It’s 2021 and it’s about time we all get some healthy sleep.
Sleep is to our health like a foundation to a house. Without sleep, our mental and physical health may crumble. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of sleep, and the costs when we don’t get enough. Learning, memory, brain disease, immunity, anxiety, depression and more are all on the table (or in the bed) when we consider how sleep factors into brain health.
So what can we do to support healthy sleep habits? Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the book Why We Sleep, shares practical advice on how we can improve the quantity and quality of our sleep. As an aspiring healthy sleeper, I’ve tried these tips in order to prioritize better sleep this year as I attempt to achieve the career and personal goals I’ve set for myself in 2021.
Healthy sleep habits
Regular Sleep Schedule
Dr. Walker says a consistent sleep schedule is important to regulate our sleep cycles. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends! Although it’s quite tempting for me to sleep in till 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, I know it’ll make waking up at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning for work more laborious. I’ve focused on going to bed earlier on Friday and Saturday nights to help. Doing so requires me to say no to late movie nights or bingeing on another episode of the Great British Baking Show. Oh bloody hell mate!
Create a calming bedtime routine. A wind-down routine can help our bodies and brains transition from active alertness, to sleepy serenity. My favorite wind-down activities are stretching in a dark, quiet room, applying evening skincare products, and reading. Other ideas include journaling, meditation, drinking herbal tea, and taking a warm bath.
This bedtime routine can form a sacred ritual for yourself, or shared with loved ones. Before we turn out the lights, my partner Ryan and I always share what we’re grateful for and a positive wish or prayer before we say goodnight and fall asleep.
Cool Down Your Bedroom
Dr. Walker says that cooler room temperatures (65°F to be exact) can trigger the hypothalamus to release melatonin. This temperature change simulates what we experience in the natural world, where outside temperatures naturally lower as the sun goes down. I’ve been opening my bedroom window at night so the cool air can permeate before and during sleep. I’ve noticed a big improvement in my ability to fall and stay asleep and it makes my bed feel extra cozy.
Turn Off Lights Before Bed
There’s no question that most of us live in homes full of artificial lights and digital devices. Our bodies naturally cue into the light around us to trigger the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. In the last hour before bed, dim or turn off the lights in your home. A dark environment can remind our bodies that it’s nighttime, and to start releasing melatonin.
In my apartment, I’ve begun turning off all lights except those necessary for me to get around. I leave on smaller lamps, or even some twinkling fairy lights, and stay away from digital devices with harsh blue light.
Avoid these “No-N0s” for healthy sleep cycles
- Drinking caffeine in the afternoon
- Alcohol before bed
- Smoking or consuming nicotine
- Watching TV or working in bed (Dr. Walker says reading in bed is OK, phew!)
I had once thought that sleep was unproductive, and too much of it could even be considered lazy. In my previous efforts to increase productivity and maximize work output, I thought sleep was a necessary sacrifice in order to achieve my goals and progress in my career. I now see that sleep is essential to our body’s functioning and long-term health. Not to mention, even improve our productivity, creativity, and learning abilities.
To learn more, check out the book Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker.
Which sleep habits are you incorporating into your daily routine?
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