Good quality sleep is a basic human need that tends to be overlooked in the discussion on health and wellness. When is the last time you talked to your medical provider about a new health problem you are experiencing and they asked about your sleep?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 19% of adults in the US report not getting enough rest or sleep! This is a huge number of people, so as far as lifestyle changes to improve your health this is the lowest hanging fruit.
While our primary goal as therapists is to teach our patients how to move better, we can't make meaningful progress without the foundations of good health in place. Improving your sleep is an essential first step toward better health whether you have chronic health conditions or not.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
As we mentioned above, there might be more than one reason you aren't getting the sleep you need to feel your best. Any combination of these reasons can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation occurs when you either do not get enough sleep total, sleep at the wrong time of day, or do not get good quality sleep. Adults who experience sleep deprivation may report not feeling refreshed when they wake up and feeling tired throughout the day.
The negative effects of sleep deprivation are detrimental throughout your day from start to finish! Lack of sleep can impair brain and physical function, leads to loss of productivity and has even been linked to early risk of death. Sleep deficiency is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and depression. Not allowing the brain to get into a resting state is also linked to chronic pain. Starting to get the picture on why sleep is so important?
Now that you understand the WHY, let's talk about where to start to get your best night's sleep on a regular basis!
Your Ideal Sleep Environment
Everyone has what we call an ideal sleep environment. This means that your space is set up to facilitate better rest and that both your nightly and morning routines set you up for success.
Step 1: Create Your Ideal Night Routine
Establishing a pre-bedtime routine is the most important component of a good night’s rest. Going through the same motions before you go to bed every night will let your body know that it is time to rest. Create a routine that promotes rest and relaxation close to your chosen bedtime.
Research has found that diffusing lavender essential oil reduces anxiety and promotes higher quality sleep. This has become one of my personal favorite routines at bedtime (and here's a link to my favorite diffuser and lavender oil). Setting this up an hour or two before bed can help promote relaxation.
Start by spending just a few minutes preparing for the following day to help your morning run smooth. This step will allow you some peace of mind knowing you are prepared for the following day so you are not thinking about it during the night.
The next step is focusing on a routine that tells your body and mind to relax. A light stretching routine before bed might help to relax you, but avoid a vigorous workout that might keep you awake.
Magnesium deficiency can also be one of the culprits of difficulty sleeping as well as stress and anxiety. A lack of magnesium can also lead to muscle cramping during the night. This is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, as this article details well. I always recommend talking to your doctor before adding any new supplements, but this is an important discussion to have as it can be a major game-changer for your sleep. After you discuss it with your healthcare provider, it might take some trial and error to find the right supplementation method. Magnesium comes in several different forms, but my favorite is topical magnesium oil. It absorbs well through the skin and is less likely to cause digestive issues than oral supplements. One single bottle usually lasts me about 6 months even with daily use. It absorbs best if you apply to your feet.
Also, avoid watching TV or looking at your phone within 30 minutes to an hour of going to bed as the light from the screen can alter your circadian rhythm. Avoid keeping any screens in the bedroom that may tempt you before bed or during the night. Instead, try meditation or journaling prior to bed (we highly recommend Headspace).
Set a schedule to go to bed at the same time every night and stick to it, that way your internal clock will set itself. The first few days of this might be difficult, but don't give up too soon! This might take some adjustment over a few weeks to find your ideal time to go to sleep.
And finally, create an environment that is a comfortable temperature with soft lighting to let your body and mind calm down for the day.
Step 2: Improving the Quality of Your Sleep
Experts cannot seem to agree on the ideal amount of sleep for everyone. Some will say at least 7 or 8 hours while others might do fine with 6 hours. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you'll figure out the right amount of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet enough to promote rest. Again, keep your room at a comfortable temperature for you. If you find yourself waking up throughout the night and having trouble falling back to sleep, avoid watching TV or scrolling through your phone. Don't focus on the time or stress yourself out over not getting enough sleep. Try focusing on your breathing until you fall asleep again.
Step 3: Create Your Ideal Morning Routine
Believe it or not what you do with the first few hours of your day impacts your sleep the following night. Try setting a usual wake up time and stick to it every day, just like you stick to your bed time.
It's easier to wake up feeling refreshed if you have something to look forward to in the morning. Create rituals that make you look forward to your day and wake up early enough so you are not rushed. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while you read a book, meditate, or journal.
Try moving in some way in the morning, whether it's a short stretching or strengthening routine or a walk. Spend a few extra minutes thinking about what the rest of your day will look like before you really have to started.
Start your day off right with a breakfast of whole foods and avoid starting the day with quick, processed food options full of sugar that will lead to an energy crash later.
Creating better sleep habits takes time, patience, and a sense of awareness. Remind yourself you do not have to get everything right the first time and make small changes until you start to see the results you want! Daily practice leads to healthier habits over time. What can you improve about your sleep today?
Thank you for reading.
- What are sleep deprivation and deficiency? NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Jun 2017.