OK, ya’ll…you’ve had two weeks to implement a cozy new evening routine. Have you done it? Yeah, me neither, but we were moving, so I have an excuse. Ha! Anyway, the first post about getting better sleep focused on Sleep Hygiene Tips for Better Bedtime Routines. Bedtime routines are important, and they should err on the side of warm and cozy as opposed to strict and authoritarian. Thus, they might actually be the more fun part about reigning in your sleep hygiene. I mean, I got Goose one of those sleep masks from Etsy, and she said “thank you” almost a dozen times that night as she went on about the unicorns and lollipops. I do have to add that the seller also sent it packaged with a mini-packet of Gummi Bears…So freakin’ cute. The daytime rules are a little more science-y, a little more rule-based, and a little more difficult to manage because, well, life man…
Since the last post, a few serendipitous sleep ideas have come my way. Last week, I downloaded a 10-day course from Insight Timer teacher Jennifer Piercy that focuses on changing your relationship with sleep. I’ve listened to her Yoga Nidras (yogic sleep is a semi-conscious activity), but when I read the description of the course, I was convinced of something I already suspected: I need to change my relationship with sleep. Those of us who’ve had a tumultuous relationship with getting enough rest could likely benefit from such an idea. AND, on the exact same day reader Stephanie left a comment on the original post and suggested Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). It’s something she tried and is now trained in, offering it in her own practice. If the reason you’re not getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night isn’t because you don’t have enough time, this may be the course for you. And finally, I stumbled upon a Vox article published last week, ‘How to get a good night’s sleep’, which featured interview highlights with Henry Nicholls author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls focuses on the idea of sleep stability, anchoring his ideas around going to sleep and waking at the same time, and the conundrum about how bad artificial light is for humans. Did you know that ideally, you should be able to awake at the same time of day without an alarm clock? Hahahahaha…That’s when you’ll know you’re on point with your sleep hygiene. If I ever get there, I’ll have a big party and invite you all.
We also had a comment from reader Colleen that reminded me of something I meant to include in the first post about bedtime routines: It’s fine if your kids are running around the house chasing each other in the evening, as long as the lights are low! (If you’re OK with it, that is). Working hard at night is different because it could stimulate the stress hormone cortisol, which is a waking hormone, or adrenaline, which makes it harder to sleep. But play is likely to facilitate the feel-good hormones, and the benefits of that likely outweigh the risks of rowdy behavior :-). Plus, kids are resilient. Play and intimacy are certainly beneficial ways to help us relax and feel ready for rest.
So, I’m going to jump into the daily habits that will help you align your circadian rhythms and get better sleep at night. It’s worth a reminder here that not everyone is the same…There’s been a lot of work in chronobiology recently and scientists have divided humans into a few groups: larks (morning people), owls (night owls), and then a final group (or groups) whose chronobiology is either slightly later than the larks or some mix of both (this seems yet to be determined). Unfortunately, most of society is tailored for the larks, so if you have kids to get to school, a 9-to-5 job or have to be on a “regular” post-industrial schedule, working hard to sleep enough at the proper time is required. However, as writer Alex Williams notes in Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn’t a Problem, the information age may be more forgiving to the owls, because freelancing, side-hustling and creative endeavors combined with technology can accommodate their schedules.
How Eating & Drinking Affects Your Sleep
Supper is Supplemental
This is probably the easiest way to remember not to eat too much for dinner (or supper). You want the energy food provides during the day, so make breakfast or lunch your biggest meal. Your body shouldn’t be working hard to digest when it should be detoxifying and restoring. This is an idea I learned from Ayurveda, but lately Western scientists have been confirming it through scientific method-style research. In his book, The Circadian Code, Dr. Satchin Panda posits that when we eat affects not only our sleep, but also our overall health. I think by now we can assert that the two are so intertwined, they may as well as be one in the same. (By the way, I learned from listening to enough doctors interviewed on The People’s Pharmacy that they include weight loss in their book titles and subtitles because consumers will pay for weight loss advice but they won’t pay for advice about better health). For the short version of Panda’s premise, read the NYTimes piece.
