For many of us, bedtime is not a good time, especially if we suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, bad dreams, or other sleep issues. For the high achievers of the world, sleep is considered an obstacle to productivity. In fact, there are actually guidebooks to teach those types of people how to function off of less sleep. The more time I'm awake, the more I can get done, right? Yes and no. To be fair to the authors of those guidebooks, sleep-hacking aims to improve sleep quality, so that you don't need as much. On the surface, that doesn't seem too unhealthy.
The problem is that most people have such poor sleep quality, the goal of sleeping less is hard to achieve. Here's my recommendation, if you want to have more time in your day, try cutting down on TV, social media, unnecessary meetings, and long commutes, rather than sleep.
The belief that sleep gets in the way of life is self perpetuating. It espouses the idea that we must always be busy and working, in order to succeed in life. If we hold ourselves to this standard of success in life, we are going to have trouble sleeping.
In 1942, a person in America averaged 7.9 hours of sleep a night. These days, the average has dropped to 6.8 hours a night. In Japan, there was survey showing that 40% of adults get less than 6 hours of sleep a night, according to the 2015 National Health and Nutrition Survey. It is estimated that that 50-70 million adults in the US suffer from chronic sleep issues. As you can see, quality sleep truly is hard to find.
Lack of sleep has been associated with a number of health issues such as decreased immune function, increased mental health issues, increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, propensity toward obesity and diabetes, and even lower life expectancy. It's time to start taking sleep more seriously!
So, how do we get more sleep? In general, our sleep quality mirrors our life, so if you're a high octane, multitasking workaholic, consider making some lifestyle changes. One of the best ways to implement change is to start developing a bedtime routine. You could implement one change at a time. A gradual approach is often more feasible, since the goals are smaller and simpler. Creating a ritual is also a powerful way to make change because once it's habit, there's very little effort involved afterwards. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Decrease intake of caffeine and chocolate throughout the day, especially after 2 pm. If you get a craving, try having a decaf chai drink or ginger tea. Also avoid using too much sugar, since that's a stimulant as well.
- Gradually reduce technology in the evening within an hour or two before bed. This means iphones, tv, computers, etc. The screens emit a blue light that can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. The increase in mental activity keep the brain in active mode. Strive for slower brain activity which signals to the body to start relaxing and preparing for sleep.
- Get some form of exercise during the day. People who exercise tend to get more sleep than those who don't exercise according to the National Sleep Foundation Survey. Exercise doesn't necessarily mean an hour long trip to the gym or a 5 mile run; walking a mile or two, gardening, or dancing to your favorite songs can also do the trick. Just make sure not to do any vigorous exercise within a few hours of bedtime, otherwise it might keep you up.
- Stay cool, literally. Many of us tend to heat up at night due to what's known as Yin deficiency, a Chinese Medical term for the lack of "coolant" in the body. Some people also carry excess heat in the body as well. Other than keeping the thermostat at a low temperature at night, try having a small amount (~2 oz) of carrot juice before bed. Another strategy is soaking the feet in cool (or cold) water before bed. Adding peppermint essential oil allows the cooling effect to continue for a few hours afterward. See my other post for additional info on foot soaking.
- Engage in relaxing activities before bed and avoid stress-inducing activities. If you can, avoid the news, social media, and suspenseful or scary movies/TV. Try to steer clear of heavy or stressful conversations. In general, the less internet, the better. Personally, I have to avoid shopping online in the evening, since it tends to over activate my brain. Video games or any activities that require a lot of thinking or brain activity are also not a good idea before bed. Instead, try reading a relaxing book, going for a short evening stroll, doing some qigong or stretching, taking a bath, or any activity you find relaxing. If you can't be free of TV, watch a nature program, travel show, or possibly something on PBS.
- Try journaling before bed. If you tend to have a lot going on in your mind, especially before bed, try getting it down on paper. Reflect on how you're feeling or what you're thinking about. If you can't disengage from technology or the busyness of life, try writing a list of what you want to get done the next day, rather than actually doing it. At first, it may be stressful to walk away from something that feels like it needs to get done or be thought about, but over time you will realize that it is liberating to create space away from those activities.
- Keep the lights low in the evening. We are wired to be sensitive to light, so that when it is bright, our brain wants to be active. By keeping the lights dimmed, we are signaling our brain to start slowing down.
- Avoid eating big meals or heavy foods before bed. When the body is busy digesting food, it tends to disrupt sleep.
- Take a bath. Baths can be a wonderful way to relax, detoxify, and nourish the body. If you tend to get hot at night, keep the bath on the cooler side. Add a cup of sea salt, pink salt, or dead sea salt, 5 drops of lavender, and 5 drops of geranium essential oil. Add 5 drops of neroli essential oil if you tend to have anxiety.
- Try Essential Oil therapy. The smell is lovely, but it can also be applied to acupressure points for greater effects. Apply a drop or two of geranium essential oil on Kidney 3. Hold the point for a few minutes and breathe deeply.