If you regularly follow FabYOUlous Life, you no doubt saw our Fab Factors series in which we featured twelve different personality/character traits that (when cultivated) can lead to a more FabYOUlous life (if you haven’t seen that series; WHERE have you been? Seriously. No worries though, you can check it out here.)
While incorporating those Fab Factors into your life certainly can lead to a greater experience of FabYOUlousness, there are also smaller tweaks that each one of us can make in our everyday lives that can reap major dividends when it comes to creating a truly FabYOUlous life. In this new series, we will feature one FabYOUlous change per month that will help you to reach your full FabYOUlous potential. Last month we focused on thinking bigger. This month we are focusing on sleeping your way to the top.
No, this is not a post about using sex as a way of currying favor with your boss—ick! Seriously—DO NOT do that. Instead, this is a post about all of the magnificent benefits of sleep and how to ensure that you are getting enough zzz’s so as to maximize your health and stay on top of your game.
Admittedly, this chapter is a bit of a challenge for me to write because sleep has been a struggle for me for most of my adult life. It’s not that I don’t sleep—it’s just that I don’t prioritize it the way that I should. My night owl tendencies often get the best of me and I’ll find myself wide awake at 2:00 A.M. when I know that I have to wake up at 6:00 A.M. Still, despite being bad at sleep, I know just how amazing I feel and how much better life seems to cruise along when I am well rested; so for this reason, I have become much more deliberate about making sure that I get an adequate amount of sleep…usually.
While I especially love the emotional health benefits associated with being well rested (less crabbiness, better relationships as a result of being less crabby, reduced anxiety levels and heightened levels of optimism—just to name a few); the “behind the scenes” physical health benefits of sleep are quite impressive too. Adding an extra hour of sleep to your routine can reduce blood pressure by as much as 8 to 14 points in just six weeks (according to Harvard Medical School researchers) and, that extra hour of shut-eye can cut your odds of dangerous plaque buildup in your arteries by 33%, making you less likely to suffer a heart attack (based on reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Additionally, getting enough sleep (7-8 hours a night) on a regular basis will (according to a University of California, Berkeley study in the journal, Nature Neuroscience) reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and make you 83% less likely to catch a cold.
These are all incredibly compelling reasons to make sleep a priority, and yet, despite these proven benefits, it is estimated that more than 60% of us get fewer than seven hours of solid sleep per night. What gives? Why is good sleep so elusive for so many of us and what can we do to reverse this trend? Here are five common causes of sleep deprivation and strategies on how to overcome each one…
Five Reasons You’re Not Sleeping and How to Fix Them
1.) Night time is YOUR time. Yep—I’ll confess, this is my biggest reason for not getting enough sleep. I tend to view the night time as the time when I finally get to do all of the things that I want to do but didn’t have time to do during the day. I’ll read, knit, play around on my laptop, etc. I love my “me time” but it definitely cuts into my sleep time. The thing is though–“me time” is beneficial in its own right and something that we all desperately need in order to live FabYOUlous lives. In order to not deprive myself of my “me time” but still get the sleep that I need, I now try to grab small, scheduled bites of “me time” throughout my day. I’ll take 15 minutes at lunch to do some knitting or listen to a recorded book during my drive to work in the morning. These small bits of personal time accumulate and pay off in much the same way that short intervals of exercise can (over time) add up to big fitness benefits.
Another way to get your “me time” in is to set the alarm on your phone for a predetermined amount of time (20-30 minutes usually works well) and use this time to do the chores that tend to eat up your evenings, but don’t do the chores all by yourself. Instead, make it a ritual that during this time, everyone in the household pitches in and helps out. Children can help unload the dishwasher while your hubby makes the school lunches for the next day and you fold the laundry. Once the timer goes off, everyone wraps up the chore that they were working on and uses the rest of the evening to relax. This gives everyone a sense of contribution to the management of the household and gives you back precious minutes of “me time” that you now don’t have to use at midnight.
2.) Your “monkey mind” won’t stop chattering. Why is it that when the lights turn off, our brains turn on? This “monkey mind” phenomenon strikes most of us from time to time and boy can it be a challenge to deal with. It seems that as soon as our head hits the pillow, we start to obsess about every item on our to-do list or we replay the tape of every regret that we’ve ever experienced. Then, to make matters worse—we look at the clock and start to stress out about how many hours of sleep we’re not getting. It’s a vicious cycle—the more anxiety we feel, the less we sleep and the less we sleep, the more anxious we feel.
