Sleep hygiene is so so important to get the best night’s sleep possible. And you might be surprised how easy it can be to avoid those sleepless nights… But don’t just take my word for it. Read on as we dive right into those sleep blockers!
If you’ve missed the first article about what this thing called sleep hygiene is do have a little peek here first.
1) What you eat and drink before sleep
Unsurprisingly, a healthy, balanced diet will go a long way here. In particular, what you eat and drink a few hours before sleep is key.
You see, there are two hormones specifically that play a big part here – the stress hormone cortisol and the sleep hormone melatonin. And whenever there is a lot of the former, there is little of the latter as a consequence.
It’s like two siblings on a see-saw. Only one can be high at any given point. And cortisol winning is no bueno for good sleep hygiene and for melatonin to do its thing. And so to make sure we don’t get a sudden spike of cortisol just when we’re getting ready to sleep we need to:
a) Avoid any foods that will result in high blood sugar levels. Focus on low to medium Glycemic Load (GL) foods that will maintain steady energy levels and so won’t disrupt your sleep. More on this in my previous article here.
b) Avoid alcohol. I know this one might be a bummer to hear. Having a glass of red wine in the evening can be such a guilty pleasure. But even if it feels like a relaxing activity, I’m sad to say, it does decrease the quality of your sleep. That is because you might not get enough of the deep restorative sleep your body so needs and you will definitely feel it the next day.
c) Avoid nicotine. Similarly to alcohol, however relaxing smoking might feel it actually raises your cortisol levels and therefore disrupts sleep.
d) Avoid caffeine. This one is widely known and acknowledged. If you’re a big coffee lover try to play around with the timings to find your own limit. If you’re very caffeine sensitive in relation to sleep it might be best to stay away from it from as early as 1 pm. If you’re on the other side of the spectrum, staying away from it 4-6 hours before bedtime might be enough. Do note that caffeine is also in many teas, chocolate, cola (not that you drink that anyway, right?), and some medications.
e) Going to sleep on an empty stomach may also be distracting. In these situations, have a light snack (low to medium GL friendly) instead of a heavy meal so the digestion processes don’t wake you.
Wish to add some final dietary touches to your sleep hygiene? Try any item from the below list within an hour of your bedtime.
a) A warm glass of milk
b) A few cherries
c) A few walnuts
d) A few almonds
e) A kiwi
f) Chamomile tea
2) What you eat if you wake up hungry
This one still happens to me every now and then. It’s 2 am and I wake up half-starved, having a two-way conversation in my mind between the pros and cons of staying in the comfy bed versus going to the kitchen.
In my case, the food almost always wins. If your empty tummy doesn’t let you fall asleep shortly after waking try to have some simple snack, such as a banana or any of the above sleep boosters.
3) Getting regular
Do you go to sleep and wake up at a roughly similar time? Our bodies are wonderful and love routine when it comes to sleeping. Having a regular rhythm in your sleep hygiene, and trying to keep this routine on both weekdays and weekends, can work wonders for how rested you’ll feel upon waking.
4) No ‘clock watching’ while trying to fall asleep
Think back to a time when you struggled to fall asleep. It can become very tempting to watch the clock whenever sleep becomes evasive. How much time has passed since you went to bed? And you’re still not asleep. Oh, and you only have 6 hours left before the alarm goes off. So you need to fall asleep RIGHT NOW. Argh!
How stressful can this be?! Do not even get into this vicious cycle. Leave the phone outside the bedroom and turn the alarm clock away so you can’t see the time. Trust that it doesn’t matter that you’re still not asleep. You’re getting some rest just by lying down and closing your eyes.
5) Going to sleep when you are actually sleepy
This might surprise you but ‘forcing’ yourself to sleep when you’re not feeling sleepy is counter-productive. You’ll end up spending a lot of time in bed, awake, angry at your body not doing its thing when it wasn’t tired to start with.
If you’re trying to build a good sleeping routine by ‘getting regular’ then try to get up and do something else to tire yourself a bit more before returning to bed. Ideally, this would be something calming or boring – the opposite of stimulating. It might take your body a while to find its perfect routine but it will get there.
Don’t forget that the idea of this Sleep Hygiene series is to mix and match the tips that will work best for you. Experiment and see what feels right by making a tangible difference in your life within a week or so.
Now let’s continue and dive into the four other sleep blockers. Read the next article in the Sleep Hygiene series here.
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