April 04, 2018

How To Build Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep has a huge impact on our health and quality of life, and yet somehow it always manages to be the first thing we neglect when life gets busy. In today's 24/7 culture, a good night's rest has never been more important. If you're one of the 1 in 3 Canadians that are currently sleeping for less than 7 hours a night, you should know that it can lead to some serious health consequences down the line. Luckily, it's never too late to make a positive change!

Previously, we talked about ways to pay back your sleep debt over time - but research has shown that the quality of your sleep is even more important than the quantity! Without cycling through the 5 sleep stages multiple times each night (and spending a significant amount of time in the REM stage), you won't gain the benefit of a restful night. If you're not feeling fully awake and well-rested within 15 minutes of waking up, a poor quality sleep might be to blame.

So what can you do to practice what the experts call good "sleep hygiene"? Ultimately, getting a great sleep comes down to having the right daily habits and a good sleep environment. Read on for Lunazen's ultimate sleep hygiene checklist!

Your Daily Habits Checklist

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine. When it comes to getting a good night's rest, consistency is key. Whether you're a morning lark or a night owl, waking up at the same time each day is the best way to regulate your circadian rhythm and train your brain to cycle through the sleep stages at a rate that works for you. If you need more sleep, try going to bed a bit earlier instead of attempting to "catch up" on the weekends, which can cause more harm than good!
  • Exercise regularly.Besides being one of the best things you can do for your overall health, regular exercise (at least 15-30 minutes per day) promotes a deeper sleep and burns off extra energy. Avoid exercising within 3 hours of bedtime, because exercise raises your core temperature and gives you an endorphin rush that will leave you feeling energized. The best time to exercise is in the mid-to-late afternoon, so your body has time to cool off post-workout.
  • Eat healthy foods.Foods that are high in fat and processed carbs might give you a short-term boost, but they don't have all of the nutrients your body needs to produce energy. A diet high in these elements can leave you feeling sluggish and slow throughout the day. You should also avoid eating spicy food too close to bedtime, because it raises your body temperature and can cause acid reflux when you lie down. For a sleep-healthy diet, consider foods that are high in nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids. Some examples include: dairy, whole grains and nuts, dark leafy greens, and berries.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.Any regular coffee drinker knows that a cup of joe can give you a quick boost in the mornings. But drinking it 4-6 hours before bedtime can seriously interfere with your sleep schedule! The same goes for alcohol, which can make you drowsy in the short-term and help you fall asleep better, but acts like a stimulant once your liver starts processing it. It's no use falling asleep earlier if you're only going to spend the night tossing and turning!
  • Enjoy the Great Outdoors.Natural light is essential to a healthy sleep rhythm. Your body takes its cues from the world outside, so get out into natural light as often as you can! Your circadian rhythm is regulated by light and darkness, so even a 5 minute walk in the mornings can help you wake up and feel alert. If you pair that with a nightly stroll, your body will know that it's time for bed and you will fall asleep easier.
  • Avoid blue light at night.Blue light is essential when it comes to having a healthy sleep-wake schedule. The sun emits more blue light in the mornings, which is great for waking you up. By mid-afternoon, blue light levels start to deteriorate, which signals to your body that it's time to get ready for sleep, and by nighttime blue light is almost non-existent in the natural world. This worked perfectly for regulating our sleep schedules in the caveman days, but today's technology is throwing a wrench into the mix. Computers, cell phones, and televisions all emit blue light constantly, which tricks our bodies into thinking it's daytime even when it's not. The best thing to do is to avoid those screens entirely at night, but that's not realistic for most of us! Instead, try using a pair of blue-light filtering glasses, or downloading an app that removes blue light from your computer screen or cell phone past a certain hour.
  • Relax before bedtime.Try to get into a routine of relaxing before bed through meditation, stretching, journaling, reading, or taking a bath. Basically anything that relieves stress and helps you get into sleep mode is beneficial! Even just 10 minutes of winding-down time can help you get into the right state of mind for sleep.

Your Sleep Environment Checklist

  • Use your bedroom for sleep or sex only.These are the only two activities that should be taking place in there! If you spend time hanging out in your room watching TV, chatting with your partner, or listening to the radio, your brain will start associating those activities with the bedroom instead of sleep! This will only make it harder to get into sleep mode as time goes on, so it's best to kick those habits early. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleep and intimacy.
  • Banish electronics.Cell phones, televisions, gaming systems, e-readers, and tablets emit blue light, which inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Plus, whatever you're watching or reading can stimulate you and keep your mind active when you should be winding down. If you've ever stayed up late watching "just one more episode" or reading "just one more post", you know how important this step is!
  • Make your bed as comfortable as possible.The average person spends at least a third of their life in bed, so investing in a good mattress is an absolute must. Even the highest quality mattress is only good for about 10 years, so it's important to upgrade if it has been a while. Try using a foam mattress like the Lunazen Mattress for maximum support and comfort. Foam mattresses tend to last longer than traditional spring models, and conform to your body so you won't wake up with sore spots. It's also important to invest in high-quality pillows and bedding so you feel snug and relaxed as soon as you slip into bed!
  • Make your room dark, quiet, and cool.When your body is preparing for sleep, your core temperature drops. By keeping your room cool, you can speed up the process and fall asleep faster! Even a small amount of light or noise can interrupt your sleep and leave you feeling drowsy the next day. Try wearing a sleep mask or using heavy window shades to eliminate light. Earplugs or "white noise" machines can help you overcome noisy neighbours.
  • Keep your alarm away from the bed.Most of us need an alarm clock to wake up on time each day. But keeping it right next to your bed can actually hurt your sleep in the long run! Most alarm clocks come with a blinking light that can interfere with your sleep, and staring at the clock can make you feel anxious, especially late at night. For the best results, point your alarm clock away from the bed and position it in a place that requires you to physically get out of bed to turn it off, so you have no excuse to hit that snooze button!

Getting a quality sleep is essential to your overall health. By following this sleep hygiene checklist, you're practically guaranteed to have a more fulfilling sleep and wake up feeling well-rested and alert! However, if you're still feeling sluggish and fatigued after following all of these steps for a couple of weeks, it might be time to consult your doctor or visit a sleep specialist. Many common sleep disorders can go unnoticed for years, and it's always better to be safe than sorry!