You know that feeling when you wake up before the alarm clock. No, not when its 3AM and you lie awake staring at the ceiling wish you could go back to bed. But, the feeling when you’re alarm is scheduled to go off at 7:30 and you naturally wake up, refreshed, at 7:18? That one?
As someone who used to hit the snooze button about 30 times every morning (sorry old roommates, if you’re reading this), this has become my latest and greatest sense of accomplishment.
When I wake up earlier than planned, it’s almost as if I have won the life lottery. I get an extra 15 min to do what I want: enjoy a cup of coffee with my husband before work, take a longer shower, make a more elaborate breakfast, or just enjoy 15 min of nothingness.
High-quality sleep is vital for both healing and sustained wellness. While the body appears from the outside to be still and inactive, sleep is a time when your body is quite busy. During the night, your body restocks your supply of hormones, processes significant toxins, repairs damaged tissue, generates vital white blood cells for immunity, eliminates the effects of stress, and processes heavy emotions. That’s a lot of stuff that needs to get done!
Unfortunately, a lot of us are getting less than the suggested 7-9 hours of sleep a night. And while you might have every good intention to get to bed early, you might feel like you spend an hour or more just staring at the ceiling before bed.
We fall asleep due to the pineal gland, which secretes a neurotransmitter and hormone called melatonin. Melatonin suppresses the activity of other neurotransmitters and helps to calm the brain (in part by countering the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal gland). As we become drowsier, the brain slowly begins to turn off our voluntary skeletal muscle functions, so we don’t move around too much and try to act out our dreams or disrupt the body’s internal revitalization work. (This is also why it’s so hard to move your limbs or shout out in response to a nightmare.)
For ideal sleep, melatonin should be rising steadily and cortisol should be rock-bottom low at bedtime.
The pineal gland secretes melatonin largely in response to darkness. And our evening cortisol levels are lowest in environments with low noise. But now with the additions of TV, Betches instagram account, and our Streganona- like email accounts, these evening activity choices can get in the way of these natural pro-sleep chemical shifts.
Our devices mostly display full-spectrum light which can confuse the brain about whether it’s night-time or not. We also, unfortunately, tend to watch shows or view content that can be loud and/or stressful (e.g. Ray Donovan, season finale of The Bachelor, your bank account).
I have nailed the formula to making restful sleep happen more regularly than once in a blue moon. And to be honest, these changes are oh-so-very simple, but have a dramatic impact. Pick one this week and see how it goes:
- Choose calming, quieter evening activities that resonate with you and help you to relax, both mentally and physically. For example read a pleasant book, take a bath, play with a pet, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, or fold laundry.
- Turn off all full-spectrum light for a full 1-2 hours before bedtime. This means no laptops, ipads, TV, or smartphones. Even some kindles have too much bright light. So get the paperwhite if you want to read a kindle before bed.
- Avoid amping up your brain for about 1-2 hours before bed. This includes activities such as doing your finances, reading stuff for work, next-day-planning, or stressful conversations.
- Clean your room! If your bedroom is chaotic and disorganized, this will likely reflect in your sleep. Make sure all of your clothes are put away, there is nothing on the floor and everything appears neat.
- No caffeinated food or drink at all after 2pm. This includes green and black teas, which contain caffeine (try herbal, decaf tea instead), coffee, soda, and even chocolate if you are sensitive to it.
- Make sure your room is dark and quiet. Close those blinds, and shut your windows if there is too much noise outside.
- Quiet your digestion. Eat dinner no less than 3 hours before going to bed. So if you go to bed at 10:30, try not to eat after 7:30.