Updated: Nov 18, 2021
We all know getting a good nights sleep is important to overall health and longevity. In reality however, getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep on a consistent basis may be another story. Whether its periods of high stress, changing time zones, family or work commitments interfering with our sleep, we need scientifically backed strategies to help get us back on track.
Try using the following 10 questions as a daily checklist to help set yourself up for the best sleep possible. Take note that some of these strategies start first thing in the morning and continue throughout the day. This perhaps suggests the need to adjust our mindset from sleep as a nightly event that happens on its own, to a pro-active daily practice that puts us more in control of the sleep and recovery we need.
How dark is your bedroom? It is important to that your bedroom is as dark as possible. Circadian rhythms or our 24 hour sleep/wake cycle is influenced by sunlight, which controls how awake we feel. Eliminating even small sources of light pollution when its time to sleep is critical to helping you fall and stay asleep and wake feeling rested. Even light from electronic devices can interfere with our bodies melatonin production (a hormone that helps regulates our sleep). Try following these steps to help you eliminate any sources of light while you sleep.
How much sunlight do you typically get each day? Try to get outside for at-least 30-45 minutes of sunlight in each day , ideally first thing in morning if possible. Sun exposure first thing in the morning will not only help wake you up (by reinforcing your natural circadian rhythms) it will also contribute to improved mental health. Even a few minutes of sunlight increase vitamin D and serotonin levels that intern help boost your mood.
How much screen time do you get a day? I realize that in todays modern society screen time may be inevitable. However try to reduce screen time and blue light a couple hours before bed bedtime. Blue light disrupts our sleep/ wake cycle and inhibits melatonin production. I'm also aware that this may not always be doable if you have a relentless boss breathing down your neck 24/7. So next time you need to work later in the evening, try using these glasses to help filter out blue light.
Do you have a consistent bed and wake time? For most of us, this probably relates more to our weekend schedules when we are more likely to stay up later and/or sleep in longer. That being said, yes of course life has social events and situations that warrant staying up later. However its something worth paying attention too if you want to avoid staring at the walls on Sunday night. The idea is not to deviate too much off your regular routine if it can be helped. And avoid staying up to binge watch Netflix just "because", or sleeping in longer than needed. Typically we need to be awake for 16 hours before our bodies need sleep again, so if you slept in until 11am, ...well you can do the math on why you aren't ready for bed at 10pm. If you need help resetting your sleep schedule try this 14 day plan.
Do you have excessive muscle tension from physical or mental stress? Can you recall how relaxed you typically feel after a massage? While it may not quite be the same level of relaxation, try adding 10 minutes of mobility or soft tissue practice at the end of each day to help you wind down. Not only will it calm and prepare your nervous system for better sleep, it will help restore joint function and drastically reduce muscle aches and pains.
Do you stop eating 3-4 hours before bed time? Eating too close to bed time can disrupt our bodies natural sleep/wake cycle by having to prioritize digestion over recovery and cellular repair. This also impedes the release of melatonin and growth hormone. Try moving your dinner to an earlier time, or give intermittent fasting a try to help synch up your circadian rhythms for better sleep.
Have you experienced the calming effect of a weighted HUSH blanket yet?
One of my recent discoveries, and now favourite sleeping aids, is my Hush blanket. The weighted blanket feels like a big hug when you snuggle into bed. According to Hush "Weighted Blankets were created to help patients suffering from sleep anxiety, ADHD, OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Stress, Insomnia, and just traditional issues with falling asleep. The secret is DTPS, or Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation, which helps people fall into a deeper sleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up incredibly refreshed." I agree 100%, and can't imagine sleeping without my Hush Blanket. I tend to sleep hot, so the Iced 2.0 blanket helps keep me cooler and stops me from waking up from being too hot. If you want try a HUSH blanket risk free, use this link with code JOEYS for a discount.
8. How much physical activity is included during a typical day? Perhaps the reason you can't fall asleep at night is your body has not moved enough to be physically tired. Aim for 10 000 daily steps and/or a 30-60 minute workout each day. I personally notice a high corollate between the days I have a vigorous workout and the nights I'm not able to stay awake past 9pm.
9. Do you have an end of day routine to help you transition into sleep? Going from redline to rest abruptly and expecting to fall asleep right away is unrealistic. Try a more gradual approach by including meditation or gratitude practice to an end of day wind down routine. Studies link gratitude practice to happiness and better sleep. Simply put, thoughts become emotions. Rather then replaying our daily stresses when our head hits the pillow, try listing 5-10 things you are grateful for each day. I suggest listening to motivational speaker Nick Santonastasso if you need help in this department.
10. How much coffee or alcohol do you typically consume? Not to keep beating a dead horse here, but both of these drugs effect the nervous system and mess up circadian rhythms. Unless you are a fast metabolizer, its probably best to stop coffee by 1pm. If you're used to having coffee in the afternoon to help get through the day, try Green tea or herbal tea instead. They can still provide a sense of alertness, with much less or no caffeine. As for alcohol, even though it may help you fall asleep, it actually has no benefits for quality restful sleep. It actually interferes with REM, an important mentally restorative stage of sleep in which dreaming occurs. Sorry, but the only advice I can give is to reduce or eliminate alcohol at least 4 hours before bedtime ;(
Thanks for reading, I hope these questions help bring some awareness to the daily habits that can influence our sleep. Please reach out with any questions or comments and let me know how your training and nutrition is going! You can also book in for a free consultation and assessment to set up a personalized plan that works for you! I specialize in helping busy professionals in the st. Lawrence Market, Distillery district, and Corktown neighbourhoods of Toronto. I also offer online coaching and virtual sessions for those outside the downtown Toronto area.