Written by 10:00 am Environmental Wellness, Physical Wellness

Sound Sleep

We all live our own experiment.

We know what we like. We know what works best for our bodies. We know how we feel.

In my own lab-rat experiences, I can tell you this: When I get enough sleep, I feel great, strong, and ready to take on life’s challenges. I feel like my body’s been built with fully charged batteries.

And if I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like I’ve got a “1% charge” icon tattooed on my face.

That’s exactly when I know I’m headed to the sick bed. I’m more likely to feel crummy and lethargic. In fact, I know it right away. The day after a poor night’s sleep, my whole GI system feels like a tsunami that leaves me bloated and ill. I also notice that the day after a bad bout of the bedtime blues, my resting heart rate is higher than normal the next day.

That, to me, is a very powerful warning light on the dashboard of life.

I learned many years ago that I’m a long sleeper, so I know where my optimal line is. I need a full eight hours to feel really well (my wife only needs four or six hours). The point is that we all may have different benchmarks for how much rest we require, but we all need, well, what we need. The technology in many of today’s wearables is making it much easier to track sleep and give us insight about our patterns and habits.

That’s because sleep is like your brain and body’s daily reset button.

It’s when your body repairs all the damage it has endured throughout the day. It’s when your brain strengthens its connections and functions. It’s when your cells and organs and systems work the overnight shift—doing the hard work so you can be ready to go in the morning.

Better sleep means a healthier body, a better mood, and so much more. In fact, some research shows that when you sleep less than you should, you’re more at risk for overeating the next day.

I made a conscious effort to change my sleeping patterns during the pandemic—trying to sleep more and sleep better, not having to race to the office first thing in the morning or stay all night, really working to prioritize this part of my health. And I’ve felt a difference.

It may sound easy to advise you to “get better sleep,” but it’s not that easy. You can’t just sheep-count your way to a good night. There are so many variables that can challenge your routine—working long hours, caring for a family, feeling the tension that comes with stress and anxiety. They’re all real problems. But I do think it’s worth taking time to think about how and why sleep is just as vital to your well-being as nutrition and exercise.

Sleep doesn’t always just happen. It can take some thought, some changes in habit, and some commitment to figure out what will work best for you.

The goal is to get you in the best position possible to close your eyes for the night (just as long as you wait until after you finish reading this to do so!).

Improve Your Sleep Habits

Getting the best sleep isn’t just a matter of what you do in the minutes before you try to go to bed. It’s about how you prepare your body, your bedroom, and your brain throughout the whole day. These are some of the top ways to improve your sleep hygiene to increases your chances of sleeping like a petered-out puppy:

  • Ditch the screens for softer wind-down activities, like reading a book, meditation, taking a bath, or stretching.
  • Keep the room cool; research shows that 60 to 67 degrees is optimal (dropping your core temp is critical to good sleep).
  • Avoid nighttime snacks, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Crazy fact: Half of the caffeine you consume at 3 p.m. is still floating around your system five hours later. I’ve made it a point to cut out food after 8 p.m., and that’s helped me a ton.

My Favorite Helper

Even if you have the best sleep hygiene, there are times when your slumbering schedule just gets off-track. Travel can be one of the biggest wrenches (as can changing work schedules, stress, and any other thing that has you tossing and turning like an Olympic gymnast).

The supplement melatonin can be taken in small doses to help you reset your clock. It’s a super safe and effective way to help kickstart sleep.

Melatonin, as you may know, is a hormone that’s made in your brain’s pineal gland and is what regulates sleep. When you’re exposed to light, melatonin production stops and that’s what acts as a natural alarm clock to get you to start waking up. The supplement can help support healthy sleep because taking it before bedtime jumpstarts the sleep process. It’s been a savior to me, especially when I travel internationally and my schedule is thrown all out of whack.

As we all know, when your sleep isn’t sound, so many different parts of your life—your mood, your energy, your body’s overall functioning—can feel like a nightmare.