The first time I meet with a patient I do a full assessment of their diet and lifestyle. The third question I ask is, “How well do you sleep at night and how much sleep do you get?” Unfortunately, my enthusiasm to address the topic is typically met with hesitation, indifference, and resistance. It is common knowledge that sleep is vital to our mental and physical health, but it is also critical to weight loss, since poor sleep impacts our ability to make sound choices time after time and day after day. Poor sleep also decreases metabolic rate and impacts muscle repair and immune function. In my opinion, our society has dramatically undervalued the importance of sleep on the human body and the impact it has on mental and physical health. With the added stress of an ongoing pandemic and the anxiety surrounding back to school and fall plans, most of my patients have reported that their sleep schedules have been off track. Below I have listed some simple steps you can take to improve both your quality and quantity of sleep and hopefully they will have you catching more and better quality “Zzzzz’s” in no time.
- Eat a Light Dinner WITH Carbohydrates: While dinner time is typically when the family can sit down together and connect about the day, you do not want this meal to be the largest of the day. Going to bed with a full belly can make you feel very restless and can trigger a whole host of unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects. However, I would recommend having a serving or two of carbohydrates, like half of a medium sweet potato or some quinoa, with dinner, since carbohydrates can increase tryptophan and serotonin which can help with sleepiness.
- Have the Same Bedtime and Same Waketime! I recently went through sleep training with my now toddler and one thing that helped him become a 12-hour, through-the-night sleeper was keeping his bedtime and waketime identical every day since he was eight weeks old. Now trust me, this took sacrifice and a lot of effort but now he tells me he is ready for bed at 6:30PM. Our bodies run on a circadian rhythm which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. We can help this process reset by getting our routines consistent and showing ourselves, it is time to “turn off” and “wake up” at the same times daily. While this does take consistency and dedication, it is a tried-and-true method to get your quantity of sleep improved.
- Set a Nightly Ritual/Routine: Along the same lines as having a bedtime, setting up a nighttime routine is another way to get the mind and body thinking, “it’s time to go to sleep now.” This routine can be as short or as long as you would like, but I would encourage it to be about thirty minutes long and omit any digital light or screens (even with the blue light blocking glasses). Activities to include in this routine can be taking a shower, stretching, doing a meditation, reading a book, or having a positive conversation with your partner. You want to do these activities in the same order each night so the routine can set in, and it can prompt the body to prepare for sleep.
- Practice Gratitude: One of the best activities to include in your nighttime routine is writing down things you are grateful for or positive things that have happened throughout the day. Practicing putting positive thoughts into your head prior to bed has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The thought is that practicing gratitude can help ease the nervous system. Personally, I have started a gratitude journal where I write down one or two things I am grateful for every night before bed. This has been a very positive practice for me, and I have no issues falling asleep even after a challenging day.
I hope this post will inspire you to tackle your sleep issues and make positive changes in your evening routine so you can get some restorative and rejuvenating shut-eye!
In Health & Happiness, Jessica