I’m going to switch gears and focus on YOU. Are you practicing what you preach when it comes to healthy sleep? While my main focus is on helping families get their babies to sleep soundly, it’s still essential for you to get a good night’s rest. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to fall asleep and get the requisite number of hours of sleep your body needs to perform, this post is for you.
Unfortunately, I have no advice for those of you who suffer from a sleep disorder because I am not a physician and I’m sure your doctor has already offered you strategies. What I can do, however, is share some helpful tips to begin implementing a healthy sleep routine of your own.
If you find yourself taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, you could likely benefit from a sleep routine. However, the best sleep aid you can have is one similar to your baby’s — create a bedroom environment conducive to sleeping. As hard as it is, avoid the temptation to bring your cell phone or tablet into bed at night and keep the television out of the bedroom. You’ll also want to keep your room cool and dark; basically, do everything to create an environment that allows you to relax.
You’ve likely already about the adverse effects blue light has on our brains and that it affects sleep, but did you know that our gadgets can change all aspects of our sleep, start to finish? According to the National Sleep Foundation, our electronics can suppress the release of melatonin — thus disrupting sleep patterns and signals — and keep our brains alert (making it difficult to fall asleep), in addition to causing sleep disruptions throughout the night. Again, if you’ve eliminated screens from your children’s nighttime routines, you will also benefit from doing the same; bring a book to bed if you must (but do not read on a tablet!).
How much sleep do I need?
According to the American Sleep Association, 35.3% of adults report less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period. A third of the adult population in the US are not getting adequate sleep each night, which contributes to a slew of additional problems: daytime sleepiness, irritability, depression, increased risk of developing diabetes & heart disease, memory & concentration issues, weight gain, and driving accidents. The first step to battling sleep deprivation is figuring out the right amount of sleep for your body because sleep needs differ by person.
Henry Nicholls, author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest, spent months researching the science of sleep, to help people sleep better (Nicholls suffered from narcolepsy). What he found was that knowing how much sleep one needs, and carving out a routine that protects that amount of sleep, are keys to getting a better night’s rest.
If you’ve ever tried an elimination diet, the concept with determining optimal sleep amounts is similar. Keep a sleep diary and tally the hours you sleep each night; make sure you enter any notes pertaining to how you feel each day — mental clarity, alert/sluggishness, etc. Nicholls says that the average number of hours over a two week period of journaling sleep will be the number of hours your body needs.
Once you’ve determined your optimal number of sleep hours, create a consistent sleep routine every day of the week. This means going to bed and waking at the same times each day and resisting the temptation to stay up late and sleep in on weekends. The other key to a better night’s sleep? Practicing what Nicholls calls good sleep hygiene: “you have to implement basic sleep hygiene, which is not drinking caffeine after midday, or exercising too late, or drinking alcohol before bed, and just eating sensibly.”
And like I tell my clients, give it a couple of weeks of consistently adhering to your routine and your body will start to respond. You may even find that you no longer need to set your alarm — wouldn’t that be great?