We all have times where we don’t get enough sleep: be it because we stay up late having fun, or working, or toss and turn throughout the night, or wake up way too early for what seems like no good reason. I’ve been guilty of staying up too late chatting with a friend, or watching a show, or just lazing about on the couch. Sometimes I just procrastinate crawling into bed.
But sleep is very important, particularly for maintaining a healthy body weight. How many times have you stayed up too late and found yourself in the kitchen pondering a snack. I know I’ve had plenty of nights where I’ve decided to reach for food instead of curling up in my flannel sheets and turning out the lights. Sleep is key for regulating your metabolism because lack of sleep throws insulin production and hunger hormones out of whack, leading you to choose junk food over healthy food. Be honest, how much of your late night eating is having an apple? It’s probably more like eating peanut butter from the jar or digging into a pint of ice cream, right? We rarely make good decisions when we’re tired.
And it’s not just how MUCH we sleep, but the quality of that sleep that’s important. I usually wake up before my alarm, but I’m AWAKE and ready to start the day instead of groggy and wanting to stay in bed, so I’m probably doing okay most of the time. But if all you want to do when your alarm goes off is hit snooze, you probably need to examine your sleep and see how you can get more.
Practicing good sleep hygiene (the best practices to help you achieve a good night’s sleep so you can be alert during the day) is really important. So how can you improve your sleep hygiene?
Napping for more than 30 minutes a day can make it hard to fall asleep at night, but a short nap can boost your mood, mental alertness and performance. I find I just can’t nap during the day. There’s something about the mood or energy of daytime that makes it very difficult for me to sleep when the sun is up, unless I’m truly exhausted or fighting illness. If I absolutely feel I cannot stay awake then I will nap, but most times I just push through my day.
Avoid Stimulants Close to Bedtime
This includes caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but often it will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night as your body metabolizes it. I’m not much of a drinker, and I don’t use nicotine at all, but I do love me some coffee and caffeinated beverages! I do make it a rule to not consume these after around 3 pm, because it does keep me awake. Some people, like The Hubs, are less affected by caffeine, but I prefer to avoid it in the afternoons.
Exercising, even just brisk walking a mere 10 minutes a day, can really improve sleep quality. Avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime, though, as this can wake up the body as opposed to relaxing it. I find on Wednesday nights when I do kettlebells with my girlfriends that I have trouble winding down for a bit afterwards.
Avoid Disruptive Foods
Heavy meals, greasy or acidic foods and carbonated drinks can perpetuate heartburn when sleeping, so try to avoid those too close to bedtime. (Okay, I don’t have a personal anecdote here. I don’t eat any of those things before bed and haven’t in a long time.)
Get Out in the Daylight
First of all, sunlight is a very good thing for us in moderation: we need it to produce our own vitamin D. Experiencing both natural daylight and darkness helps us maintain our circadian rhythms and a healthy sleep-wake cycle. I find I’m miserable without daylight, I need it and I crave it. Even rainy days can make me mopey because I am a sun worshiper (wear sunscreen, people)!
Have a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Do some light yoga, meditate, read a book, take a warm shower or a bath. I read before bed. In fact, I fall asleep reading so often that instead of saying “I’m going to bed” I now say “I’m going to go read myself to sleep!” It’s become a running gag in our house.
Maintain a Pleasant Sleep Environment
You want to be comfortable when you sleep, don’t you? I prefer a cooler room and lots of darkness. I also prefer a fan running for both white noise and to keep some air moving. A stuffy room is torture to me, but my husband would prefer to sleep in a sauna, so he wraps himself in a cocoon of blankets to compensate. It’s a tenuous agreement that leans more towards my benefit. 😉
What are your sleep habits like? Do you feel you get enough quality sleep?