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Health & Wellness: Sleep Hackathon

Photo By Hillary Ehlen

Imagine this: Someone walks up to you and pitches you on a brand-new, magical potion.

This potion can give you better skin, a better mood, a better body and even better sex!

Would you buy it? That potion is real, but you don’t have to drink it. All it takes is going to bed a little bit earlier.

Good sleep is the best way to renew and refresh ourselves, yet it is one of the most overlooked aspects of health. Not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, is actually quite dangerous. One of my three board certifications is Sleep Medicine, so this can keep ME up at night, worrying about all of you!

Not getting enough shut-eye can lead to a spike in stress hormones (which causes weight gain and other issues), memory issues, a dramatically higher risk of getting into a car accident, high blood pressure, stroke, depression and more.

Sleep is NOT optional. We all know this, but, millions of Americans are seriously deprived — getting less than six hours a night. Optimal sleep is seven to eight hours for most people.

Unlike other health upgrades —diet, fitness, and other things that can take a great deal of time and effort —sleep is an immediate gift! All it takes is a few small tweaks to your usual routine.

It starts in the morning!

1. Make your bed

Your mom was right! Make your bed!

There is something so soothing about peeling back smooth, cool sheets rather than a tangled mess of fabric. Seeing a beautiful, tidy, welcoming bed allows your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and relax your entire body.

2. Invest in the best! 

You’re going to (hopefully!) be spending 1/3 of your life — eight hours a day — in your bed. Invest in a mattress, bed frame, blankets, pillows and sheets that you really love! Bamboo sheets — so delicious and eco-friendly. I also love weighted blankets. They make you feel like a big hug.

3. Cool your jets

Studies show that we sleep better in cooler temperatures, less than 67 degrees. Turn down the heat at night and save a few dollars. Try cracking a window or turning on a fan in your bedroom to chill things out. Side note and PSA: cooler temps and the presence of a gentle fan moving air in a baby’s room decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.)

4. Create a “caffeine cut-off”

We all tolerate caffeine differently. I have a friend who can chug a double-shot of espresso at midnight and then drift off to sleep! But generally, it’s a good idea to put your stash of tea or coffee away eight hours before sleep. So, if bedtime is 10 p.m., that means your final vanilla latte of the day should be happening no later than 2 p.m.

5. The booze snooze backfires.

Pursuing the finer things, like the perfect food and beer pairings, tend to make us relaxed and even sleepy. But adult beverages cause a paradoxical effect four to five hours after imbibing. Our brain neurons rev up, causing lighter sleep and maybe an extra early wake-up. Start the festivities earlier and switch to water a few hours before bedtime.

6. Screen out screen time.

Bright lights from computers, TV and cell phone mess keep our brains overstimulated. Try to unplug from devices an hour before bedtime. You can also try amber-colored glasses, or a free software called “f.lux” on your computer to automatically filter out the blue light wavelengths that are really bad for sleep.

7. Black it out

Electronic lights are a serious sleep wrecker. Even that subtle glow from your cell phone, power cords or the TV even when it’s off can pose a problem. Use duct tape to cover the glows. Got neon lights peeking in through your windows from the city? Consider investing in blackout curtains. (A life-changer!) For the kids? Use an amber night-light.

8. Brighten up in the morning

Several minutes of natural light, especially in the morning, helps with energy and keeps our circadian clock in the right rhythm.

9. Supplements can help

Vitamin D: Who knew Vitamin D was so important for good sleep? Get your levels checked so that you know if you are deficient and need to catch up. If so, take Vitamin D in the morning. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids can increase feelings of wellness and decrease stressful feelings. Magnesium: Magnesium can be very relaxing and most of us are short on it, so an evening supplement can be very helpful. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is responsible for post-Thanksgiving dinner dozing and a supplement can help you get to sleep faster at night. Melatonin: Melatonin is a powerful hormone and antioxidant that your body should produce on its own if you keep things dark enough. But use it occasionally for travel or for a night when you need power sleep.

10. Set a bedtime and a sleep ritual

Having consistent rituals to mark the end of the day can really help you to relax and drift off to a beautiful night’s sleep. You can try a warm bath; the cooling effect after makes you sleepy. You could try journaling for a few moments — like maybe writing down your top three most important priorities for tomorrow, just to get them out of your head and onto the page. You could listen to some soothing, sleep-inducing music. Diffuse some vanilla, sandalwood or lavender oil (one of Mother Nature’s best sleep enhancers!)

11. Don’t force it

If you’re lying in bed, wide awake, and just can’t fall asleep… shift into a new different activity. Avoid grabbing your laptop or another digital device — the illumination from the screen will just confuse your brain into thinking, “It’s morning! Wake up!” Instead, do something quiet and tech-free — deep breathing, listening to gentle music, stretching, journaling more or reading a boring book with a special night light with no blue wavelengths.

Sweet dreams!

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