Build Your Optimal Sleep Toolbox
Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, Namaste Wellness Advisor and Director of Wellness Research
One under-appreciated fact about wellness is that the quality of your day, today, has much to do with the quality of your sleep the night before.
Sleep is fundamental to wellbeing, and “stillness” is one of Namaste’s essential pillars of wellness. The short-term consequences of insufficient or disrupted sleep include: a heightened stress response, somatic pain, mood disorders, and compromised cognition, memory, and performance. Long-term consequences are even more dramatic, including a heightened risk of high blood pressure, metabolic changes, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. Essentially, you cannot operate at your best without sufficient sleep.
How much good quality sleep do you get each night? Do you think it’s enough?
Approximately one-third of adults are getting insufficient sleep, which is defined as fewer than seven hours per night.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for adults (12-64 years) is 7-9 hours, and for adults 65 and older, 7-8 hours.
Yes, many people can plow through the day on just a handful of hours. But most likely, you will not feel your best or be able to perform your best work. If you are curious to know about sleep patterns in your state, CDC offers state-specific fact sheets. For example, in New York, 38% of adults are getting insufficient sleep.
Just as important as sleep duration is sleep consistency. Consistent sleep habits may be key to maintaining a healthy weight as variability in sleep habits significantly increases the risk of obesity. The National Sleep Foundation recommends choosing a bedtime and a wake-up time and being consistent - yes, even on weekends. This is a primary emphasis in Dr. James Maas’s book Power Sleep. He insists that we establish “absolute synchrony” - getting to bed and getting up at the same time every day and timing sleep patterns to match the requirements of daily activities. Before electricity, it used to be that we would go to bed once the sunset and wake up with the rising sun, logging a surprising 10 hours per night of sleep. However, artificial light has interfered with our connection to these natural rhythms. Instead, distraction is present at every turn. Computers, cell phones, tablets and TVs distract us from our innate biological rhythms. While challenging, it is essential that we make a personal commitment to preserve, protect, and optimize our sleep.
Here are a few basic recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation to ensure sufficient, healthy sleep:
Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed so that the blue light of the screen does not interfere with the production of melatonin - your brain’s sleep hormone.
If you use an alarm, get up right away, and train yourself to get up at the same time every day until eventually you don’t even need an alarm at all. This will be easier once you reach the perfect sleep duration for you - somewhere between 7 and 9 hours.
Eat your last meal 2-3 hours before bedtime to make sure you aren’t going to bed on a full stomach. Eating a large meal soon before bed can reduce the quality of your sleep.
Get moving! Physical activity reduces stress and tires you out. Find the timing that works for you. Some people find evening exercise too stimulating. Others may find that it helps them fall asleep faster. The only suggestion to keep in mind is to avoid very vigorous exercise soon before bed as it can delay sleep onset and reduce sleep quality.
Empty your mind of preoccupations and nagging concerns. This could include making a to-do list to remind yourself of things to do tomorrow (so they don’t swim around in your mind). Or it could mean journaling to process stress-provoking issues so you find peace and closure and can let go of your concerns.
Simple mind-body exercises such as deep belly breathing (quietly feeling the belly rise and fall) and body scans can help reduce stress. A Namaste Wellness Advisor or Yoga or Meditation Instructor can walk you through some simple techniques.
Limit caffeine to earlier in the day. Caffeine stays in your body for 5-6 hours, so your afternoon coffee or tea can truly upset your evening sleep routine.
Keep your home dimly lit in the evening so that the light doesn’t impact your internal clock. When needed an eye mask or blackout shades can create a darker sleeping environment that supports better sleep.
Listen to relaxing music at night to help you unwind.
Namaste works with many clients who are seeking to optimize their sleep in order to improve their health, manage chronic disease, and sustain peak performance.
Additional recommendations offered to help calm the nervous system and get better rest include:
Schedule an in-home evening massage with a Namaste massage therapist, or practice self-massage or exchange mini massages with your partner.
Practice restorative yoga at night to help yourself de-stress. Keeping your yoga mat in your bedroom is a useful trick. Even better, keep an eye pillow on hand, along with any other favorite yoga props.
Add soothing aromatherapy oils such as lavender oil to a bath or take an epsom salts bath.
Consider using a melatonin supplement to give your brain a boost of sleep hormones.
Savor a warm cup of herbal (no caffeine) tea.
As the busy CEO of Namaste New York, Julie Wald gladly practices what she teaches while supporting her many discerning wellness clients. Here is a sneak peek of Julie’s evening routine. The best part? It’s not complicated, expensive or time-consuming.
First, Julie ends the day by shutting down and storing all of her electronics out of sight and most definitely out of the bedroom. No blue light in the bedroom.
In order to ensure a quiet time to settle down, she keeps an electric tea kettle and some herbal tea bags in her bedroom. This simple trick allows her to enjoy a warm cup of tea without having to go back down to the kitchen, where the temptation is high to get drawn back into work.
Julie then takes a hot shower, dropping a bit of DoTerra essential oils onto the shower floors so that the fragrance fills the bathroom. The soothing smells of lavender, clary sage or bergamot are uplifting and help to promote sleep.
Next she unrolls her yoga mat - also in the bedroom - and practices this very simple and quick gentle yoga routine:
Julie's Gentle Yoga for Sleep
Begin in Standing Forward Fold, allowing the body to hang, release, and let go of stress, bending knees softly.
With hands-on the ground, walk feet back into a Downward Facing Dog. Use this to stretch out the back of the body, especially the lower back and legs.
Reach one leg up and back and slide the shin forward into Pigeon Pose. Stay for a few breaths and then return to Downward Dog to prepare for Pigeon Pose on the other side.
Drop to knees and reach arms long, sinking into Child’s Pose for several long breaths.
Rest in Savasana for a few minutes, covering eyes with an eye pillow and using a weighted sandbag on the hips to ground. Observe the breath.
If time allows, drop into silent meditation for a few minutes.
Finally, Julie goes to bed to read for a few minutes. She keeps a stack of books on her bedside table so there is always something enticing to read. But, as she describes, her routine is so effective that she is only able to read for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep.
If you struggle with poor sleep habits and the consequences thereof, Namaste is able and willing to partner with you to get your sleep habits in order so you can begin to feel healthier, more refreshed, and more prepared for the demands of your day.
In conclusion, remember this important instruction from the National Sleep Foundation about making sleep a priority:
“don’t make sleep the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need.”