Snooze Thirty: How and Why to Prioritize a Good Night's Sleep
Sleep used to be something that I took for granted; I rarely had problems sleeping as a child or adolescent, and it wasn't until graduate school that I began having sleepless nights and realized the importance of a good night's rest. These days, I consider sleep to be a pillar of my good health, right up there with maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and cultivating healthy relationships.
If you have trouble sleeping, you already know the frustration of the mental fog that it puts you in throughout the day. Even if staying up late to finish up your work seems like it's going to save you time, in the long ends up costing you the next day as you are less focused, less productive, and less patient with your coworkers. This grumpiness can also affect your relationships at home, as you may find that your lack of energy translates into being less helpful around the house and more likely to lash out at your loved ones.
Are you ready to start sleeping better? Like anything else, sleep isn't about just one part of your life. Incorporating healthy habits and rituals into your day, evening, and night are essential for achieving good sleep. Here are some tips to get better sleep:
Your behavior during the day sets you up for good sleep that night. Keeping a regular wake up time (yes, even on the weekends!) is a great way to prepare you right at the outset for your nighttime schedule. In Chinese medical theory, the best time to wake up is between 5-7am. This time period is associated with the Large Intestine organ, which is associated with the always ready-to-go rabbit. Even if you're not waking up quite that early, do try to keep your hours consistent from day to day.
Most of us spend most of our day indoors, but getting outside and in the sunshine is very important for getting enough sleep. Not only does vitamin D keep our bones, skin, and immune system healthy, but sunshine also cues your brain that it's time to be fully alert. Even if you live in a cloudy place (hi, Portland!), getting outside and being exposed to natural light still stimulates your brain to greater wakefulness. The more alert and awake you are during the day, the easier it will be to fall asleep at night.
Exercising during the day is also important for helping you sleep well. If you find that you're not sleeping even with regular exercise, take a look at the time that you're getting your workout in. If your workout is later in the afternoon or evening, try moving it to the morning to see if that changes your pattern.
Make sure you're drinking plenty of water during the day. In Chinese medicine, insomnia is frequently associated with a deficiency of the blood and fluids in the body. Drinking enough water is a great way to replenish yourself. However, try to keep your fluid intake to a minimum after 7 or 8pm. This can help prevent you from needing to get up to go to the bathroom during the night. Avoiding excessive alcohol intake (greater than one drink per day in women, two drinks per day in men) will help to improve the quality of your sleep.
At night, it's very important that you set a winding down routine. Avoiding screens 1-2 hours prior to bed time is a vital component of this. These screens have a lot of 'blue light' which cue our brain to wakefulness, and our devices remind us of our stressful to do lists, aggravating news, and generally keep us switched 'on', even when it's time for you to let go of the day's events. If you must use a screen, consider purchasing some blue light-filtering glasses.
As another part of your winding down routine, try setting a brief ritual for yourself in every room of your living space to close down for the night, switching off the lights in each room until you get to your bedroom. You can also incorporate self massage, meditation, or a foot soak in warm water. Whatever end of day ritual you choose, keep it consistent. Choose a consistent time to be in bed that will give you enough hours of sleep before your regular wake time. During this time, avoid overly bright lights, loud noises, and other overly stimulating environmental factors. In your sleeping space, incorporate elements that soothe you and set a 'mise en scene' for sleep. Consider using a white noise machine (especially if you live in an urban environment) or a diffuser with soothing essential oils such as lavender or clary sage.*
Sleep is when the body's transformative powers are at their most active. It's the period where you incorporate the events of the day in your body and mind. Because of this, sleep is vital for good health, improving life expectancy, fitness, cognitive functioning, and mood. Don't let poor sleep detract from the quality of your life – incorporate good sleep habits so that you can live your best health.
*Clary sage essential oil should not be used in pregnancy.
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates and GYROTONIC® instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice particularly focuses on using gentle, Japanese acupuncture techniques and classical Chinese herbalism for the whole family. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves to cook, listen to podcasts, chase her baby around, and cater to her cats’ every whim.