Sleep. We love it. We hate it.
Its beckoning call slows us when we are on a roll, but can be the most welcome of friends at the end of a long day. With all the hype about exercise, eating well, and stress avoidance the importance of a good old-fashion night’s sleep can be overlooked.
Check this out - poor sleep is associated with heart disease, accidents, premature aging, reduced creativity, GI problems, infertility, minimized memorization, and, let us not forget, generally feeling like crap. But fear not, my tired friends, it is never too late to become an Olympic-level sleeper – just follow my lead. These 5 easy steps will give you the good night’s sleep you need and deserve. But wait, there’s more, because these suggestions use a “NO” approach, the best night’s sleep you will ever have comes with NO byproducts, contracts, price tag, or regret and the positive results begin immediately. There is NO reason to deny yourself better sleep for even one more night.
The room you sleep in should have as little light as possible. This doesn’t just mean hitting the off switch as your head hits the pillow. It’s more than that - NO digital clock displays, NO energy source lights on your computers, NO light sneaking between the blinds or under the door. NO LIGHT. Cover it. Unplug it. Block it. Remove it. Darkness is your body’s #1 cue that it is time for sleep. Pro Tip: although not esthetically pleasing, covering windows with aluminum foil is a great way to block all light and, as a bonus, you will be able to better relate to baked potatoes (no idea why this is important, but you never know).
Sound is interesting when it comes to good sleep. In general, the less sound, the better. It is true that many of us love the sound of a fan, white noise machine, or humidifier while we snooze. The problem is that you are, in effect, training yourself to be a wimp. You will begin to depend on hearing that exact sound every night, all night long. If you want to be a heartier sleeper, nix the noise and the props. It won’t take long for your ears to figure out relevant noises from irrelevant ones. Remember, you don’t just want one good night’s sleep; you want every night to be restful.
Many of you think you’re off the hook with this one because you “don’t do drugs.” Well, good for you, but let me clarify. I’m addressing alcohol and caffeine here. Sorry. I know this one might hurt, but bear with me. Although most of us wouldn’t dream of having a double cappuccino right before bed, lesser known is that a caffeinated beverage with dinner is also a no-no for most of us. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Some people are so sensitive to caffeine that there is no amount at any time of day that does not negatively affect the chances of a good night’s sleep. Alcohol is in the same boat but alcohol is much sneakier. You may have a drink or two and easily fall asleep, but the sleep will be of a lower quality. You may not remember waking up during the night but you may find yourself dragging the next day. Sorry about this NO… don’t kill the messenger!
There is mounting evidence that sugar is an all-encompassing dietary problem with links to disease, obesity, tooth decay, and even acne. Sugar can also negatively affect sleep. Both the sugar “high” and the sugar “crash” can be to blame for disrupted sleep patterns. “Sugar” includes any form of simple carbohydrate: white sugar (Sure.), honey (I can see that.), white bread (Well, if you say so.), fruit juice (Huh.), spaghetti (Wouldn’t have guessed.), but there it is. Basically, sugar creates a roller-coaster of energy when good sleep is best served by a consistent, low energy, low engagement, low effort, predictable pattern. Ask yourself which amusement park ride would be more likely to help you nod off: the old-fashioned cars or a roller-coaster? Enough said. As you were warned as a toddler - “Don’t stick that in your mouth.”
Preparing your body to sleep is only half the battle. Stressful, worrisome, and persistent thoughts are the enemy of good sleep. Letting go of the day allows us to really embrace the night. Pro Tip: lie in bed with lights off and mentally identifying the 2 most nagging events that did not go well during the day. “I ate a pint of ice-cream and called it lunch,” “I pretended I was in a meeting when my dad called,” “I skipped my workout,” or “I got caught rolling my eyes in an important client meeting when we got off topic for the third time.” After identifying & acknowledge these things as sub-par occurrences, let them go. Picture them floating off into space. Then, recall the good stuff from the day – the “10 out of 10 would do again” items: “I called my Mom just to say hello,” “I finished that report that has been hanging over my head,” “I ran an extra mile on the treadmill,” or “I managed to look interested as my boss detailed the triumph of his two-year-old’s potty training successes.” This 2 to 5 ratio allows acknowledgment of regrets while actually focusing on the good stuff. The important thing is that you give your mind permission to turn off. “Peace of mind” isn’t just an empty phrase – it’s a real thing.
So there you have it. Say NO to light, sound, drugs, sugar, and drama. Before you know it you…will… be…. ready….. to…... reap……. the…….. many……… benefits………. of……….. zzzz.