The next time you get a case of “monkey mind madness” take solace in knowing that you’re not alone and that most everyone experiences this phenomenon on occasion. Then, in an effort to relax your mind and quiet the chatter, try listening to some soft, soothing music. You can plan ahead by downloading a relaxing playlist to your smartphone or MP3 player so that you will have it handy when you need it. Then, listen to the music in the dark and allow the soft melodies to ease your mind. Personally, I have to use music that is strictly instrumental because I find vocals to be too distracting when I’m trying to sleep. If your music library is more death metal than meditative, just do a quick google search for meditation music and you’ll find an abundance of options that can be easily downloaded to your device.
Another way to get yourself off of the hamster wheel of worry is to shift your wakeful beta brainwaves to the slower, more restful waves that come on as you begin to get drowsy. According to Bruce O’Hara, Ph.D. professor of biology at the University of Kentucky, any kind of meditation that focuses on breathing can help to facilitate this shift. O’Hara speculates that even just five minutes of meditation can help move the brain into a more relaxed state that is more conducive to sleep.
3.) You’re allergic to sleep. Okay—you’re not really allergic to sleep but that doesn’t mean that your allergies aren’t keeping you awake at night. Lying down can wreak havoc for allergy sufferers—mucus drainage collects in your throat which triggers a cough and your nasal passages become congested making it difficult to breathe. You toss and turn (and snore) all night long so it’s no wonder you wake up feeling exhausted rather than refreshed.
While a real solution to this problem may require the intervention of an allergist, there are a few steps that you can take in order to find some relief. First, if you are allergic to pollen, keep your bedroom window closed until your particular allergen is no longer in season. If however, your allergies are brought on by indoor allergens, be sure to vacuum your bedroom regularly with a vacuum that has a special HEPA filter and don’t forget to wipe down surfaces to keep dust at bay. Additional help might be found by using a saline nasal spray during the day but if not, a prescription nasal spray (possibly in conjunction with an antihistamine) might help you to breathe more freely and therefore sleep more soundly.
4.) You’re addicted to electronics. Hey—I get it. I love my iPhone and laptop too. However; as convenient as these devices may be during the day, they are incredibly detrimental when it comes to sleep. First off, whether you are working on a report for work, updating your Facebook status or playing Candy Crush, you are being stimulated by whatever is going on on your device and (obviously) stimulation is not conducive to sleep. Secondly, the short wavelength (blue) light that is emitted by most devices suppresses melatonin (your body’s sleep-inducing hormone) production. A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston recently found that compared to those who read printed books, users of electronic devices at bed time felt less drowsy in the evening, took longer to fall asleep and were sleepier and less alert the next morning—even after getting a full eight hours of sleep.
To eliminate the sleep disrupting effect of blue light, be sure to power down all electronic devices at least an hour before hitting the sack. If this seems too impossible for you (again, I get it!), consider purchasing a pair of glasses with amber lenses and wearing them at night when you use your device. Amber lenses have been shown to block short wavelength light, thus resulting in better sleep for those who wear them while using electronic devices before bedtime.
5.) Your best friend is keeping you up. Oh how we love our pets. I have three cats (yes, I’m that lady) and I adore them. I do not however let them sleep in my room anymore. I used to but I got tired of them walking on my face at two in the morning or meowing to be let outside at ridiculous times. Now they have to find somewhere else to sleep at night and as a result, my sleep is much better. A University of Kansas Medical Center survey found that 63% of pet owners who slept with their pets more than four nights a week had significantly lower sleep satisfaction than those who kept the critters out of the bedroom. At first, my kitties didn’t like being banned from my room (they would put their paws under my closed door and rattle the door in an attempt to get my attention—this stopped after I threw a shoe at the door and scared the bejeesus out of them) but it didn’t take long for them to adjust. Dogs are likely easier to train than cats but regardless of whether your furry friend is a dog, cat, ferret or Guinea pig (people don’t really sleep with ferrets or Guinea pigs do they??) making a special bed for your best friend that is outside of your bedroom will increase your sleep quality, thereby making you a less cranky pet owner. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
While these suggestions address some of the most common barriers to sound sleep, here are a few more suggestions that will help you to get some good, quality shut-eye and therefore, feel far more FabYOUlous during your waking hours…
- Wiggle your toes. When stress makes it difficult for you to drift off, try wiggling all ten of your toes for sixty seconds. Reflexology experts say that this move helps to unblock energy channels in the feet and spark a relaxation response that spreads throughout your entire body, helping you to quickly fall into a deep, restful sleep.
