Sleep is simply one of those facts of life that seems to come natural to most of us. We sleep every night (or day if you work 3rd shift), take naps but yet we are still told to improve our sleep. Although sleep seems like a simple concept (and it is, but there’s more than meets the eye), there are a few habits you can break or develop to help you sleep better. Once you nail the act of sleeping, you may notice other parts of your health improve such as losing weight, hunger issues and energy levels.
Before you decide to skip forward to see what we need to do to improve our slumber, let’s look at a couple of negative effects of slumber-deprivation. Like I said before, as your sleep quality improves, your overall health will improve as well. One of your body’s major reactions to sleep-deprivation is raised cortisol levels. We don’t need to know a ton about cortisol, but for our purposes we do need to understand that too much cortisol in the system for a long period of time can lead to:
Yes, missing out on sleep can make you gain weight. It can also be a HUGE deterrent to your fat loss and overall health goals. Understanding this simple concept can be the difference in losing 5lbs or 50lbs…it’s THAT important!
Now that I have your attention, let’s look at a couple of simple things we can do to improve our sleep, lower our cortisol and be on our way to health greatness. There will be concepts that we will go over which you should implement right away. We will also include a few habits that you are doing that should be altered immediately. These are in no particular order:
1) POWER DOWN YOUR DEVICES TO POWER UP YOUR SLEEP!
Many (if not most) of us enjoy watching TV in bed when we are ready to fall asleep. If you’re not watching TV, you’re Facebook stalking on your phone or Face Timing on your IPad. Whatever your bedtime device of choice is, turn it off an hour before you go to bed. Artificial light kills your body’s natural production of Melatonin, the hormone that puts you to sleep and keeps you asleep. Although you may “need” to watch TV to fall asleep, this is a habit that is putting your sleep quality in a steady decline. Turn your devices off an hour before bed for a week and see what happens.
2) SLEEP IN THE DARK…BUT NOT TOO DARK!
To go along with our previous habit, it is important to sleep in the dark. But I don’t mean pitch black, I-can’t-see-10-feet-in-front-of-me dark. Your body has this thing called its Circadian Rhythm which tells you to go to sleep and wake up when the Earth is asleep or awake. When we block out all natural light, our body has no idea when it is time to get moving. Keep your blinds open and let the moonlight in to keep your body NSync with its’ world.
3) SLEEP 7 TO 9 HOURS!
Notice I didn’t say “sleep 8 hours”. There seems to be a high and low end of diminishing returns with hours of sleep. Any less than 7 hours (on a regular basis) and bad things happen. Any more than 9 hours (when you’re older than 25) and different bad things happen. On average, the sun is down for 8 hours. Our Circadian Rhythm, keeping in sync with its world, then wants us to sleep for about 8 hours. Simple!
4) NO WORK IN BED!
Your bed should only be used for 2 things. One of them is sleep…you can guess on the other one. It is a sacred place, so keep work out of it! Your body creates feedback loops. When it links your bed to doing work then your body will not shut down when it’s time.
5) SHUT OFF YOUR ALARM CLOCK WHEN YOU CAN!
Some of us don’t have the luxury of being able to wake up naturally (even the Earth wants to sleep part 4:00AM). For the rest of us who can, do your heart a favor and don’t use your alarm. Your alarm is like a swift punch in the face in the morning for your heart. If you can’t go without the alarm, set your ringtone to chimes (or something similar), something much less alarming.
Keep this list in your bedroom and read it every night (an hour before bedtime of course). The list will be a reminder to start building these habits for better sleep. Keep in mind, habits take time to form, so don’t bail on them when things aren’t going right. Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied!