Wellness Watch: 12 Tips for Healthy Sleep

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Do you recall the song/lyric turned popular phrase “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”? For years, volume of work, amongst other things, has taken precedence over sleep and recovery. Sleep was for the weak-minded; successful people stayed up late working and got up to grind before the sun even came out. 

Grind culture might have made you feel ‘less than’ and unproductive if you didn’t have your workout done, yourself showered, journaled, half a book read, caffeinated +  fed, and listened to a podcast all by 8 am. And if it’s not the above that is impacting your sleep, it could be life’s demands including that early morning commute, constant light, that caffeine we mentioned, alcohol consumption or temperature. The purpose of this newsletter is to let you know that it’s okay to shut off for the evening to get some much needed R&R (rest and relaxation), and that in fact, your life depends on it!

Our four essential biological drives include to eat, to drink, to reproduce and to sleep. Three of those aren’t questioned. We understand that we need to eat and drink for survival, and that we reproduce for the survival of all living things. We fully accept that those three things are necessary. And yet the importance of sleep is questioned, and the act of sleep is avoided and looked down upon by so many. So much to the point that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared sleep loss an epidemic across industrialized nations including the US, the UK, Japan and South Korea. 

In fact, two thirds of all adults throughout developed nations fail to get 8 hours of sleep per night.  And there’s been a lot of controversy around optimal time spent sleeping. Some researchers and scientists would say 4-5 hours is required a night while others would say 7-8 hours a night is required (this includes WHO and the National Sleep Foundation). On average, as human beings we spend one third of our lives sleeping. But rather than speculate on length of sleep, we’re here to speculate on the many reasons why sleep is so important for how we operate when we are awake and how to share 12 tips for a healthy sleep.

Why Sleep Matters

Numerous functions of the brain are restored by and depend upon sleep. For one, it is a memory aid for before learning and it helps to prep your brain for making new memories as well as for after learning to cement those memories, hit the “Save” button and to prevent forgetting. Lack of sleep can be deadly, either over time or immediately. To put that into context, every hour someone dies from a fatigue related driving error because lack of sleep reduces concentration. It is also linked to numerous neurological and psychiatric conditions like Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, stroke and chronic pain. It also impacts every physiological system in the body, contributing to countless disorders and diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, infertility, weight gain, obesity and immune deficiency. 

12 Tips for Healthy Sleep

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Sleeping late on weekends won’t necessarily make up for lack of sleeping during the week, and will just make it harder to wake up come Monday morning. We set alarms for waking, so why don’t we set an alarm for when it’s time to go to bed? This is the most important sleep tip of the bunch. 
  2. Exercise is fantastic, but be mindful of what time you exercise. An intense workout two to three hours before bed might make it difficult for your body to come down from its heightened “stressed” state, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Exercise earlier in the day, and consider yoga, stretching, meditation or breathing exercises before bed to help calm you down and bring your body into a state of relaxation to help make it easier to fall asleep. 
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, sodas, certain types of teas and even chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine. Did you know it could take nearly 8 hours for the effects of your afternoon pick me up coffee to wear off, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep? Nicotine is also a stimulant, so smokers often only sleep very lightly and wake early due to nicotine withdrawal.
  4. Avoid alcohol before bed. Having a nightcap like wine or any other alcoholic beverage might feel like it’s helping you to relax after a long day, but alcohol robs you of your REM sleep, keeping you in light stages of sleep & not allowing your brain and body to recover. 
  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. Instead, try a light snack. Large meals can cause indigestion and may interfere with sleep. Consuming too many liquids could cause you to wake in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
  6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. This might not be possible if you are prescribed heart, blood pressure or asthma medications, as well as some OTC cough, cold and allergy medicines. If you feel like your prescribed medication is interfering with your sleep or causing insomnia, speak with your healthcare provider. 
  7. Naps are beneficial to help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Try not to take them after 3 pm. 
  8. Relax before bed. Don’t over-schedule your day leaving you with no time to unwind before sleeping. Establish a nighttime ritual, like reading a book (a print book, not on a device), listening to music or sleep meditation.
  9. Take a hot bath if you have a hard time sleeping. The sudden drop in body temperature your body experiences after a hot bath may help you to feel sleepy because it mimics the drop in body temperature that occurs during NREM, the second phase of sleep. 
  10. Environment matters. A dark, cool, gadget-free bedroom is ideal for a good nights rest. Remove anything that might distract you from sleeping like noises, bright lights (phone, TV, digital clocks), an uncomfortable bed, or hot temperatures. Sometimes your pillows and mattress could be contributing to your poor sleep but it could also be artificial lights like your bedside lamp that is delaying the release of melatonin, making it less likely that you will be able to fall asleep at a reasonable time. Blue LED lights like your computer, phone or tablet just inches away from our faces for hours every day, and often when we climb into bed, communicate to our eyeballs that it’s “daytime” resulting in twice the harmful impact on nighttime melatonin suppression and in turn, negatively impacts ability to fall asleep. LED blue lights also impact quality and quantity of sleep by reducing amount of REM sleep and in turn can you leave you feeling less rested and sleepier throughout the day. But it doesn’t stop there, exposure to blue LED lights before bed also result in what is coined a ‘digital hangover’, where melatonin release time can be delayed several days after device use. 
  11. Try to get outside into the daylight at least 30 minutes a day. Wake with the sun or use bright lights in the AM. It’s recommended by sleep experts to get sun exposure in the morning, and turn down the lights before bedtime. 
  12. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lie in bed awake. If you’re awake in bed for more than 20 minutes or you’re starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and so some relaxing activities until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep can make falling asleep harder. 

If you’re interested in learning about why we sleep and the importance of sleep more in depth in an incredibly interesting way, check out The New York Times Bestseller ‘Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams’ written by Matthew Walker, PhD. He writes about how we as humans are socially, organizationally, economically, physically, behaviorally, nutritionally, linguistically, cognitively and emotionally dependent upon sleep. 

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