For those of us who struggle with falling and staying asleep, sleep guru Dr. Michael Breus serves up a lot of good advice. This post shares a host of things we need to do during the day to make sure we’re ready for “lights out” at night.
Set a regular schedule for when you sleep and when you rise to support your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (a.k.a., circadian rhythm). The adrenal gland works in tandem with the pineal gland to manage this biological rhythm. The adrenal gland produces cortisol which acts as a stimulant; the pineal gland produces melatonin, which makes us sleepy. They function best within a context of consistency.
Start the day with a morning routine to send your body a clear signal that it’s time to start the day. As you open your eyes, sit up straight and take in five deep, slow, deliberate breaths. Consider doing a few morning stretches to clear your head and get your body moving. Grab 15 minutes of sunlight within 30 minutes of awakening (or use a full-spectrum light source) and drink 16-20 ounces of water before your morning coffee or tea. (We lose about a liter of fluid while we sleep!) Put on some high energy music and feast on a high protein, low carbohydrate breakfast.
Get aerobic exercise, preferably in the morning. It gets the blood pumping, improves blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps you fall and stay asleep at night. Fitness buffs also produce more growth hormone which improves cellular repair and boosts immune function. All of these benefits kick in over time. (Yep – you’ve got to work out consistently a minimum of 20-30 minutes per day!) Avoid evening workouts as they prove stimulating and do not allow for sufficient time for the elevated core body temperature to drop back down.
Go outside at midday to stop a premature surge in melatonin. It will help you stay alert during the afternoon while continuing to maintain your body’s sleep-wake rhythm. If tempted to nap, wait for 7 hours after waking and give yourself a 25-minute cat nap (light sleep) or a full 90-minute sleep cycle. However, if you struggle with insomnia, don’t nap! It’ll hurt your chances of falling asleep at bedtime.
Watch what you eat and drink in the afternoon and evening. Stop drinking caffeinated drinks by 2pm (although it’s best not to use caffeine at all). Eat sparingly at dinner and go easy on protein and spices to avoid indigestion. Our metabolism slows during sleep and doesn’t have the means to process a heavy meal. Include whole food plant based carbs to increase serotonin. No meals or snacks within 3 hours before bedtime.
Shut yourself off from alcohol at least 3 hours before bedtime and drink a full glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed. It takes roughly an hour to metabolize one alcoholic drink. In the United States, one such drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in 12 ounces of regular beer (~5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (~12% alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (~40% alcohol).
Create a bedtime routine to shut down your brain and help your body relax. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula; you’ll have to experiment to see what works for you. Dr. Breus offers the following suggestions:
- Shortly after dinner, capture what you need to do tomorrow (or the next few days) and anything about which you might be concerned. Jot down a few ideas to address your worries, and then set all such thoughts aside. They’re on the list; you don’t need to think about them until tomorrow.
- Take a hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime, leaving enough time for the body to cool down again. (Our body temperatures drop when we sleep!) Or, take a cool down shower 30 minutes before bed.
- Turn off screen time at least 90 minutes before bedtime. The blue light that these devices emit shuts down melatonin. If that won’t work for you, use blue blocker glasses.
- Create a “Power Down Hour” right before bed that consists of 30 minutes of mindless chores, 15 minutes of hygiene, and 15 minutes of calming activity (e.g., stretching, yoga, meditation, guided imagery).
- Spend 30 minutes connecting with loved ones right before your power down hour… but don’t launch into any serious, upsetting, or tension-filled conversations.
- If you enjoy reading a good old fashioned book right before bed, use an amber reading light. If you read on an iPad, Smartphone, or the like, use blue blocker glasses.
- Write in a gratitude journal right before bed.