Struggling with the time change yesterday? I certainly am! No matter how much I I love the extra sunshine time in the evenings and the fact that it's a symbol that spring is truly here, I will never get rid of the sense of dread whenever I see it on the calendar.
With sleep being such an important building block for our overall wellness and an often overlooked crucial piece of the healing puzzle, I wanted to share some of my top tips for getting your sleep back on track.
Given the stress and habit changes foisted on us by the pandemic, this is the perfect time to step back and assess your sleep hygiene AND give your body some extra love that it probably is dying to receive.
Before we dive into HOW to improve your sleep, let's quickly talk about WHY it's so important- beyond the obvious fact that we all generally feel and function better when we're well-rested.
1. If you're not getting enough QUALITY sleep, you straight up have less energy. That's a bit of a no brainer, right? And for those of you who swear that increased sleep increases your sleepiness throughout the day- that's a sign that your body is out of balance and needs a little extra love. Remember, your body sends you all sorts of messages about what's going on inside by how you react to different things, sleep included.
2. Reduced sleep affects cortisol production which then increases inflammation and impacts the HPA hormonal axis, which can then influence energy levels, sleep quality, water retention, weight gain/loss, pain levels, cognition, moods, anxiety levels, and even gut function.
3. Our bodies are designed to do so much resetting while we sleep. Emotions and experiences are processed. We do a lot of digestion while asleep. Cells are regenerated and cellular waste is dealt with. "Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake." <- straight up quote from the National Institute on Health.
Seriously, every cell in the body is affected by sleep, so if we don't give ourselves enough, we are literally not giving our bodies the time needed to be healthy- no matter how much healthy things we do while awake.
So, HOW can you improve your sleep?
Clean up the basics
These action steps alone can usually fix the majority of sleep issues:
Resist the desire to sleep in! Sticking with a consistent schedule of bedtime and awakening supports better sleep.
Don't consume caffeine or B-vitamins after 2pm. For those a little more sensitive, you may have to back that up to noon.
Be mindful of blue light by ditching your phone and turning off your TV at least 1 hr before bed. Use blue light blocking glasses as much as you can in the evenings.
Avoid energizing workouts 3-4 hours before bedtime. If that's your go-to workout time, choose gentle, calming options like yin or restorative yoga, a restful walk outside, or something else that leaves you feeling nourished and calm. Doing this for a week may end up boosting your energy levels allowing you to puzzle in a more intense workout earlier in the day.
Avoid consuming fatty, rich, high processed carbs 2-3 hours before bedtime.
A warm core body temperature can help the body reach a deep sleep state, but generally folks do better in a cool room. Mixed messages much? The easy answer is wear socks or enjoy some warm herbal tea, have breathable linens and pj's, but keep the room temp 68-70 degrees F.
And I'll say it- ditch the evening cocktail, wine, or beer. Alcohol is known to be highly disruptive to good quality sleep, even if it makes it easier to fall asleep.
Instead, try establishing a calming bedtime routine. Think about how you might put a toddler to sleep... a warm lavender bath, a gentle lotion massage, a warm drink, soft lighting, no loud noises, are all ideas to set the tone so your body knows it's time for sleep.
Next level options
These are ideas to help those who've completed the above steps, but need more ideas, deeper help, OR those who can't/are unwilling to do all of the above:
If you're struggling to fall asleep, especially when it feels too early with the time change, consider a small dose of melatonin to help fall asleep. Small doses aren't as risky in terms of downregulating your own melatonin production, and can help shift your circadian rhythms during this time.
Valerian root, often found in sleep supportive teas, can be helpful if you struggle with either falling asleep or staying asleep.
Assess your stress levels and make changes as you can as our stress hormone cortisol is a main player when it comes to sleep. I get that most of us cannot control so many of the stressors being thrown at us right now. However, consider added responsibilities you can say no to, and consider what you can say yes to that would lighten your load. Allowing others to help us is so hard for many of us women, yet we are often surrounded by others who want to help us (maybe even are offended we're not letting them help). Give yourself permission to receive help.
Meditations- download an app like Insight Timer or Calm on your phone, and try one out. Meditation has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest part of our body) which then reduces cortisol levels. These apps are loaded with options to help you incorporate meditation into your day to deal with stress or at night to help with falling asleep.
Deep breathing exercises- for some folks, "meditation" is a loaded term, and they're not here for it. I'll leave that for another day, but if you are one of those folks- no worries! You can still get the same effects of meditation by slowing down your breathing and focusing on expanding your rib cage. Imagine your rib cage opening like an umbrella as you inhales deeply through your nose, exhaling slowly through your lips as if you were blowing out a candle. Try a few breaths while you're waiting for a Zoom meeting to start, dinner to heat up, or while you're using the restroom.
When those things aren't working...
Get checked out by your doc. Low iron levels, a dysfunctional thyroid, stealth infections, hormone imbalances, and mold toxicity are all examples of things that can physiologically go wrong that impacts your ability to get a good night's sleep. If your primary care doctor clears you, but you're still suspicious, consider working with a naturopath, functional medicine specialist or women's health coach who specializes in sleep.
Get checked out by your dentist and/or ENT- especially if you're a mouth breather. I have an amazing dentist who has educated me so much about the role of airway clearance on sleep and our overall health, and he refers out frequently to ENTs that he works with for a team approach. Seek out a dentist who frequently works with sleep apnea if your dentist can't help.
Consider acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, reiki or other forms of alternative medicine. You may be experiencing multiple issues, besides poor sleep, all stemming from an ambiguous root cause that traditional doctors aren't able to define. Because these forms of healing work differently, knowing exactly what that root cause isn't necessary to find success.
So many options are out there to help you wake up feeling ready to take on your day, so there's no need to accept that this is it for you. Choose 1-2 ideas that resonate, and try them out as a way to show yourself a little extra TLC.
Keep in mind, this list is extensive and only meant to give people in any phase of their sleep struggle journey options. By no means should you take on this entire list!
Let me know what works for you!