If you ask the average adult what their fantasy weekend looks like, it probably involves sleeping in.
We all crave sleep, but most of us aren’t getting it. According to the National Institute of Health, 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia, and 10% report being fatigued during the day as a result.
The rest are just kidding themselves.
Losing sleep wreaks havoc on our bodies. Sleep is how we detoxify ourselves, process thoughts, and restore balance to our immune and nervous systems. When we’re sleep-deprived, we age faster, hang onto toxics, and have a higher likelihood of developing a major chronic disease. We’re also more likely to snap at people, make bad decisions, and eat poorly. Our complexions and energy levels suffer. We feel bad, look bad, and can’t function.
We no longer rise with the sun and settle down when it sets. Artificial light from technology interferes with our brain’s ability to generate melatonin and foster healthy sleep. It’s more difficult than ever to follow a reasonable sleeping schedule, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. There are a few super easy ways to rewire our brain’s machinery to help even the busiest among us get a full 8 hours.
Here are 6 hacks to get you feeling rested and refreshed:
1. Power down with the sun.
Ten thousand years ago, we’d hunt and graze all day, then gather around the fire to eat and tell stories. When the sun went down, we powered down, too.
Our bodies are wired to respond to natural light.
When light hits the eyes, it triggers a nerve pathway in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature, and other functions that play a role in making us feel tired or awake. The pineal gland, a light-sensitive gland in our brains, is “turned on” by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. When this happens in the evening, we begin to naturally fade and eventually go to sleep.
This the body’s natural process.
But today, we’re bombarded by constant artificial light that triggers our brains to think it’s daytime. This revs up the brain’s machinery, pumping hormones to keep us warm, alert, and anxious. We play on our tablets in bed and wonder why our body has trouble shutting down.
To restore our ancestral rhythms, try purging your tech at night.
That means no TV or computer time after 8:00 p.m. This includes work emails. Technology addiction inhibits your brain’s ability to relax, so you need to find a new pre-sleep activity that doesn’t involve your phone. Play some soothing music, read a book, journal, or meditate. I know it’s hard to take a break from your cherished devices, but it sure beats being tired all the time.
Just try it for a few weeks — I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
2. Caffeine kills (your sleep).
Caffeine, especially in the afternoon, is the kiss of death for your sleep schedule.
The half-life of caffeine in healthy adults is 5.7 hours. This means that if you consume 200 milligrams of caffeine (about the amount in one to two cups of coffee) at midday, you will be cranked up until almost 11:00 p.m. Most people need to cut caffeine after noon, or 2:00 p.m. at the latest, to give ample time for the body to get the drug out of your system so you can slow down.
For insomniacs, I recommend no caffeine at all.
Sleep is delicate, and using chemicals to nudge us up has a taxing impact on our bodies. Cutting, or at least reducing, caffeine can do wonders for your sleep and overall well being.
3. The bedroom is a sacred space.
The bedroom should be for two things — sleep and making love.
But these two things often fall by the wayside when you’re constantly on your devices in bed. Even if you’ve committed to leaving your devices out of the bedroom, you likely bring work, bills, and other stresses into your sacred space.
With so many distractions surrounding you, you might not be making love at all.
And that’s a problem as this forgotten nightly pastime can be an amazing way of getting sleep harmonized. How? Turn it into an event. Make love and take your time. That obviously means getting to bed sooner in order to enjoy each other’s company. Caress and be tender. Make love and connect.
It can really help calm the mind and ease you into a peaceful night’s sleep.
Rather than watching bad TV or tossing and turning with stress, connect with your lover and boost healthy hormones. Not only will your relationship benefit, but you’ll have deep and satisfying sleep.
4. Create the right atmosphere for sleep.
You’re not going to get great sleep if you’re not creating the right vibe for it.
The way we used to sleep and wake was once intrinsically tied to our environment. There was no heating or air conditioning. Our ancestors would light a fire, huddle around it, and wake up in the early morning freezing.
Today, the best environment for sleep is still dark and cool.
According to most studies, the ideal room temperature for sleeping is 68°F. When the temperature is slightly cool, it fosters sleep-inducing circadian rhythms and helps us drift off. And keeping the head cool also helps drop us into delta waves — our slowest brain waves, which occur during deep and dreamless sleep.
If you have a relatively modern thermostat, you can set the nighttime temperature to around 68°F. If you run cold, that just means using a heavier blanket. Control the temperature to tell your body it needs to slow down and conserve heat.
Light is equally important — install blackout shades, and try to eliminate flashing lights from electronic clocks or other devices.
The moral of the story: Keep it dark, keep it cool, and for God’s sake, get the stupid TV out of there.
5. Hydrate, but not too much.
Everyone knows it’s important to stay hydrated.
Drinking water cleans out the digestive system and eliminates toxins. And a lack of fluids can make you sluggish, irritable, and unfocused. And chronic dehydration can cause heart problems and cancer.
But hydration also plays a critical role in how you sleep.
Not drinking enough water dries your causes your mouth and nasal passages, paving the way for sleep-disruptive snoring. Dehydration can also cause leg cramps that may wake you up at night.
Drinking enough water is crucial for fostering sleep, but you should ensure you are drinking it throughout the day as opposed to chugging a few glasses of water before bed. If you do that, odds are you’re going to have to get up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself, interrupting your sleep cycle and making you more tired in the morning.
So hydrate during the day when you’re on the go, and when it’s time to shut down for the night, slow your roll.
6. Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar levels mean less long-lasting fat metabolism in the night and even less sleep.
Eat some protein and healthy fat an hour before bed to stabilize your blood sugar and prepare your body for sleep. I like a 4–6 ounce chicken breast with some olive or coconut oil, or turkey breast with hummus. Avocados, which contain magnesium, potassium, and healthy fats, also make for a great sleep inducing meal. Slow-burning fuel helps deliver slow and steady energy to your brain and keeps it from freaking out — and waking up — when your blood sugar levels plummet in the middle of the night.
Eating complex carbohydrates with healthy fats and adequate protein is the short answer here. The long one is slowing down, taking adrenal support, and learning how to chill out.
Instead of just assuming we can make up our lost sleep over the weekend, we should take steps now to make sure that we’re doing what’s right by our bodies and minds. When we’re not sleeping, we’re facing a near-insurmountable roadblock to personal growth and happiness.
So power down, chill out, and catch some much-needed Zs.