5 Tips for Better Sleep and a Healthier Mind and Body
Here's my not-so-dirty secret: I sleep about ten hours a night. You may say, "Well, I don't need that much sleep." You may say, "I can't get that much sleep." But do you know how much sleep you really need?
What are you doing to make sleep a priority in your life? While scientists may not fully understand the role sleep plays in our life cycle, or even understand why we need to sleep at all, they agree on one thing: healthy sleep patterns are essential to physical and mental health. Interrupted, irregular, or insufficient sleep is a critical factor in illnesses of both the body and mind.
How Much Sleep Do You Need
The Mayo Clinic and the National Sleep Foundation agree adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night.1,2 Sleep needs are individual, though, and your body chemistry, hormones, age, and activity level will affect how much sleep you need. You also need more sleep when you are sick or under personal, emotional, or other physical stressors. As a result, your sleep need may be the minimum seven hours or it may be as high as twelve when you are very ill.
I personally find I need close to ten hours in the winter and about 8.5 come summer. People often poke fun at me for my bedtime habits. I climb under the covers around eight o'clock most nights. But, I'm never sorry come the next morning when I wake regularly without an alarm clock around six o’clock, feeling ready for the day.
5 Tips for Better Sleep
1. Exercise daily but not too close to bedtime.
As a reader of this site, you are likely aware of the profound benefits of exercise, including regulation of metabolic hormones, stimulation of digestion, and promotion of circulation. All of these things can lead to better sleep.
But during a workout, stress hormones including cortisol, prolactin, growth hormone, and testosterone rise in the body. Cortisol in particular is disruptive to restful sleep. Give your body ample time to reduce these chemicals prior to lying down for the night. If you choose to exercise after six o'clock, choose options like yoga or walking that will give you the benefits of exercise while not increasing stress hormones.
2. Choose a light dinner.
In yoga and Ayurveda, it is common practice to eat the largest meal at midday when digestion is the most active. Evening meals often consist of a light serving of easily digestible, cooked vegetables. When I am away at a yoga retreat and eating this way, I sleep like a baby.
3. Stay away from alcohol.
I know this is not popular advice, but drinking alcohol affects sleep cycles. It may cause you to fall asleep quickly, but the sleep will not likely be truly restful and may include many bouts of insomnia later in the night. High sugar levels in most alcoholic beverages also negatively affect sleep patterns.
4. Create a bedtime routine.
Go to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends, and do the same things each night before bed. Turn off all light-emitting electronics about an hour before your bedtime. Start your routine then, perhaps taking a bath, reading, or enjoying another quiet activity like sipping bedtime tea. When it is time for sleep, stop doing everything else.
Use your bed for sleeping only, creating an environment of peace and quiet. If you think you do not have time to get eight hours of sleep, this is the time of day you should focus on. Many of us spend several hours a night watching TV, when we could be sleeping. Sleep is the most important habit you will ever form, so make the effort to create the habit well.
5. Wake up around the same time each morning.
It drives my husband nuts, but I do not sleep in more than thirty minutes on the weekend. Truth told, it's not possible for me to do so. My sleep pattern is so regular that I wake up on time whether or not I have anywhere to be. Thankfully for me, I enjoy my morning time. I willfully surrender nighttime TV and Internet surfing so I can get up early, walk the dog, and enjoy meditation. My morning routine is just as firm as my nighttime routine, meaning I rarely ever have conflict in my sleep patterns.
Depending on your personal routine and sleep habits, some of these suggestions may seem like radical changes. If you try making sleep a priority for just one month, though, you will feel healthier, stronger and - icing on the cake - younger. Good sleep is a secret to vibrant skin, healthy hair, and a sharp mind. Good sleep is also a first step in dealing with any mental illness or healing any physical ailment.
1. "How many hours of sleep are enough for good health?" MayoClinic.org.
2. "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?" National Sleep Foundation.
3. M.J. Gawel, et al., "Exercise and hormonal secretion," Postgraduate Medical Journal Jun 1979;55(644):373-6.