Sleep, that sweet, sweet time of rest and rejuvenation! Except when it’s not! Which for literally almost everyone I know right now, it’s not. Between the ongoing struggles with COVID 19, the uncertainty of how we go forward, the social and political unrest in our country and whatever personal issues we are facing, sleep seems illusive for most of us. While it feels good to know that we are not alone, we do need to prioritize a good night’s sleep and take some steps to make that happen. Here are the best practices that I know of, to help get your zzz’s.
Substances - Seems obvious but we have to be careful of “substances” that can disturb sleep. Caffeine is a big offender. It takes about 24 hours to metabolize caffeine, so sometimes even our morning Joe can keep us awake at night. If you are really struggling with sleep, consider reducing or eliminating caffeine, even temporarily, just to see if it’s affecting you. Alcohol too late at night can also cause you to wake up later in the night and not be able to get back go sleep. Sugar can do the same thing. If you are going to drink or eat dessert, do it earlier in the evening and keep it in moderation. If you are really struggling to sleep, consider not drinking or eating sugar at all at night.
Sleep Hygiene – We need a strong bedtime routine to signal our bodies to prepare for sleep. An important part of sleep hygiene is to turn off the “screens” well before you lay your head, or at least use blue light filtering glasses. I STRONGLY encourage everyone to put away their phones, iPads and computers an hour or more before bedtime. Besides the blue light from these screens, the stimulation of social media, work emails etc can DEFINITELY keep us up at night. I know this is a hard habit to break but if you are prioritizing sleep (which you must) it’s worth doing. Regarding using the bathroom at night, a good protocol is to stop drinking liquids after about 8:00 at night (after making sure you drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water during the day). Our bladders should be able to hold enough liquid to give us the 7-8 hours of sleep we need.
Environment – The habitat of the room we sleep in matters a lot. Make sure there are no light sources that could wake you up (computers, night lights, etc.). Even moon light or early morning light through the window can be disruptive, so use room darkening shades. Or wear a sleep mask. Make sure the room is cool…the ideal temp for sleep is actually 60-67 degrees. Any warmer and our bodies have trouble falling asleep (or back to sleep if we’ve woken up). Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable (not too hard or soft). If they are not, prioritize purchasing ones that work better for you!! A little essential oil like lavender, in a diffuser or just a few drops on your sheets, can really help too. If you have a sleeping partner, take a good look at whether any of their actions (snoring, flopping around, getting up a lot) are bothering you. Sometimes, sleeping in a separate bed should be considered.
Physical/medical conditions – If you are waking up a lot or don’t feel rested in the morning, consider a sleep study to see if you have Sleep Apnea. If allergies/stuffy nose/your own snoring is waking you up, prioritize working on this issue. If you have joint pain, back pain or other painful conditions, it can be really challenging to find a comfy position. Don’t hesitate to experiment with using pillows, bolsters or other aids to get comfortable. Balms, salves and creams with CBD or menthol (such as Icy Hot or Tiger Balm) can be good, temporary aids to relieve pain and allow you to fall asleep.
Anxiety – Many of us are really struggling with anxious thoughts at night. Or sometimes, we wake up and just can’t get back to sleep for no apparent reason. This is a good time to use a meditation practice, like progressive relaxation, to gently go back to sleep. It’s also a good time to use Mindfulness to be aware of any thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that might be going on, with compassion, curiosity and no judgement for whatever is going on. If you are awake at 3 am trying to solve work problems, tell yourself that “it’s normal to want to do that but sleep is a priority so now is not the time to be working”. If you are awake worrying about getting COVID or some other issue, have compassion for yourself and tell yourself you will examine your worries in the morning. It can be helpful to write down your worries so you can remember them in the morning. The next day, make sure you use your Mindfulness to be aware of what’s worrying you, with no judgement, and be curious about how you could reduce your worries. Journal about them, talk with a friend or get professional help to work through things that are making you anxious.
Supplements – There are many medications and supplements that can be used to help with sleep. I believe these should be secondary to all of the things mentioned above but sometimes, you just need a little extra help with sleep. This is a good article from one of my favorite websites called Healthline, on natural sleep aids.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep!!