Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

How did you sleep last night? I love sleep. But I haven’t always been a good sleeper. As a child, I was, but late in my teens, I loved staying up late. It made me feel like a “grown up.” After my kids were born, sleeping soundly through the night was a memory that receded further and further into my rearview mirror. I suspect I spent most of my adult life getting inadequate sleep at best and running dangerously low on fumes at worst.

The negative effects of sleep deprivation are vast and include weakened immune system, a greater risk for autoimmune issues (several years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), a decline in mental and physical performance, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. If that’s not enough, I recently learned that extreme fatigue causes more auto accidents than drugs and alcohol combined.

It’s pretty clear: getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellness. But what is enough?

Generally speaking, experts agree that 95 percent of adults need to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night to function optimally. And the best time to get that sleep is between the hours of 9pm and 6am. The hours before midnight count twice as much as the hours after!

Over the past few years of studying Ayurveda, I've come to understand more about sleep, how to set up the right conditions for restful sleep and the best times to get it. Here are a few tips to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Avoid caffeine. If you must have your morning coffee, stick to one cup and don’t have any caffeine after noon. If you’re a pot-a-day kind of person, wean yourself off gradually. I recently did just that. I’m proud to say I no longer need coffee in the morning. If you need tips on how to do that, contact me.

Your bedroom should only be used for sleeping. Make your bedroom a sanctuary: dark, cool, quiet and relaxing. Remove electronics (including television) and any traces of work.

Power down an hour or two before bed. The light from computer screens, televisions, and phones can hinder the production of melatonin, which means your body isn't preparing the hormones it needs to enter the sleep phase. Don’t try to catch up on work at night as it can be too stimulating and increase your stress levels. If you’re using the time after your family goes to bed to “get things done” or have some alone time, switch that to morning. There’s magic in the early morning hours.

Eat an earlier, lighter dinner. Our bodies aren't equipped to digest heavy or large amounts of food late at night. Try to eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day when bile production is high. You might need to do some meal planning in order to ensure you have healthy, hearty lunches for the week. Allow 3 hours between your last bite and bedtime.

Avoid alcohol, especially after 7 pm. I know, I know! I was once a nightly wine drinker. But my sleep was so screwed up, I decided to run an experiment to see if the wine was affecting my sleep. I didn’t want there to be a correlation. But there was! After one week of abstaining, I was sleeping more soundly than I had in years!

Relax before bed. Creating a ritual or routine around bedtime can work wonders for the quality of your sleep. Rather than mindlessly drifting off (or worse yet, staying up binge-watching your latest Netflix obsession), start to engineer a good night’s sleep about 90 minutes before your target bed time. Dimming the lights and powering down electronics is a great start. You might want to diffuse essential oils, take a relaxing bath, or give yourself a foot massage (or better yet, get someone else to give you a foot massage). Restorative yoga, meditation, or journaling can also help get you ready for deep rest. I’ll provide specific options in The Better Sleep Workshop

Drink Ayurvedic warm spiced milk. As part of your evening ritual, try this natural sleep aid before bed. Warm a cup of your favorite milk. Cow’s milk is favored by traditional Ayurveda, but you can also use non-dairy milks like almond, cashew, or coconut. Add a little coconut oil and a pinch of the following spices – turmeric, ginger, and black pepper. If you like, you could also add cardamom, nutmeg, and/or cinnamon. Sweeten with raw honey. This is what replaced my nightly glass of wine!

Be asleep by 10. If you stay up past 10pm, you move into the ascending energy of pitta and might get a “second wind.” You might start to get hungry and partake in late night snacking – NOT GOOD! But more importantly, you miss out on some key detox time. Your body gets most of its deep sleep between 10pm and 2am. During those hours, your body is cleaning house, getting rid of toxins accumulated from our diet and lifestyle. It’s a healing time for our bodies that you don’t want to miss out on, especially if you usually wake up tired and achey.

If you’d like to learn more ways to optimize your sleep, including the use of yoga, yoga nidra, and essential oils, register for The Better Sleep Workshop, which takes place on March 31st at 2:00pm.

Also, the next round of Body Wisdom starts on April 10th. If you know you need to change more than your sleep habits, or if you know you need an element of accountability in order to change your sleep habits, contact me to schedule a free one on one strategy session. These sessions can be done in person, over the phone, or via video chat.

Sweet dreams!