MAKING SLEEP A PRIORITY: WHY + HOW TO DO IT!

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Sleep!  We all know we need more of it, but do you know why and how to do that?


In this episode: the why’s behind a lack of sleep: how it affects your hormones, your health, your well-being and your happiness, and ten tips to help you start getting a better and longer night sleep tonight!

full transcript + more information

the below is transcribed from video, with the addition of a few edits/links.

Whitney here,  coming to you to talk about one of my most favorite topics: sleep.

Now, I know, I know, you’ve heard it before: you need to be getting more sleep, but I wanted to arm you with the reasons why you need to be getting more sleep and ten suggestions as to how you can improve not only the duration of your sleep, but also the quality of the sleep that you’re getting.

Think of sleep as nutrition for your brain. If you are getting less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep every single night, you are not fueling your body, filling your cup or making sure that you are sufficiently ready to tackle each and every day as your best self!

There are certainly some seasons of life where perhaps getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep just isn’t possible: if you’re a new parents, if you’re in school, if you have a really demanding job, sleeping may be not be a priority or even possible for a long period of time.

But if you understand why sleep is so important, and you make a little bit more effort to adjust some of your sleeping/bedtime habits, you will likely notice the difference, not only in your health, wellness, overall happiness and well-being, but also, perhaps, in your waistline and on that scale as well! 

Before we get into tips to improve your quality and duration of sleep, let’s chat about two hormones that are directly related to the amount of sleep that you’re getting: ghrelin and leptin.

Insufficient sleep really impacts these two hormones.

Ghrelin is your “I’m full hormone.” It signals your brain when it’s time to eat. When you don’t have enough sleep, this hormone is going to tell you it’s time to eat all the time. Do you ever notice it when you’re really tired, you’re a lot more hungry? It’s due to that hormone!

Leptin, on the other hand, queues your brain that it’s time to put the fork down. A lot of times when you are sleep deprived, this hormone will make you think that you haven’t eaten enough, and you may find that you’re inclined to eat much more.

Put together sleep deprivation leads to really bad imbalance of these two hormones and something that you can definitely combat by just getting just a few more of z’s every night.

In addition, we have this awesome hormone called cortisol.

Your cortisol hormones are your stress hormones, and when your body doesn’t have enough sleep, doesn’t have time to recharge, your cortisol levels go up! This can be a huge factor if you’re trying to lose weight, if you’re trying to maintain weight, or if you’re trying to just leave a happy healthy life without all those added stresses and pressures.

In short skimping on sleep really impacts our brain’s ability to make good decisions. It dulls your ability to know when you’re hungry, when you’re full, and when to stop eating. In general, too little of sleep causes us to make bad decisions when it comes to food, activities, and inhibits good decisions about our health, happiness, and wellness. 

10 tips to help you get better sleep

NOTE: While the tips below are a combination of many tips and tricks I have personally used and adapted over the years, I encourage all of you to pick up a copy of Shawn Stevenson’s, Sleep Smarter! In his book, Stevenson takes an even deeper dive into some of the issues I discuss above, and reveals a number of other incredibly helpful tips and tricks!

tip one: sleep schedule

My first tip to help you sleep longer and smarter is to come up with a good schedule that you can actually stick with for going to bed and waking up.

This should be the same every day of the week (including the weekends). Having a solid and consistent sleep schedule will help your body regulate its internal clock so that you will start to feel tired when it’s bedtime and ready to rise in the morning. It will also ensure that your body is ready to fall asleep and get good quality sleep every night. 

tip two: get more natural sunlight

Tip number two is to get more sunlight during the day.

Our bodies have a hormone called melatonin. You may have heard of this because a lot of people nowadays, and more recently, have been taking melatonin supplements to help them to sleep.

Melatonin doesn’t actually put you to sleep, but it does help your body get better quality of sleep while you’re asleep and may actually help you stay asleep for longer.

Our bodies produce melatonin in a number of different ways: your diet impacts the amount of melatonin that your body produces, your stress level and getting direct sunlight is a big factor in melatonin production in your body. So make sure to get some natural sunlight everyday.

The best time for you to get the sunlight is first thing in the morning. Sunlight and light enters our bodies through our eyes and through our skin, so if you can sit outside with your morning cup of joe, maybe between 6:30 and 8:30 in the morning (depending on what season it is and where in the world you are), this will really help regulate your melatonin levels and assist your body in falling and staying asleep all night long.

tip three: bedtime ritual

My third tip is to practice a bedtime ritual. Like a lot of other things, this is a habit, and like building a muscle, being consistent about it will allow you to practice and build the habit.

It may take some time for you to hone in on what works for you, what you can consistently do and what’s sustainable for you for the long-term.

Turn off all your screens at least an hour before you go to bed. There’s a lot of science that directly links our blue light exposure and body’s natural ability to go to sleep and stay asleep. The blue lights on your TV, on your tablet and on your phone can really impact your body’s circadian rhythm and can throw off your natural predisposition to feel tired, go to sleep and stay asleep.

In addition, finding a bedtime routine that is relaxing is going to help your body start to wind down and feel like it’s ready to go to bed. Whether it’s taking a bath, maybe it’s putting on your cozy pajamas, maybe it’s doing a meditation, maybe it’s having a warm cup of tea; whatever it is, find a process and a ritual for yourself that you know is going to work and is going to make you feel relaxed and tired and, most importantly, is sustainable so that you can be consistent about it every day of the week.

tip four: move your body

My fourth tip is to make sure you’re moving your body each and every day.

Sweat is such a huge factor in our body’s natural detoxification process, but it also helps to exhaust your body.

