How to sleep better

This post is part 1 in a 4 part series about bringing healthy living back to basics by focusing on sleeping, eating, moving and relaxing well.

I’m starting with sleep because, I know from experience, if I’m not well rested, it can be really hard to make smart choices when it comes to the other three areas noted above.

So without any unnecessary prelude, lets jump right into it. Here are my top tips on how to achieve better sleep on a nightly basis.

Reduce caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that naturally helps wake up the mind and body. Which is great first thing in the morning. The caveat is that it stays in our system for many hours, and for patients who are having difficulty sleeping, it’s one of the first things I ask about.

Drinking too much caffeine throughout the day can lead to a vicious cycle of sleeping poorly and then feeling the need to consume more caffeine just to function, and so on and so forth.

Ideally, you want to aim to restrict your caffeine intake to no later than 12 noon. This includes the obvious coffee and tea beverages but also energy drinks, caffeinated pop or soda and even some foods like chocolate if you really want to get down to it.

If you really just like the taste of coffee, try switching that afternoon drink to a decaf. And if noon seems like an unattainable goal for your current lifestyle, try pushing back your “latest caffeine fix” by just one hour at a time to help your body adjust.

Minimize screen time before bed

We are all guilty of at some point watching Netflix until we fall asleep on the couch, then have to peel ourselves away to our beds (and hopefully brush our teeth on the way there).

Screens are not conducive to good sleep for a couple of reasons. First we often just stay up later if we’re mindlessly scrolling social media or have to watch just one more episode on TV.

More importantly though, the blue light emitted by our phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs actually simulates daylight and totally confuses our brains. In our caveman days, when it got dark out, our brains made the sleep hormone melatonin, which signaled our bodies to feel tired and thus, go to sleep. When we’re on our screens into the wee hours, we lose that built-in mechanism.

Here are a few strategies to help you reduce the negative effects of screens on your sleep:

  • Get the TV out of the bedroom. Full stop.
  • Plug your phone in outside your bedroom, or at a minimum across the room, where it’s not within arms reach of your bed.
  • Set yourself a shut down time, say 9 pm (even earlier if you can manage it!), after which you don’t use any screens.
  • Get yourself some blue light blocking glasses. These are now widely available for relatively cheap on Amazon. If you’re bound by work constraints and absolutely must be on your laptop, for example, these nifty gadgets can minimize the blue light exposure. (I’m actually wearing mine right now!)

Choose a calming activity instead

Since you’re now shutting your screens down at a reasonable hour, you have time to do something relaxing to help your mind and body wind down before hitting the sheets.

This might involve having a hot shower or bath, doing some gentle stretching, reading a book or writing in a journal. Really anything that suits your fancy, as long as it’s screen-free and not overly stimulating.

Stick to consistent bed and wake times

The research is pretty clear on this. Those who go to bed around the same time every night, and get up around the same time every day, sleep better.

Now if you work shifts, I feel your pain. To say that residency was not nice to my sleep habits is an understatement! But if this IS something that’s within your control, making an effort to be consistent with timing can be super helpful.

Again it comes back to our brains. They like routine. And if you’re habitual in your timing your brain starts to know – this is when I’m supposed to go to sleep, and this is when I wake up. I even recommend setting a bedtime alarm on your phone as a reminder to finish up whatever you’re doing and get your bum to bed!

Unfortunately, this concept includes weekends. It may surprise you to learn that you can’t actually “catch up” on sleep.

Research confirms that depriving yourself of sleep during the week, only to sleep until noon on Saturday, is not equal to getting consistent sufficient sleep. Our reaction time and ability to focus suffers, which leads to overall poorer performance and productivity.

Don’t clock watch

Have you had those nights where you slowly watch the minutes and hours tick by, all the while calculating in your head how LITTLE sleep you’re going to get now it’s already 2 AM?

Your clock is not your friend in this scenario.

Even if you still use a traditional alarm clock, you don’t need that digital time stamp staring you in the face. Try turning it to face away from you, or better yet, cover up the display altogether so you don’t have an unnecessary light source in the room (hint – absolute darkness is also key to good quality sleep!)

Anyhow …

I feel like I could go on and on about this topic because sleep is just so so important, but for brevity’s sake, and because I need to go to bed, I’m going to end it here.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my 4 part series on bringing healthy living back to basics next week!

Until then …



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