We all know sleep is important. Every area of our life is affected by our sleep. Our physical health, emotional health, mood, appetite, energy, and stress level are some of the many things impacted by our sleep or lack there of. Our sleep is the foundation of our health and vitality. Even knowing this, very few of us know how to improve our sleep (quality and quantity). I recently have been learning and studying the work of sleep coach Devin Burke and I wanted to share some of what I have learned with all of you. I encourage you to get his book The Sleep Advantage.
Unfortunately we cannot control our mind to force sleep. In fact, trying to force our brains to fall asleep causes us more stress which can keep us up longer. It is important to understand that sleep is the result. Sleep is never the problem. Everything we do during our day and leading up to our night effects our sleep. So to improve our sleep we must improve upon our daily habits and nighttime routines.
Structure your day to sleep better at night
A great night of sleep starts right when you wake up. Crazy right? Here’s why: the more our emotional and physical stress builds in our day the longer it will take our brain and body to unwind at night. Here’s three strategies Devin Burke recommends to create a better day to help you sleep better at night:
- Drink a glass of water when you wake up to rehydrate your body
- Wait one hour after waking up before drinking your coffee. Our cortisol levels are highest in the morning. Coffee adds to our cortisol level. The higher our cortisol level is during our day, the harder it is to sleep at night. Wait one hour for our morning cortisol level to dip before giving it a boost with your coffee
- Schedule brain breaks in your day. Too many of us schedule too much in one day. Our schedules are jam packed with no breaks and we go from one thing to the next. This type of schedule builds our cortisol levels up and up and up til we reach a peak at night which is not ideal. We must schedule small breaks in our day to deflate our cortisol levels and give our brains a chance to relax. Walks, breathing breaks, meditation practices, puzzles or deeply listening to music are all examples of this. Schedule multiple of these throughout your day.
Bottom line: more stress = less rest and less rest = more stress. Give your brain breaks to breathe and keep your stress lower.
Structure your evening to sleep better at night with the 3-2-1 method
Our goal is to help our body enter our rest and digest mode. We want to create an environment that helps our body let our parasympathetic nervous system take over. Here’s three things you should be doing in the evening to help your brain and body prepare for quality sleep.
- 3 Hours Before Bed: Stop Eating. If our body is spending all of our energy trying to break down a big meal we had an hour before bed it will be tougher to fall asleep. All of our important blood flow will be going to our stomach instead of helping us repair our body and brain.
- 2 Hours Before Bed: Stop Working. Our brain is not a computer. It just doesn’t shut off by clicking the power button. If we are problem solving too close to bed it will take too long for our brain to unwind and therefore we won’t be able to fall asleep as well. There must be a clear end to your day.
- 1 Hour Before Bed: Eliminate Technology (by far probably the toughest one to comply with). Technology creates hyper-arousal, it speeds our brains up when we should be slowing them down. This makes it tougher to fall asleep. Second, the blue light technology emits tricks our brain into thinking the sun is still up. The brain cannot tell the difference between sunlight and blue light. The big issue with this is our eyes tell our brain when to release melatonin (a hormone that helps us sleep). So if our eyes see blue light or light from fluorescent bulbs they tell the brain it’s still daytime.
- Side note to this third point: gradually turning the lights off in your home around sunset will also help the brain prepare for sleep. Replacing fluorescent light bulbs with candescent light bulbs also helps.
The more connected we are to the biorhythms of the Earth like the sunset, the better we will be at sleeping. Devin Burke references a study where they took 15 chronic insomniacs into nature for one week. They slept in tents, went on hikes and sat around the fire (the yellow light of the fire and sunsets help us fall asleep). After one week connecting back with nature and more natural biorhythms, 12 of the 15 participants no longer had insomnia.
More Strategies to Help You Sleep
Measure Your Sleep: Devin Burke recommended the Oura ring to measure the quality and quantity of your sleep. Measuring for a few months will help you recognize the good and bad patterns you have. Try these new strategies above and watch how your numbers improve.
Alcohol and Sleep Meds: Both of these things, as most of you are aware, help you fall asleep. However, your quality of sleep greatly decreases (you will not reach the deep stages of sleep) and you will feel less rested. Further, sleep meds are typically only for short term use, not chronic (Make sure to communicate with your doctor before changing any medication).
Going to the Bathroom: If you find that you are getting up and going to the bathroom frequently when you sleep it is important to taper down your liquids by the end of the day. Keep the majority of your hydration to the daytime and less in the evening.
Can’t Fall Asleep or Back Asleep: If it is late and you are in bed unable to fall asleep, get up and go to another room for a short time. Read a book for a 15 minutes and then try to go back to bed.
A Lot on Your Mind: Write down what you need to remember/solve on a piece of paper. This physically gets it out of your mind and lets your brain rest.
Most people do not know how poorly they are sleeping until they start to sleep well. Work to incorporate these strategies above and feel great every day!
You got this!