When was the last time you woke up feeling completely rested?
One of the greatest detriments to a person’s health is a poor rest and recovery routine. Getting the correct quantity and quality of sleep on a daily basis and making that into a routine can go a long way to helping with many of the health challenges that people often face. Poor sleep routines are associated with chronic pain, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, weight gain and obesity to name just a few.
Our bodies run on a natural pattern called the Circadian Rhythm. Our sleep and wake patterns are governed by our Circadian Rhythm, thus they affect our daily energy levels and motivation.
There are some steps that we can take starting immediately to improve alignment with our Circadian Rhythm, here are just a few.
- Fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day (yes, this includes weekends)
A routine for sleep and waking times is the best way to ensure your body finds a rhythm and sticks with it. This rhythm should mimic the rise and set of the sun as release of hormones are linked to exposure to sunlight. A good routine would be to fall asleep at 10pm and wake up at 6am, giving you 8 full hours of sleep.
- Get some mid-day sunlight
Exposure to sunlight governs the release of our hormones Serotonin and Melatonin. During the daytime, exposure to sunlight will increase the release of Serotonin, while in the night, decreased light leads to an increase in Melatonin release. Melatonin levels are inversely correlated to Serotonin levels – The more sun you get during the day, the better you sleep at night. Go for a nice walk during your lunch time or just take a short break with some fresh air.
- Eliminate exposure to screens 2 hours before bedtime
We are addicted to our cell phones, laptops, tablets, televisions and e-readers. These screens all emit light at levels increasingly approaching that of daylight. If we expose ourselves to light at such high levels right before bedtime, our Melatonin levels will not go up, making it much harder for us to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Sleep in a completely dark room
Darkness at night can’t be overstated. Our bodies have evolved to sleep in complete darkness, and it is only relatively recently that we have been flooded with lights to see and do things at night. Darkness will increase Melatonin release allowing you to sleep better.
- Avoid excess fluid intake after 8pm
Our bladders are designed to hold a certain amount of fluid. Drinking too much water in the evening can lead to reflexes waking you at night, telling you to relieve the pressure on your bladder. If you don’t take in too much fluid at night, you won’t have the urge to wake up to relieve yourself, allowing you to stay asleep.
- Don’t open mail in the evening or watch the evening news
When we are flooded with news and questionable information from around the world regarding conflicts that rarely affect us directly, we turn our brains on to worry in the evening and night hours. This late day stimulation can lead to an inability to relax and decrease worry as you head to sleep.
- Don’t respond to email in the evening
Reserve your stimulation time and productive hours to the morning, when you are full of energy and can make decisions easily and readily. Responding to work or personal email in the evenings can be tough as it forces us to think and worry later in the evening, again keeping us from falling into a deep sleep
- Settle conflicts before going to bed
We’ve all heard the saying “don’t go to bed angry”. Well that is not only true for conflict resolution, but also for your sleep and wake cycle. Cut down on worry when you are heading to bed. Resolve issues so that you are not worrying about them throughout the night, while your body and mind are in recovery mode.
- Practice deep breathing exercises before bed to help you relax
Meditation and deep breathing can help you to clear your mind of concerns and worries before you head to sleep. I like using the app “Headspace” for a 10 minute guided meditation, however you can also choose to perform a short 20 deep breaths exercise for 5 minutes to clear your mind of thoughts and distractions.
- Get a digital filter for your screen
If you use a screen (like the one you are staring at right now) a digital filter can help to eliminate much of the blue light that floods our eyes and minds. A good option is the f.lux program which you can download for free at http://justgetflux.com.