Go to bed, sleepy head
True story: If you’ve ever been at risk for a concussion as a result of your tired head nodding forward and smacking into your computer screen, chances are you’re not getting an adequate amount of shut eye.
Been there, huh?
Sleep. It’s something we all require and yet insufficient R&R is a fast-growing public health epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the amount of sleep required to stay healthy varies with each individual, the facts are simple – sleep is often neglected when it is considered in terms of overall health. The truth is, however, we are a caffeine-fueled, quick-fix nation. While that’s OK every now and then, too little sleep can be a killer to your health – literally –when it’s all said and done.
But, really, what’s the big deal?
According to the CDC, the health effects of sleepless nights are aplenty, including the onset of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and depression, as well as a higher risk for cancer.
Plus, too little sleep makes you feel like crap. Ever try getting excited about life while running on two hours of sleep? Yeah, it’s kinda hard. And, if that’s not enough, then consider this: A lack of sleep can take your snatched frame from looking svelte to downright paunchy. That’s right. Several studies show that a lack of sleep can affect hormones and appetite, leading to an onslaught of all-day binge-fests.
Prepare for better sleep
I’ve always been a less-than-stellar sleeper, but some of my best nights of sleep have been the result of careful preparation, especially when my stress levels are a bit on the high side. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Sweat it out. Studies show that ladies and gents who regularly exercise sleep better. You know that I-just-kicked-my-butt fatigue that comes hand-in-hand with a tough workout? Yeah, that’ll help you nod off quickly.
Stop with the caffeine and sugar. These stimulants give you a little pick-me-up during the day, and the effects are no different in the evening. Lay off, especially in the late afternoon and evening, and give your body some time to calm down. And, hey, kick the cigarette habit. The nicotine is bound to keep your peepers from sleeping and it’s gross anyway. Knock it off.
Create a little white noise. When I was a baby, my parents often lulled me to sleep by keeping a fan next to my crib (I wasn’t a great sleeper then either). Call me an infant, but I still fall asleep every night to the hum of a small fan that sits on my nightstand. The light vibration helps block excess noise, and the consistency helps my brain know it’s time to shut down.
Channel some Zen. Sheila Viers, emotional eating expert, holistic life coach and co-founder of Live Well 360, says stretching combined with deep breathing helps put her in snooze mode.
“Oftentimes, right before bed, I’ll run through a few yoga poses and stretches to open up my hips and shoulders, which have usually been contracted from typing at the computer all day,” she said. “While I stretch, I take deep breaths from my core, which helps to release the stress from the day and calm my mind.”
Turn off all distractions. It’s best to keep what the National Sleep Foundation calls “sleep stealers” out of the bedroom. This goes for computers, televisions and even books. In fact, they say the bedroom should be for two things: sleep and sex. Reason #8,000 to get hot and heavy between the sheets.
Establish a pre-bed ritual. Decide on a specific time that you will begin to unwind each night and commit to certain relaxing activities, like sipping tea or taking a warm bath. These acts will also help you get to bed around the same time every night. When the clock strikes the bedtime hour, it’s lights out – no excuses.
I also rely on a few other tricks like aromatherapy to put me at ease. Lavender oils work wonders, as do chamomile, valerian and ylang ylang. Consider an essential oil home diffuser, or make a DIY lavender sachet to slip under your pillow. All you have to do is tie a dishcloth or piece of fabric around some fresh lavender buds, and you’re good-to-go.
Last thought: Don’t focus on the fact that you’re not sleeping. Sounds crazy, but placing too much emphasis on the act of falling asleep can impede your ability to rest easily. Instead, think happy thoughts. Hone in on an upcoming vacation – or one you dream of taking – or a hot crush you have at work. You’ll be drifting off in no time.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, TheGSpotRevolution.com and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.