- Speaking of toes—to drift off more quickly, try covering your toes with a warm pair of socks. Studies show that wearing socks to bed improves your circulation which helps to usher in sleep.
- Be grateful. A recent study found that heart patients who wrote down three things that they were thankful for before hitting the sack showed reduced levels of inflammation, improved their overall mood and got better sleep.
- Turn down the heat. Research shows that the ideal room temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees. Set your thermostat to this temperature before turning in at night for an optimal sleep experience. Or—invest in a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust the temperature for you.
- Take a bath. You can speed up the drowsy factor at night by taking a warm bath. The rapid cool down that your body experiences after getting out of a warm tub promotes relaxation and results in feelings of drowsiness.
- Dim the lights. Exposure to bright lighting can fool your body into staying awake. As you begin your nighttime routine (washing your face, brushing your teeth etc.) keep the lights low. If it seems too dark, try using indirect light from the hallway.
- Showing your muscles a little love by stretching them out can help you to unwind and release the tension from the day. Combine stretching with deep breathing for an even greater relaxation effect.
- Rub your ears?? It may sound crazy but practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine say that firmly rubbing your earlobes with your thumbs and index fingers for thirty seconds will stimulate acupressure points in the earlobe that relieve stress and return the body to a calm, peaceful state. This relaxation will then help you to drift off to sleep more quickly.
- Inhale some lavender essential oil. Long used for its sleep inducing qualities, lavender essential oil can be inhaled or spritzed onto your pillow to help usher in sound sleep.
- Eat a sleep inducing snack. The key to this suggestion lies in the timing of the snack (eat at least 30 minutes before you plan to turn in for the night) and the type of snack. Light snacks like mozzarella cheese or plain yogurt contain Tryptophan which is an amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin, a brain chemical that is responsible for healthy sleep.
- See the light, but then black it out. Research shows that spending time outside during daylight hours helps to boost your body’s production of melatonin which is responsible for keeping your body on a regular schedule. At night however, experts agree that the darker your bedroom, the better it is for your sleep. Keep your room dark by using black out curtains and by covering any bright electrical displays.
- Bond with your friends (outside of bed!) According to experts at the University of Chicago, close friendships contribute to better rest because feeling connected to others helps to reduce the stress and sadness that often inhibits sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine. If you do the same things every night before going to bed (take a bath, brush your teeth, read a book, etc.) your brain will begin to associate those things with sleep and will therefore start winding down as you start your routine each night.
- Use a flame meditation for relaxation. A survey from the National Sleep Foundation reveals that sixty-three percent of us are so stressed that we toss and turn all night long. A simple remedy for this is to incorporate meditation into your bedtime routine. A very effective, sleep inducing meditation technique is called the dancing flame. To do this meditation, simply snuggle into a comfy chair and soften your gaze as you look at a lit candle for five minutes. Focusing on the gently flickering flame stimulates the brain to release alpha waves which create a relaxed, meditative state that can cut the risk of restless sleep in half. Just be sure to extinguish the candle before you nod off.
- Make sure you have the right kind of pillow. If you suffer from a sore neck during the night, snore or are prone to bouts of sleep apnea, the wrong pillow might be the problem. Your predominant sleep position should determine the type of pillow that you use at night. If you tend to sleep on your side, opt for a pillow that is fluffy and that will keep your neck parallel to your mattress. Back sleepers on the other hand don’t need as much support and should therefore select a flatter pillow because too much plushness can pitch the chin forward toward the chest and inhibit breathing. Stomach sleepers should opt for the thinnest pillow (or no pillow at all) to keep their necks from overarching.
Sleep is a vital ingredient in the recipe for a FabYOUlous life. Make sure that you prioritize it appropriately so that you can reap the benefits of a well rested mind and body.