Y’all, yesterday was rough.
My alarm didn’t go off and I ended up being an hour late to work! Perhaps it was my body’s way of letting me know I need to prioritize sleep in this season of life.
Sleep is a funny thing. Adult humans need 7-9 hours per night to function on average. That’s more than a quarter of our day spent not producing or creating anything – but simply giving the body space to recover. Get your wellness coach’s guide to crafting a wind-down routine here!
For many folks, this is simply too much to ask, and many make a choice to throw sleep on the chopping block in order to get more done during their days.
But science proves this to be unwise as poor sleep can lead to such health outcomes as memory loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease – just to name a few.
As a self-care coach, I believe sleep trumps all other forms of caring for yourself – even exercise, dare I say it. Sleep is the foundation upon which all other self-care practices are built. If you want to try to take better care of yourself, but aren’t sure where to start – start with your sleep.
Read on to learn how to solve the 4 most common sleep roadblocks and how to craft your own wind-down ritual to prime your body and brain for the ultimate night’s rest!
The 4 most common sleep roadblocks are:
- Mental chatter: Racing thoughts, negative self-talk, work-related anxiety or worry
- Poor sleep environment: Electronics in the bedroom, excess of light or noise, a cluttered room, using the bedroom for other activities throughout the day
- Poor nutrition: Too much sugar, alcohol, and caffeine are often the culprits of a tossy-turny night
- Lack of a wind-down routine: Too much screen time/other stimulation before bed, working or exercising too close to sleep, the absence of a gratitude ritual
I think we have a lot of guilt around sleep. So many of us know we can make a change, but we end up blaming ourselves for our social conditioning and neurological pathways.
This is where self-compassion comes in. As with changing all other patterns, it is essential to bring a friendly curiosity to the “problem” at hand.
What do you feel you would be able to accomplish with more sleep? Who would you be if you got the ideal amount of sleep? How would you see the world differently?
Aligning with our intention for getting more sleep, sensing that ability to care for ourselves, and seeking the path to nurture our deepest needs are all steps along the path to better sleep.
Here are some of my favorite troubleshooting tips, once you’ve set your intention for getting more sleep.
If you have issues with mental chatter…
1. Try a relaxing meditation.
Meditate right before or after getting into bed. I adore the Insight Timer app, they have a preset category for falling asleep, and given that it’s listed first under “Most Popular”, I’d say I’m not the only one!
2. Give yoga nidra a shot.
Unlike other forms of yoga… you just lie there. But seriously, the candlelit yoga nidra classes I’ve taken have been some of the most profound. The goal is to not fall asleep while the guide is speaking, but rather to be placed in a deep state of relaxation. I challenge you to try to stay awake after a session… 😉
3. Focus on your breath.
I often fall asleep counting breaths or trying new breathing techniques. One favorite is to imagine each part of your body as a lung, beginning with each toe. Practice breathing into each body part 1 to 3 times. See if you can even make it to the crown of your head before dozing off.
4. Send yourself loving kindness.
Place your hand over your heart and say to yourself, “I’m sorry you’re struggling to fall asleep right now. No matter what, I’m here for you and we will get through this together. I love you.” If it feels awkward, give yourself some credit. You’re doing the radical work of rewiring your brain for self-compassion!
If you’re struggling with your sleep environment…
1. Put electronics to bed.
Buy an old fashioned alarm clock, a separate white noise machine, and kick your phone out of the bedroom. Scrolling through social media just before sleep is one of the worst ways to stimulate your brain and get those thoughts churning. If you really want to go overboard, you can put your phone to bed as Arianna Huffington suggests, in a room separate from your bed. How cute are these?
2. Block out all light.
I don’t know how I ever slept without my eye mask. It is now the most important thing I need to sleep anywhere. I’ve purchased several over the years – and while I really like the concave eye masks that allow you to open your eyes, I found that they fall apart easily. I recently purchased a silk one, and am loving the luxe feel of it!
If the eye mask doesn’t block enough light, invest in some blackout curtains for your windows. Shut out any electronic light sources, such as an alarm clock or laptop.