Eat Supper Early
It’s recommended to avoid eating or drinking within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime. I don’t know about you other moms, but dinner would have to be on the table when we walk in the door for this to work for my daughter, so…as Annmarie says, “we are what we are, and we do the best we can.” That’s what I need to hear as a mom. However, eating your last main meal 2-3 hours before bed will prevent you from overburdening your digestive system right before you’re expecting your organs to detox. Pretty difficult for your organs to rest and cleanse if they’re still working on digestion. BTW, it sounds as if small snacks are OK, and if you still want dessert, try fruit, dark chocolate and whipped cream for a healthy treat (sugar + healthy fats = goodness).
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine at Night
There’s a reason cocktail hour is at 5:00 pm. It turns out that coffee and alcohol have similar effects on sleep, so they are best avoided too close to bedtime (4 hours for alcohol). Both will result in sleeping too lightly. For caffeine, experts’ advice ranges from no caffeine after midday or after 3:00 pm if going to sleep at 11:00, to no caffeine 4 hours before bed. And if you’ve ever awoken in a pool of your own sweat in the wee hours of morning unable to fall back to sleep, you’ll also know that alcohol does that too. Not only that, but alcohol interrupts your melatonin levels for up to a week, and makes your organs work harder, when in fact they are already working hard enough to detox your body.
Follow Guidance for Good Health
Exercise During the Day
This is pretty self-explanatory, like everything else health-related, people who exercise regularly have it better in the realm of sleep. In general, the key to good sleep hygiene is to restrict aerobic exercise to daytime or early evening, and avoid it within 1-3 hours of sleep. HOWEVER, Science is now saying that it varies from person to person, and that it’s people who have trouble sleeping who should avoid the mental rev up that comes with exercise, as well as the rise in cortisol and adrenaline. Apparently, it may only take an hour for those effects to subside. Like I said before, gentle stretching or yoga before bed is fantastic for a good’s night’s rest, especially if you’re a worrier or hold tension in your body.
Take Cat Naps or Power Naps to Restore
When I was teaching and underslept, or when I had jet lag after an overseas flight, I’d collapse into a huge 2- or 3-hour nap in the late afternoon. Turns out this is a terrible idea. The ideal nap time for adults is between about 14 and 26 minutes. Daniel Pink discusses this, as well as other chronobiology facts, in his book When. He happens to prefer the ‘napaccino’: a cup of coffee, followed by a cat nap that ends right as the caffeine is kicking in. Naps are supposedly really good for you, as long as you don’t sleep beyond that first cycle of around 20 minutes. Missing that first wake-up window can induce you into a deeper sleep, from which you would wake up groggy and less alert. BUT, apparently, a nap works on your brain like a Zamboni that ice-cleaning machine used for hockey games. It cleans up the brain and detoxifies it, allowing you to rejuvenate for the afternoon. There’s also an app for that (I use it) called Power Nap. I thought I would never be able to master this art, but if I wait until I feel like I absolutely cannot continue in life without sleeping, I hit the couch (don’t nap in the bedroom) and turn this baby on. BOOM! 19 minutes later I’m good. Good to know: generally people’s energy dips the most about 7 hours after they wake up, and this is the best time to nap. So if you wake at 5 am, you may feel that need around 11 or 12; while if you wake up at 7 am, you may need a nap around 2 pm. If you can’t take a nap, any break will do — a walk outside, a catch-up with colleagues, or even a creative brainstorming session (social is better than solitary to induce afternoon productivity).
Water and Vitamins Make a Difference, Too
Digesting vitamins and supplements can also be disruptive to your system when you’re sleeping (or supposed to be). Try to take vitamins earlier in the day, and avoid within 3 hours of sleep. Since histamine is a waking hormone, naturally released in the morning, it’s best to take antihistamines at night (do your research on this one; a lot of newer allergy medicines are not the same old antihistamines) so they don’t counteract your body’s natural hormone release, circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycle. If you’re taking Vitamin D, you probably want to do that during the day, since you would naturally absorb Vitamin D from the sun. Not only do we absorb Vitamin D through our eyes, but also through our skin, so it’s important to go outside during daylight hours, with your sunglasses off for 15 minutes – this helps improve overall physical and mental health. (Keep in mind it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from food, unless you’re deficient and need more under doctor’s orders). And Magnesium at night if you have to take it for other reasons. Water is simple. While I do like to hydrate at night, it can wake you up if you have to pee. I have my middle-of-the-night pee routine down pat (barely lift the sleep mask, keep the lights off, nightlight in the bathroom, leave the seat up, don’t touch anything/wash hands if necessary, back to bed, DONE). Rehydrate first thing in the morning — remember that carafe next to the bed. YES.