I find that if I don’t exercise hard enough during the day or if I haven’t had any movement, I’ve just been sitting at my desk working all day, that I don’t feel as tired come my regular bedtime. Sometimes that pushes into the later evening hours, and it impacts the time I go to bed, and the quality of sleep I have. I usually wake up the next morning not feeling rested and not feeling ready to tackle the day. 

If you need some motivation to move more during the day, check this out!

tip five: create a sleeping sanctuary

My fifth tip is to evaluate your sleeping space.

Your sleeping space should be like a sanctuary. You want to go into that space and relax. So if your bedroom has a lot of bright colors or a lot of lights, you might consider utilizing dim colors, lights, and really soft and sensual features that make you feel at home and ready to relax.

You might also want to invest in some good blackout curtains ensuring that you can black out your windows and take care of all the lights in your bedroom. If there are lots of bright and light and all sorts of colors and textures in your bedroom, it may excite your brain.

Minimize and evaluate your sleeping space to make your sleeping space like a sanctuary, and you’re going to be able to fall asleep better, stay asleep longer and get better quality sleep during the night. 

tip six: pillows + mattress

In line with creating a sleeping sanctuary, you really want to evaluate your pillows and your mattress.

A good mattress only lasts between 8 and 10 years, so if the mattress that you’re sleeping on is older than that, it’s probably worth investing in a new mattress.

Chris and I recently got a Casper mattress, Game Changer! And they mail it to you in a box, you literally just unfold it, wait for a few hours and you’re good to go for and amazing sleep.

Pillow should be replaced even more frequently. You should also be on the look out if you are waking up congested: you may have an unknown allergy to down feathers!

Make sure you’re really optimizing for sleep by checking your pillows and your mattress!

tip seven: light + your circadian rhythm

Use lights to impact your circadian rhythms in order to optimize for sleep.

Your body has natural rhythms during the day. There are periods of time when you should feel super energized (morning time to midday) and there should periods when your body naturally starts to relax (afternoon and evening).

This natural rhythm matches the same rhythm as the sun, so try to work with it, not against it! Not only in your bedroom, but also in your living room, optimize light for the time of time: brighter in the earlier parts of the day, and dim or no light towards the end of the day.

Turn off or down all the lights, turn down the screens, especially at night, so that your body knows that it’s night time, and you’ll help your body’s natural circadian rhythms to start relaxing, unwinding, and preparing to sleep. The same goes for first thing in the morning,  you want to expose yourself to light, hopefully natural light, first thing in the morning to really aid in that circadian rhythm, getting woken up and energized and ready to tackle the day.

tip eight: avoid alcohol + heavy meals right before bed

My eighth tip is to make sure you’re avoiding alcohol or really heavy meals right before bed.

I think a lot of people have the tendency to wait until really late at night to eat. This is a hard process for your body because it generally takes several hours for your body to digest whatever is in your gut.

If you’re a person who likes to eat dinner really, really late and then go right to bed, you may be impacting your quality and duration of sleep and for the negative.

You want to make sure that you’re allowing that 2 to 3 hour window prior to going to bed to finish off your meals, to finish drinking any alcohol, and to make sure your body’s had an opportunity to digest and circulate through all of those liquids and foods into your system.

Same goes for water: if you’re a person who has a small bladder, like me, you want to make sure that you’re not guzzling a bunch of water right before bed. Generally, I try to cut off my water consumption about an hour or so before I go to bed to ensure that I can go to the bathroom one last time right before we go to sleep and that I don’t have to get up during the night to use the bathroom.  

tip nine: wind down

My ninth tip is to wind down. This aligns with that nightly routine, turning off the screens, and making sure your lights are all dimmed, but even more of a 24-hour daily preparation to ensure you’re winding down towards the end of the day.

If you’re really active or like to exercise, try doing that real big surge of activity first thing in the morning. If you just can’t get up in time to exercise in the morning and you prefer to do that after work or in the evening, that’s cool, just make sure that you’re allowing yourself enough time afterwards to wind down, and be really cautious of using pre-workout or caffeinated beverages that late in the day.

Also, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to digest any food consumed after an afternoon or evening workout before going to bed – allow your body and digestive system to wind down, and ensure your body is getting ready for bed.

tip ten: only sleeping in your sleeping space

My last tip for getting to sleep and staying asleep, is to leave your sleeping space for just sleeping.

If you lie down and you can’t immediately fall asleep, the best thing to do is get up, leave the room and find an activity that’s going to help you wind down a little more.

Maybe that’s going into the bathroom and taking a bath (make sure you’re watching the lights here), maybe that’s going out into the living room and reading (again, watch the lights – and don’t read on your phone), or maybe that’s even taking some time to leave your sleeping space and going out into another room to meditate, taking some time to allow your body to wind down even more.

You’re going to get super frustrated if you stay in the bed, tossing and turning, and not able to sleep. It is usually better to get up and remove yourself from your sleeping space so that you can relax, wind down, and continue that process of making sure your body’s really ready to fall asleep and get good quality sleep all night long. 

final thoughts

These are all things I have used and love to help me get ready to sleep, fall asleep, and stay asleep.

I would love to hear some of your other tips for good quality sleep, some of your sleep success stories and your sleep transformation.

I challenge you, especially if you’re a person getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night, to join me for the next week and try to tack on another 15 to 30 minutes of sleep every night. Maybe shut down the electronics 15 minutes or 30 minutes earlier than you normally do, maybe set your alarm a little later in the morning and try get out the door in the morning a little more efficiently and faster.

Whatever it is, sleep is the answer! Your hormones will thank you for it and I really hope that these tips are helpful in helping you get a better night’s sleep.

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