3. Tune out noise pollution.
Similar to my eye mask, I also don’t know how I ever got a good night’s sleep without my white noise. I am wholly dependent on it now! We use our google home mini (I know… an electronic), but you can also buy dedicated white noise machines.
I’ve tried other things like the thunderstorm or rain forest sounds, and – while I like them and find them relaxing – the inconsistency of sound affected my sleep patterns negatively. Usually good old fashioned white or brown noise does the trick for me!
4. Use the bedroom only for sleep.
What else do you use your bedroom for? Your closet? Your office? If you can, try to keep it – or at least your bed – a sleep only zone. This will help your brain associate the action (getting into bed) with sleep, and sleep alone. If you have a studio apartment, just try not to get into the habit of watching TV or working from bed.
5. Keep the clutter out of the bedroom.
While clutter in any room of the house can raise our cortisol levels, it has the particularly nasty result of robbing us of sleep when it enters the bedroom. If the last thing you see as you fall asleep is the pile of clothes on a chair that you need to put away or the stack of papers on your bedside table that you need to sort through, imagine how your mental space can quickly become cluttered as well. If you don’t Konmari any other room of the house, at least do your bedroom, for sleep’s sake!
If you suspect nutrition might have something to do with your sleep patterns…
1. Track it.
Many people mindlessly consume empty calories just before bed. The best way to evaluate your diet and its links to your sleep quality is to write it down. There are so many apps to help with this, making it a game changer.
At the very simplest, you can snap a picture of everything you eat for a week, attach it to an email to yourself at the end of each day, and reply to it the following morning with how you slept.
How many hours did you get? How long did it take you to fall asleep? Did you wake up during the night? Was it easy to get up in the morning? Pay particular attention to sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
2. Cut down on caffeine.
Caffeine takes on average 4 to 6 hours to leave your body. So try to resist that afternoon pick me-up espresso, and opt for a healthy kombucha or a walk around the block instead.
3. Track the booze.
I think this is so important, and working in the industry as a beertender, I’ve only become more passionate about it. Alcohol is a poison. It needs to be consumed mindfully and with the utmost respect for its physical and mind-altering affects.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, “For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.”
When I learned this is the best practice to avoid certain cancers and other health side-effects, I started tracking my alcohol consumption religiously. Even though it’s not a popular party trick, I try to encourage those I care about to do the same.
In the short-term, alcohol can wage horrific war on your sleep. Every body is different, and I’ve found that my sleep can sometimes be affected after only one drink. The key is moderation and hydration!
If you don’t currently have a wind-down ritual at the end of the day…
I don’t follow mine point-by-point exactly every night, but it helps guide me to make the right decisions. I always try to factor in skin care, gratitude journaling, and reading. Most importantly, I try to begin at the same time each night so I can fall asleep on time… in order to wake up on time and have adequate time for my morning self-care ritual!
Do you prefer to shower in the morning or at night? Are you a more successful meditator just before bed or first thing in the morning? Perhaps you like to go for a 10-mile run every morning. You do you, boo. Just create a plan so you can carve out time for what matters.
Most people find that building self-care into either an evening or morning ritual (or both!) means they are much more likely to do it consistently. And it will help improve your sleep! Bonus. 🙂
Getting better sleep ain’t rocket science.
I think most of us know how to improve our sleep, but resist it because of the demands we allow society and our jobs to place on us.
Now it’s time for some tough love: I challenge you to take a good look at how you spend the hours just before bed, and start playing with new habits.
As with all new habits, don’t see it as a test to pass or fail. Rather, see it as a game you can get better at over time if you listen to the feedback the new habit gives you.
Start with your sleep environment, and gradually work your way up to the wind-down ritual. Soon you’ll be looking forward to those final moments of every day – I know I do!
Nothing feels more luxurious than crawling into my bed with my lavender essential oil and getting some time to bury my nose in a book. Knowing that it contributes to better sleep and, ultimately, a better morning with more space for self-care, is just the cherry on top!
Let me know how it goes in the comments below, Dear Ones:
What change can you make to your sleep environment before crawling into bed tonight?
Which of the 4 classic sleep robbers listed above do you struggle most with?
And what is one take away from this post you can implement to overcome it?
As always, be well & take gentle self care! Sweet dreams…