Avoid Mindless Eating
Studies released in 2013 indicate that eating in front of TVs or screens can lead to weight gain. Not only do we eat more, but we are distracted from how much we’re eating and we tend to eat more later in the day. This contradicts the idea to get the majority of our calories earlier in the day (before 2:00 pm or 3:00 pm). If you can avoid having lunch al desko, that’s ideal because it’s likely that those screens have the same effect as TV screens.
Humans Don’t Evolve as Quickly as Technology
The rhythms of day and night are part of who we are, and we can’t change that. Our circadian rhythms are in sync with the sun.
We’ve inhabited this planet for thousands of years, and while many things have changed, there has always been one constant: Every single day the sun rises and at night it falls…We’re designed to have 24-hour rhythms in our physiology and metabolism. These rhythms exist because, just like our brains need to go to sleep each night to repair, reset and rejuvenate, every organ needs to have down time to repair and reset as well.” Dr.Satchin Panda
Don’t forget about evolution. We’ve only had electricity for about 150 years, and humans don’t evolve that quickly. Just because we have a slew of modern implementations and we CAN and are willing to power-through 24/7, doesn’t mean we should. Keep in mind that we have numerous internal clocks, and they all need to be in sync to keep bodies to stay in harmony
Get Lots of Light in the Morning
It’s important to get sunlight in the morning, so that your body receives the signals that it’s daytime. Morning light sets the biological clock to the correct wake/sleep cycle. In some cases, artificial blue light is OK, especially for people who do shift work or for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (this is usually prescribed by a doctor). I’ve read some conflicting information, and many sleep experts — homeopathic and medical, Western and Eastern — are cautioning us about artificial light not just at night, but also during the day. So open those blinds as soon as you can, and be sure to get outside in the morning or at some point during the day (and not just in the driveway between your house and the car).
Decrease Artificial Light Exposure at Night
You’ve probably heard this already, but turn down the lights at night — especially within 30 minutes to one hour of going to bed. This is a great excuse to get a little more Hyyge in your life, which I’m all about. Candles, conversation and cuddles, people. Accent lighting is your friend at night. This may mean you want to brush your teeth and wash-up by candlelight or nightlight or wall sconce or any kind of low light that isn’t a bright overhead light — you can even take a few of the lightbulbs out of your over-mirror lighting. Based on Goose’s reaction and feedback from the last post, kids seem to really like these negative ion emitters.
Avoid Blue Light
I won’t say it often, because I don’t want to sound like a nag, but experts cannot stress enough how harmful blue light from our devices is to the receptors that moderate our circadian rhythms and keep our sleep/wake cycles on track. Get away from those TVs, mobile phones and computers within an hour of bedtime (at least) and keep those blue light glasses on hand (or better yet, on your face) after sunset.
Make the Bedroom Sacred
Your bedroom should be a sacred, cozy, clutter-free realm of calm. It’s not for working or eating or crafting. It should be a retreat from the chaos of the day, from electronics, from everything we have to worry about all day long. I know space is limited, I know time is limited, and I know that we are making a lot of rules here that seem like just too much. However, it turns out part of what helps us sleep is the associations we make with sleep (or lack thereof) and we must teach our brains and our bodies that the bedroom is for sleeping and intimacy. It’s not even a good idea to nap in there — that’s for the couch and the recliner.
The Bed is for Sleeping (and Sex)
Repeat after me: The bed is for sleeping (and sex). The bed is for sleeping (and sex). The bed is for sleeping (and intimacy). Got it? Good. No eating in the bed, or working in the bed, or anything you don’t want to trick your brain into thinking it should be alert and on guard for when it really should be resting, processing new learnings and creating memories….all while you are sleeping.
Don’t Lie Awake in Bed Not Sleeping
If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. For real. Again, your brain must associate your bed with sleep and intimacy. Lying awake in the bed teaches your brain and body that the bed is not for sleeping. If you’ve found you can’t fall asleep or get back to sleep, try meditating, praying, reading a book (no screens), lying down on the couch or doing a progressive muscle relaxation. Don’t turn on all the lights — just like when you were diapering baby in the middle of the night. You can try journaling, coloring, or listening to a yoga nidra or binaural beats. Only when you feel ready to sleep again should you get back in bed.
