Sleep: The Key to Better Health

emilygough Lifestyle, Nutrition

Sleep. We all need it, and often it’s the first thing to go when we become overwhelmed with other priorities that seem more pressing.

Getting enough sleep has been something I have struggled with for years. My type A personality crossed with the procrastinator in me translates into finding approximately 3,000 things that simply must be done right this minute before I can go to bed. That way, in my sleep-deprived brain, it’s actually saving me time and reducing my stress level because I won’t have to do those tasks in the morning. Right?!

Well….not exactly. Usually on those days I have stayed up late and gotten up early with little sleep in between, I’m not very productive the following day. Arianna Huffington writes in The Sleep Revolution that we are in a “sleep deprivation crisis” as a society, and that lack of sleep is negatively affecting all areas of our lives from our health, our relationships with others and our overall happiness.

From a holistic standpoint, sleep impacts the body in immeasurable ways. Digestion and bowel motility, weight gain, poor blood sugar balance, disrupted hormones, athletic performance, and a very long list of chronic health conditions including cancer. Dull skin and lifeless hair are additional side effects as well as aging more quickly, memory issues and decreased sex lives.

So, what do we need to do? There’s some conflicting research out there regarding how much sleep we need, but overall it points to somewhere around 7 – 9 hours being the ideal for most people. Personally, 8 hours seems to be my sweet spot on the days that I give myself the opportunity to sleep as long as I would like.

The first step is getting to bed at a reasonable hour, depending on what time you need to be up the following day. Getting a restful night of sleep may be a whole other issue, but we have to at least give our bodies the chance to sleep as much as possible. This might mean that some chores might not get done, some social engagements skipped or left early, turning off the TV earlier than usual, and mapping out your evening so that you allow yourself to go to bed at the time you have set for yourself.

Other than adjusting our mindset around getting to bed in enough time for a full night of sleep, we can also take steps to improve our sleep hygiene so that once we make it to bed, we will have a restful sleep. The body can respond well to developing rituals that let it know it’s time for bed. Good sleep habits take practice, and a little goes a long way. Here’s a list of tips that can improve sleep:
– Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Even the smallest amount of light, and notifications on our phones can affect our sleep
– Turn off electronics (ie. computer, TV, cell phone) at least one hour before bed to reduce blue light
– Do some light stretching and/or deep breathing. If you are into meditation, it can be helpful
– Lower how much caffeine you drink throughout the day, and try to limit it to as early in the day as possible
– A calming herbal tea like chamomile before bed, or take to bed with you!
– Try to eat dinner at least 2 hours before bed so that your meal can begin to digest before you go to sleep
– A little starch with dinner can help some people sleep. Try some sweet potatoes or squash
– If you read in bed before sleep, I recommend a good old fashioned book as opposed to an electronic version

I know that a good night of quality sleep will make me more more productive the following day, not to mention much happier, and that’s a win in my books!

The past few weeks have been more stressful than usual for me and I’ve definitely been skimping on sleep, so I’m going to be buckling down and getting back to better sleep habits using a lot of these recommendations and more. Follow along on social media this week to see what I’m doing to improve my sleep, and let me know what you do to get more quality sleep as well! And as always, feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Have a wonderful week!

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