormone our body produces for sleep…more on this later. Like guacamole? Then you’re in luck. Foods high in magnesium like avocados may be just what you need for a one way ticket to dreamland. Whole grains (crackers, breads, etc) in moderation paired with protein rich foods like eggs, turkey or low-fat dairy can be the perfect combination for a pre-sleep snack.
Rituals and Relaxation Techniques
Photos by Nathalia Allen (www.amillionminds.com)
We have done a lot in attempt to figure this whole sleep thing out. Rejean and I are far from perfect and we screw up from time to time. We certainly feel the affects of missing our self prescribed bedtime or having vino too close to zzz time. One thing we know for sure though, it’s never just one thing that puts you into an optimal slumber, but rather an amalgamation of many things. Our pre-bed routine went from a quick 10-15 minutes to a solid 1-2 hour wind down and I know it sounds long, tedious even but it really is worth it. Drinking tea, stretching, taking what seems like a million supplements including magnesium (if you’re sleep issues are really bad you should definitely also add 5-HTP , Melatonin or GABA), listening to the calming sounds of falling rain or waves on a beach via the Calm app on our iPhone and liberally lathering on Saje Wellness “Sleep Well” formula that contains an herb called Valerian that used to help reduce the amount of time it takes to nod off is starting to become second nature.