Though it’s challenging to find a silver lining amidst the disruption of the last few months, one thing is for sure. Sleep – and doing it well – has become a huge issue, even for those who never had much trouble with it, pre-pandemic. On the bright side, the new, slowed-down routine has given the sleep-deprived time to focus on straightening out their sleep issues. By the time we get to the other side of the pandemic, those new, good sleep habits will be firmly entrenched.
In a previous post, 9 Tips for Better Sleep Tonight, we took a look at one of the big sleep disruptors, namely being out of synch with our circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles that keep our body’s master clock ticking. When you’re out of synch, sleep quality and quantity suffer immensely – leaving you exhausted, underslept and at higher risk for cardiac, metabolic and neurological diseases.
So, to help get you back in tune with your body’s internal clock and the natural rhythms of light and dark, I’ve drawn up a sleep-supportive ‘prescription.’ Your mission: follow it to help make sleep-filled nights your new restorative norm.
This plan assumes a 7-to-8-hour sleep window, with a “lights out” time of 11:00 pm, and a rising time of 6:00 am or 7:00 am. You can shift the start and end times to work with your schedule, as long as you allot yourself a 7-to-8-hour sleep slot, the average number of hours that approximately 99% of all adults need to function normally day to day (versus the uncommon 1% who are fine on 4-to-6 hours a night, thanks to a genetic mutation). Assuming you’re part of the 99%, here’s what your new, hour-by-hour sleep-promoting plan looks like at key points throughout the day, from curtains up to lights-out:
6:00 or 7:00 am:
Instead of shocking your system with a traditional, blast-you-out-of-bed alarm, wake with the (fake) sun. Try a sunrise-simulating ‘alarm,’ which as the name suggests, gently wakes you with light rather than noise. (In the evening, some models also double as low-wattage reading lights).
Do a few yoga stretches to get the blood flowing, plus 5–20 minutes of meditation to ease your way into the day. How does this set you up for sleep later? A regular meditation practice will get your day off to a calmer start and, as you get better at it, make it that much easier to downshift at the end of the day and prep your body for sleep.
A daily dose of sunlight is one of the most powerful sleep-regulating signals of all, so be sure to get a daily dose – it’s easy, free and pleasurable! Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that it’s actually the light itself that governs our sleeping patterns. As it’s being absorbed by our eyes, sunlight regulates and resets our biological clocks, triggering the release of specific chemicals and hormones that are vital to healthy sleep as well as other functions. To sleep better at night, try to get at least half an hour of natural sunlight a day.
Though you may be thinking, now’s the perfect time for a tall latte, think again. By this time in the afternoon, you should be completely done with your caffeine intake for the day. Like it or not, that afternoon cup has the power to interfere with your ability to fall sleep up to 8 hours (or more) after your last gulp, potentially leaving you unpleasantly alert long after lights out. Bottom line: cut the caffeine drip off early to rest easier tonight.
For your evening meal, keep it simple, and on the lighter side. Go heavy on veggies and light on carbs to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel before bed. Doing so will reduce middle of the night bathroom visits, and stress on your liver and kidneys so they’re not working overtime trying to clear out all that excess sugar and salt from your bloodstream.
If you’re short on cooking skills or time to cook, add a healthy meal delivery service a few nights a week to your rotation, or do meal prepping for the week ahead on the weekends.
If your schedule is unpredictable, then keep your pantry stocked with quick meal-makers, like bottled (not canned) jars of pole-caught tuna fillets or sardines, olives, capers and roasted red peppers. Toss with organic mixed greens and raw, chopped, spiralized or cooked veggies, so you can assemble a healthy dinner in 15 minutes or less – leaving you with more time to sleep!
Dim the lights throughout the house, then sit down and savor your dinner. All too often, meals eaten earlier in the day are wolfed down between calls, appointments, home-schooling and so on. Now is your time to dine slowly and mindfully – tasting, chewing and putting the fork down between bites.
Think of your evening meal as a calming ritual to help you unwind from the stresses of the day, and a relaxing opportunity to reconnect with those sharing the table with you.
If you enjoy the occasional glass of wine at dinner, keep it to one glass (or less!) and wrap up your drinking with the meal.
Diners, it’s time to put your fork and wine glass down for the night. The goal is to be finished eating at least three hours prior to hitting the hay. Doing so will ensure that digestion is almost completely wound down by the time you’re ready to call it a night.
Also, make this your last call for liquids so you can enjoy more extended stretches of uninterrupted sleep, with fewer trips to the loo.
Time to start your ‘electronic sundown,’ as in pulling the metaphorical plug on anything with a screen – and that goes double if insomnia is your norm, or if you think you may be sensitive to EMFs (electromagnetic fields) which can undermine sleep quality in some people.
Power down computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, TVs, PlayStations, Gameboys, etc. and switch over to a good old fashioned, screen-free paper book or magazine and low wattage reading light with a pink, red or amber glow. Stay away from bright white bulbs, florescents and LEDs, all of which have a stimulating effect that’s helpful during the day, but at night, is anything but.
With digestion in the home stretch, now’s the time to give body and soul three simple (and healthy!) treats, namely, a soak in a hot bath followed by some medicinal music – the sleep-focused offerings on Myndstream are a great place to start – and a few relaxing yoga poses or a short meditation to ease the body into a sleep-friendly state.
The final sleepy time flourish? There are two ways to go. You can try a high-quality CBD tincture or capsule that’s specifically formulated to help with falling (and staying) asleep, or get a similar effects with magnesium citrate powder or magnesium glycinate or threonate (start with 300mg and increase to 400 or 500mg if needed) and glycine (start with 3 grams and increase if needed). You can try them individually or mixed together in water.
If these don’t do the trick, then try L-theanine and GABA. People react differently to each, so some trial and error may be part of your program. Start with at least 200 to 400mg of L-theanine or 300 to 600mg of GABA and see what works for you. A combination of the two can also do the trick.
Lights out – and enjoy your time in Dreamland! If, by chance, you don’t drift off after 30 minutes or so, get up and out of the bedroom. Keep the lights low – redline any screen-based activity! – and do a half hour or so of reading (think poetry, no thrillers!), knitting or meditating, before returning to bed.