Let's Talk About Sleep, Baby

Anyone else feel like they could use better sleep?

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According to the CDC and the National Sleep Foundation, more than 33% of Americans do not get enough sleep. That is absurd. AND, when it comes to our priorities, the pressure to always perform and handle “all the things” leads many of us to move sleep lower and lower on the priority list.

Let’s do a quick show of hands…how many of you feel like you get enough sleep? Do you feel like you have taken steps to establish a good and NON-NEGOTIABLE sleep routine? How many of you feel energized and productive every morning? Do you feel rested? How do you know?

Now take a look around you. See, not a lot of people raising their hands, huh? (I know, I am soooo funny). So what is getting in the way of getting good sleep?

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Technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is amazing. AND, it is addictive and pulls on the drive to be connected to the point it makes us sacrifice our health and wellness. Blue light is detrimental to our overall health and messes with our body’s natural circadian rhythm, which in turn, messes with sleep, making it more difficult for your body to follow natural cycles and follow necessary active and rest phases throughout the day.

Bedroom No Longer Sacred Space.

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Bedrooms have become a stop gap room where too many things happen. We eat, watch TV, lounge, talk on the phone, have (secret) dance parties…and so much more. The brain requires clear and simple directive, so the more “roles” we assign to the bedroom, the harder it is for the brain to know what to “do” when in the bedroom.

No Consistency or Routine.

We go to sleep at random times. We don’t get up at the same time every day. We throw off our sleep and wake debt all of the time by not giving our brain a schedule and structure to follow. It’s like raising little kids…they need structure and consistency. Well, so does our brain. There are too many systems to manage that need you to be mindful of your schedule and the impact not having one has on your body’s overall function.

Light.

This is not just the light coming off of our phones. Alarm clocks, plug ins, TVs, street lights, hallways…light seeps in from all over and disrupts production and release of melatonin - the hormone in your body that plays a direct role on sleep.

Now, to be clear, there are definitely other factors to consider. I just picked some of the top things that research shows we have power and control to address in our lives. Because, if we don’t, we are increasing the risk for much more than cardiac issues and car crashes. The risk for dementia, mental illness, endocrine imbalances, poor digestive health and weight gain, and so much more is at stake.

Plus, we are all WAY nicer people when we’re rested. And, isn’t that enough?

Okay, so now you are asking, what can I do to improve my sleep hygiene?

  1. Put your fucking phone down! If you take nothing else from this, hear me, loud and clear. BLUE LIGHT F*CKS YOU UP! Stop looking at your phone in the bedroom. Don’t believe me? Read this article from Psychology Today.

  2. No computer or TV screens at least 30 minutes before bed. The ideal is closer to 60-90 minutes AND, we have to start somewhere. This also has to do with blue light emission as well as the stimulation of our brain.

  3. Create a bedtime routine. I know it sounds cheesy, but our brain thrives with consistency and routine. It looks to signal systems in our body based on external cues. So, if every night I wash my face, lay out my clothes, turn on a diffuser, brush my teeth, etc, my brain will build up a response pattern to this and slowly begin to equate these actions with “Oh, it’s time for sleep.”

  4. Wake up at a consistent time. It is less important to go to bed at the same time every night as it is to wake up at the same time. Why? Because from the moment we wake, our body starts to accrue what is called, “Sleep Debt”, meaning the debt you repay when you go to sleep. It’s like you get a certain amount of “awake currency” to spend and then you have to recharge and get more while you sleep and repay your “awake currency” loan to the sleep master. Weird analogy? I know but it works for me. Read WAY more about this idea here.

  5. Limit light emitted in your room. This includes covering up lights from alarm clocks, plugs, etc AND shutting out light from outside your room (street lights, the moon - yes really, etc). More info on how to do this using link below.

  6. Track your sleep. Get to know how long it takes you to fall asleep, when you drift into different stages of the sleep cycle. Identify when your body is best suited for “wake”. I like to use an app called “Sleep Cycle” for this (more info through the link below).

  7. ONLY use the bed for sleep and sex. Again, our brain hunts for patterns. We need to signal to the brain that the bed is not the place for eating, fighting, or studying. The more correlations the brain finds with the bed & activity, the more it sits, confused, & wondering what cascade to “turn on”.

    The other thing my therapist taught me is that I need to get out of bed if I am spending too much time there laying down without falling asleep. If my anxiety is high or I am feeling more awake than I thought, I need to get out of bed. She and I decided that after 20 minutes, if I am not asleep, I will get out of bed and move to another location. This is following the same principle as whether or not I eat in bed. If my brain associates the bed with worry and anxiety, my anxiety will naturally show up louder when I am in bed because my brain has signaled, “this is the place for worry”. So commit to it and say it with me, “The bed is ONLY for sleep & sex”.

Looking for more tools to support you in your quest for better sleep? Check out the list of Products & Apps below I compiled that help me set myself up for the best sleep I can.

This is not easy. AND, it takes time. Do not be discouraged if you dont commit to all of it right away AND, understand that just because you dont look at your phone one night that you will have the best sleep. Like anything worthwhile, we need to build habits and consistency is key.

Still feeling stuck after genuinely committing to making these changes and putting in the effort? Maybe it’s a good time to check in with a medical provider and see if something else might need to be addressed.