Sleep: How to Maximize Your Zzz's

Sleep is the one of the most important components in developing and maintaining health and happiness. Sleep is just as essential as eating well, minimizing stress, and exercising. Poor sleep increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, low immunity, and underperformance in sports. Lack of sleep can also lead to irritability, errors in the workplace, car accidents, delayed healing time, and much more. Our bodies need sleep to recover from injuries, rebuild at the end of the day, and prepare for what's to come. Our bodies simply cannot function well on erratic or inadequate sleep. 

Most sources recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults, but this is not the case for the majority of people. Sleep often gets put to the back burner as we prioritize other things. Many people also have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It can be extra challenging when you are changing time zones, have small children, working overnight shifts, experiencing pain, or have tight schedules with late nights and early alarms.

How can we maximize our zzz’s? The MayoClinic, National Sleep Foundation, Sleep Better Council, and New York Times all have great recommendations regarding sleep. Here are some of the best tips:

  • Develop a sleep schedule – try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time everyday, even on the weekends.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine – try to do the same thing every night before going to bed to signal to your body it is time to sleep. This might include laying out clothes for the next day, brushing your teeth, gentle stretching or breathing, and reading a calming book.
  • Try to clear your mind of stress before bed – this is SO important! Journal about what is bothering you, write down a to do list for tomorrow, and do your best to let go of your racing mind. I have a very simple journal where I write a short phrase on various topics such as what I am thankful for, how I connected with others that day, an act of kindness, what is worrying me, and/or something I need to work on.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark – everyone prefers a slightly different temperature, but experts say somewhere between 60 to 67 degrees is ideal. Try not to use too may blankets or you may wake up hot, perhaps causing nightmares. Install darkening shades/curtains to help keep light out (especially important in the summer months). Make sure you do not have a bright lights shining in from street lamps, alarm clocks, or even the moon.
  • Use earplugs if you need to – these can be helpful if your bedroom is near a heavily trafficked road or train tracks or if your partner snores. I find I need them on nights when we get snowstorms because the snowplow always wakes me up. Try to get rid of ticking clocks if those bother you. Sometimes a fan can help if you benefit from white noise.
  • Avoid eating a heavy dinner – try to eat dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime. A light snack 30 minutes before bed is okay. When I was young, my pediatrician recommended eating a handful of nuts before bed if hunger crept in. Great advice for a non-sugary treat that could keep you awake. 
  • Keep electronics away from the bedroom – try not to watch TV or use your computer or phone for at least 60 minutes before bedtime. The bright light can keep up awake and alert. Also, turn your phone sound off so it does not wake you up!
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping only – do not use it as an office or to watch TV. Being in the bedroom should signal your body it is a place to sleep, not to do homework or watch your favorite show.
  • Make your bed a special place you look forward to going – buy new sheets, get a new bed and/or pillow if they are old, purchase new pajamas. I love having clean, soft sheets and pillowcases on the bed. 
  • Exercise early and spend time outside – exercising in the evening hours makes it harder to fall asleep, so morning exercise is better. Going outside also helps with your sleep cycle (bonus points if it is sunny) and will improve your mood making it easier to sleep. 

What are your tips for a good night sleep?

Our four-legged friends clearly have it figured out, but they are not sharing any secrets! :)