I could say a lot about bedroom ambiance, but I’m going to keep it simple here. We’ll get into Feng Shui and EMFs and all the other fun woo-wood stuff another day, another post. However, at the very least your bedroom should be a refuge. Think rest, relaxation, calm, intimacy, coziness, ease, relief. Lamps. Texture. It’s best to eliminate or have a place to put away anything related to work. You can maybe have a few books in there, maybe your phone charger…but for goodness sakes, keep that space airy, organized and conducive to rest and relaxation. For kids’ rooms, unless you live in a house with a basement or a playroom or a yard or what have you, it’s likely not possible to get rid of everything unrelated to sleep. However, if possible, toys and other items should have a home to return to at the end of the day, so that their space is more sleep than play, more rest than chaos. And, if there must be a TV, be mindful of when you watch it or when your kids watch it. I have fond memories of watching Nick at Night for hours and hours when I was an adolescent and I should have been sleeping.
Strive for Sleep Stability
Laugh with me on this one, friends. I applaud you if you have mastered or perfected any activity in life, especially while being a parent. Mastery of sleep stability means that you go to sleep and wake at the same time each day, you awake without an alarm clock, and you’re getting the right amount of sleep for you every night. Key point: We can’t make up sleep debt. Sad but true. We may sleep longer after losing a lot of sleep, but we won’t recover the lost memory-making our brains engage in or the rest we should have gotten days, weeks or nights before.
Avoid Hitting the Snooze Button
We sleep in 90-minute cycles. Most sleep apps — there are tons out there — work on the theory that we sleep in these 90-minute cycles, and you can set the alarm for a 20-30-minute period surrounding 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep, and the alarm will go off as you are coming out of deep sleep and your body is in a lighter sleep stage, meaning you’ll have an easier time waking up and feel less groggy, and less tempted to hit the snooze button. I know that Sleep Cycle, the app I use, works this way: I’m slightly aware that I’ve just turned over for a more comfy position — to continue sleeping! — and then suddenly my alarm is going off. If you’re getting enough sleep, this shouldn’t be a problem. The strategy for testing out how much you need is to set the alarm for 9 hours of sleep (or more), and then ideally whenever you wake up (in theory before the 9 hours or more is up), is how much sleep you need. Based on all I’ve heard, I *think* you’ll need to be well-rested and not sleep deprived to start with for this to be accurate.
Go to Sleep and Awake at the Same Time Each Day
Yup. #Goals2020. Ideally, this would be the case. It’s interesting to hear female journalists discuss this with male scientists because clearly moms and parents and household managers live in a different universe from one where 8 hours get aside for sleep, and is used as such at the same every night (at least for adults; most of us are pretty good at assuring our kids get the requisite amount of sleep). But, you’ll know you’ve mastered sleep stability when you do this, especially without an alarm clock. The theory is that if you awake at the same time each day, eventually your body will know what time to get sleepy and at the time will do such. It neglects to take life into account, and the fact that most Americans struggle to get 7 hours of sleep each night.
Honor Your Circadian Rhythms
In sum, you working with your circadian rhythms as opposed to against them is going to help you sleep best. If you don’t have to be up at dawn, and you function best going to bed at midnight and waking up 9:00, then you should probably do that. If you’re trying to push through an extra hour of work at 10:00 pm, but that’s when you’re naturally groomed for sleep, and you have an easier time waking early in the morning, then do the work at dawn. Avoid naps too late in the afternoon, avoid too much time without natural light, and avoid getting off track with your sleep cycle — all of which will shift your natural sleep/wake cycle.
How to Recover from a Poor Night’s Sleep or Jet Lag
The recommendations for overcoming jet lag and for getting through the day after a poor night’s sleep are fairly similar. They are mostly the same, but there’s an additional tip for jet lag. The most important thing I ever learned about getting over jet lag has to do with food, and here’s the trick: Avoid eating anything at all on your flight, and then once you land, eat breakfast at the correct timezone in that location as your first meal. Depending on who you are and how you sleep (and whether you are pregnant or not, in addition to how long your flight is (or flights are), this one supposedly resets your body clock. It’s worth experimenting with for the morning after a rough night of sleep as well. Other than that, follow the regular pointers mentioned above for regulating your circadian rhythms during the day, in addition to those in this list:
There are few other things to know about not getting enough sleep. One, most researchers say to avoid driving if you’ve slept for less than 7 hours, and some even recommend calling in sick if you have a commute to work; if you have the option, take public transit, walk or carpool. I definitely don’t bike if I’ve had less than 6 hours of sleep, especially with the Goose. Take a nap, but only during the midday dip. Do a Yoga Nidra, which may help restore you, although it’s not equivalent to a full night’s sleep. It’s important not to go to too many extremes in recovering from a bad night’s sleep (or lack of sleep), because you want to get on track as quickly as possible.
