Sleep is like million dollar medicine for your body. Second, only to fix digestion, I consider this one of the biggest priorities to resolve in order to have better health and gain more energy. Fixing this one thing will impact almost every area of your life, making you more productive, generally happier, and more joyful to be around. For optimal health.
I consider quality sleep to be:
- Asleep from at least 11 pm to 4 am
- You can wake once to use the toilet
- No tossing and turning
- Not being disturbed by slight sounds around you
If your sleep quality is lacking, here are a few habits that could improve your rest each night.
- Don’t eat three hours before bed
There is no mechanism in our body for our stomach to store food. If you eat before bed, your stomach MUST process this food. This means that you will toss and turn or lay awake until your stomach has turned the food into a slushy mix and then send it into the rest of your digestive system.
The regulation of food intake isn’t always possible. Sometimes you work late or you’re invited to an event where the meal is served at an odd time. Remember, this is a habit to build into your daily routine, so you don’t need to think about extreme events. Take time to consider your regular food intake behaviors and how you feel when you eat certain foods and focus on food intake regulation as a goal with the benefit of overall wellness as your outcome.
- Create sunset in your home
Our body starts preparing for sleep two to three hours before bed by detecting a change in the light. As the sun starts to set, there are rods in the back of our eyes that detect this change in light. They respond by releasing melatonin in the brain. When this melatonin floods the brain, it communicates with the bones to release bone marrow cells which fill our bodies with blood. It is this blood that we need to allow us to fall asleep. To recreate this process in your modern home, which is filled with light at night, dim all your lights and have as few on as possible. Stop looking at devices that are backlit. Our brain thinks these backlit devices, like cellphones and computers, are little suns. Looking directly at them before bed, makes the brain think that you are staring at the midday sun. When you put your device on sleep mode, it will take two to three hours before you will fall into a deep sleep. Fortunately, you can get away with watching TV if it is at a distance from you and all the other lights are dim.
- Get out in the sun in the MORNING
One of the things that sets our natural circadian rhythm is to get out in the daylight first thing in the morning. When our skin and eyes sense light, they trigger a cascade of physiological responses that tell our bodies that we are awake and need to do all our daytime functions. This then sets the tone for when your body will start unwinding in the evening. If you live in a place that does not have enough light in the morning, consider getting a light simulating device.
While you’re out in the sun, take a walk, ride your bike, or go for a swim to add a little physical activity to your routine.
In experiments done by Robert Thayer, Ph.D., at California State University, aerobic exercise such as a brisk 10-minute walk not only increased energy, but the effects lasted up to 2 hours. And when the daily 10-minute walks continued for 3 weeks, overall energy levels and mood were lifted.
- Cool your brain
Science shows that we sleep deeper with increased recovery at a cooler body temperature. Our brains need to be cool enough in order to fall asleep. Consider getting a cooling mat to sleep on if you can’t get your room cool enough. My favorite and the one I use is Ooler Sleep system by Chilisleep. People who run hot, menopausal women and athletes particularly appreciate the effect of being cooler at night.
- Adopt a good sleep posture
I see that a lot of my patients are getting poor sleep due to pain or discomfort at nighttime. They are tossing and turning because an ache or numbness and tingling wakes them. You can correct this by adopting a better sleep posture. The ideal posture is to lay on your back. I recommend two strategies. One is to get this pillow. It perfectly cradles your neck so that you won’t get woken by neck discomfort. When you start with it, just use it for a few hrs at a time. Gradually increase until you can sleep on it the entire night. My other “trick” to get you to sleep on your back is to have you place a firm pillow under your knees and under your feet so that your legs are elevated. It is hard for you to roll onto your side or stomach in this position. Over time you will be able to remove these pillows once you have retrained your brain to sleep on your back. If you insist on sleeping on your side, use the same pillow I recommend above and place a firm pillow between your legs. You may even want to place a pillow in front of your chest to stop you from rolling onto your stomach. Yes, you will have a wall of pillows but your sleep will be better. A more rested you is a better version of you.
- Don’t drink fluids after 6 pm
If you wake to pee more than once a night then this tip is for you. If you wake up more than once, you will not be getting enough deep quality sleep. Simply stop drinking fluids after 6 pm. You need to do all your fluid drinking before 6 pm. If you are desperately thirsty, you can “trick” your brain by taking small sips to wet your mouth. You can drink a small amount to take your herbs. Your stomach can’t store the water so it has to wake you up to pee. According to Chinese Medicine, the thirst that you have at night is not real thirst. What your body needs is more blood. Getting a better night’s sleep is what will eventually stop this evening thirst.
- Take a deep breath in bed
If you have had an intense day, your nervous system will still be wound up before you go to bed. This will lead to tossing and turning as your nervous system still tries to defend you from your day. You will also most likely clench your jaw all night and wake with TMJ or neck pain, or even a headache. Either try prayer or meditation or simply do ten minutes of deep breathing once you get into bed. Place your hands on your belly button. Take a deep breath in and feel your hands on your belly raise up. Take a deep breath out and feel your hands lower. If your shoulders are moving, then you are not breathing deeply enough. Your belly should be moving, not your shoulders. As you are doing this, repeat the words, “I am relaxed and”, “my whole body is relaxed.” Scan your body to see if you are feeling tension anywhere. If you need to, you can touch that area while breathing and relaxing. Probably the two top areas to bring awareness to are your shoulders and jaw. Lightly touch them and say, “I am completely relaxed.”
- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark
Your brain’s sleep physiology only turns on in response to a dark room. Get your room as dark as possible. Cover or turn the alarm clock away from you if its face is illuminated. Cover your windows with black out blinds or shades. Consider getting night lights for your bathroom so that you don’t have to turn the bright lights on in the middle of the night if you go to the toilet. Make sure that your bedside lights are as weak and dim as possible. Remember that if they are bright, it is going to delay your deep sleep by two to three hours.
- Turn off the electronics
Try and get all electronics out of your bedroom. Your brain is influenced by frequencies. Your devices emit electronic, magnetic frequencies or EMFs. Having your phone next to your brain all night keeps it engaged. If you do keep it next to your head, at least turn it onto airplane mode. If you happen to have the wifi router in your bedroom, please consider turning it off or unplugging it at night.
- Turn your brain off
This is a hard one. Your evening mental activities need to be slowed down. If your brain is amped up on adrenalin, it will be difficult to enter deep sleep for a few hours when you finally decide to call it a night. If you watch TV, favor more mindless or relaxing topics. Save Game of Thrones for daytime or weekend viewing. Try not to have heated or difficult telephone or in-person conversations with people just before bed. Your nervous system will stay amped up, making it hard to fall asleep or fall into a deep sleep.
If you are lacking quality sleep, consider seeing one of our practitioners at Healing Elephant Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic for an appointment to immediately fix your sleep. Fixing this one thing will significantly add years to your life.