Sleep is the New Kale

Today’s society pushes increased productivity and asks you to squeeze out every single ounce of energy, but sleep is essential. However, studies show that over the past twenty years we are actually getting fewer hours of sleep each night. We are trying to thrive through this sleep deprivation, and on top of the coronavirus pandemic, no wonder we are all restless and unfocused.

It is true that some individuals have subclinical and clinically diagnosed disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sleep apnea (to name a few), and should pursue expert advice from behavioral health and sleep disorder specialists.

If there is anything I have learned between being a registered dietitian, studying behavioral health, and progressing on my own journey, it is that assessing sleep behaviors can really shed some light on symptoms and poor functioning. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always what we eat that affects our overall health and weight management. Step off the “kale train” and slide into slumber. Sleep not only feels good, but research has shown that sleep allows your body to heal and reset from everything accomplished that day. It allows your brain to recharge, your body to burn fat and calories, and to rejuvenate tissues.

An unsupportive mattress may affect your sleep, but before you dial the mattress store and spend $1,000 or more, check out these other simple changes. If nothing else, this blog itself will put you to sleep.

Pre-sleep behaviors
What are you doing before bed? How much caffeine do you consume? Avoiding your Starbucks latte and other caffeinated beverages 6-8 hours before bedtime is just good sleep hygiene. You might think wine makes you a little sleepy, but alcohol can actually interrupt your sleep cycle, so if you are mindfully enjoying a glass of wine with your after-dinner dessert, do not consume it within four hours of sleep time.

Physical activity is a great choice for self-care, but are you squeezing your workout in at night? Plan to stop exercising at least two hours before bedtime, otherwise it may elevate your nervous system activity and interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Generally, aim to allow an hour to unwind before turning in.  This is a good time for calming self-care activities – a warm bath, your skin-care routine, some restorative bed-time yoga, journal writing, and self-affirmations.

Sleep medications and supplements require a physician’s supervision. As an RD studying behavioral health, I encourage patients to consider behavioral changes as alternatives to medications. For most people, simple changes can significantly improve sleep.

Do you use tobacco? Click here for our recommendations on tobacco cessation.

Sleep environment
Is your bedroom quiet and comfortable? Noises can be masked with background white noise (ceiling fan) or with earplugs. Use blackout shades or a sleep mask to darken the room.

A light snack before bedtime, such as a glass of warm milk, cheese or a small bowl of whole-grain cereal can help to promote sleep but avoid snacks in the middle of the night. This will associate awakening with hunger and may trigger nighttime binges.

Does your sleep partner disturb your slumber? If your answer is yes, perhaps seek out a behavioral health specialist associated with couple’s counseling.

In-Bed Behaviors
Lying in bed when you’re not sleepy can trick your brain to associate that bed as a signal to be awake. If you cannot fall asleep, get out of bed, and return only when drowsy.

Spending time in bed watching your favorite series on Netflix? Your bed becomes a couch to your brain, and once you crawl in, your brain is reminded it is time to watch TV.

Naps can also interrupt the sleep cycle, so if your body is demanding rest, perhaps limit to thirty minutes instead of two hours.

Increased stress and worry also hinder sleep. Keep a pen and paper bedside for a nightly “brain dump.” When your mind is racing with a million-plus ideas, take your pen and dump everything onto the paper. You might even wake up to a nice to-do list in the morning.

What time do you go to bed? Make this consistent, allowing your body to associate a certain time with the beginning of the sleep cycle. If the schedule allows, keep this regular bedtime seven days a week. After a while, you won’t even need the annoying sirens of your alarm in the morning.

>