Other Pointers to Know About Sleep
One trend we’re seeing right now is a few doctors of Indian descent who grew up on Ayurvedic medicine (basically, preventive health that focuses on food as medicine, much like traditional Chinese medicine) and are now presenting the research accumulated through the Western Scientific Method.
- Take a page from Asia where food is medicine, and Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine have consistently been used to prevent dis-ease and keep the body in harmony. Rest is required for healthy digestion. If you’re into Traditional Chinese Medicine (for which acupuncture is the complement), this is a really cool chart for going with the flow of your circadian rhythms.
- Dr. John Douillard, an expert in Ayurveda, natural health, and sports medicine, claims that the human body detoxes from approximately 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM, although this can be affected by time zone, time changes, jet lag, altitude, etc., According to that theory, if your body is digesting food or processing alcohol or working (or you’re not in bed) — it’s not resting, and therefore not eliminating the toxins it needs to.
- In 2013, scientists determined that the brain flushes harmful toxins while we are sleeping. This is likely a key to preventing diseases such as Alzheimers, autoimmune disorders, kidney and liver disfunction.
- The Noble Prize for medicine in 2017 was awarded to 3 scientists who proved that our wellbeing is affected when there’s a mismatch between our external environment and our internal biological clock(s).
- The lymphatic system also flushes waste from the brain at night, which has huge implications for sleep, nutrition and neurological disorders.
- Cultures who siesta may have it right. Resting after food improves digestion.
How to Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Why We Sleep Matthew Walker PhD
Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest Henry Nicholls
The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It W. Chris Winter M.D
Nodding Off: The Science of Sleep from Cradle to Grave Alice Gregory
Sleep Studies In the News
When We Eat, or Don’t, May Be Critical Health, by Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times
Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn’t a Problem, by Alex Williams, The New York Times
Apps Can Cut Blue Light From Devices, But Do They Help You Sleep?, Jon Hamilton, Morning Editing, NPR
Podcasts & TED Talks About Sleep
The People’s Pharmacy: How Can You Find Your Sleep Solution?
The People’s Pharmacy: How to Sync Your Body Clock to Get the Sleep You Need
Fresh Air: Sleep Scientist Warns Against Walking Through Life ‘In An Underslept State’ — Love this one, especially when Terry Gross points out that most adults don’t have 8 hours to dedicate to sleep, and are trying to just get 6.5 or 7 hours (hollah, if you hear me), and unfortunately scientist Matthew Walker reminds us that shorter sleep leads to a shorter life (sad face). Dude also explains the misconceptions about Melatonin and explains the losing battle against sleep debt.
The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Health: A Good Night’s Sleep
Why do we sleep? Russell G. Foster
Sleeping Books Just for Fun
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh – The New York Times Books synopsis: A Sleeping Beauty Hopes Hibernation Is the Answer to All Life’s Problems (sounds hilarious: “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” is about what happens when Moshfegh’s 24-year-old narrator becomes intentionally addicted to antidepressants and other meds and, more centrally, to the sleep that results….The narrator begins to sleep most of the day and sometimes to go on walkabouts while blacked out. She wakes to find that she has gone to clubs or had her pubic hair waxed or rearranged her furniture. Once she comes to on the Long Island Rail Road, a waking nightmare for sure.“)
Go the F**k to Sleep Adam Mansbach – Love this book. It came out in 2011 just before Goose was born, and we got it…shipped by Amazon to Viet Nam. I wouldn’t be surprised if some parents in their sleep-deprived states read it to their infants before said babes understood what it meant, and then cringe when their older children find it and wonder what it is.
Feng Shui For Your Bedroom: What To Do & What Not To Do MindBodyGreen Lifestyle – Title is self-explantory
Well, friends, there you have it. Sleep seems so simple, and once upon a time, it was. But this modern life has it all kinds of disrupted, and adjust we must. Who knew it would be so much work to get a sufficient amount of rest?