As I'm writing this blog post about sleep strategies as a form of self-care, I'll share that last week I was tired! As a result of working with Intuitive Eating, regularly obtaining a sufficient amount of sleep is now a big priority in my life. But last week our beloved 15 1/2 year-old cat, Chakra, was having some health issues (We lost our other pumpkin, Starla, at the end of December - so I was prepping myself for what might be ahead). On the day that we knew we were taking Chakra to the veterinarian to get checked out, I decided to snuggle with her starting around 3:30am - and stay up (Not my regular wake-up time). I wanted to really be present with Chakra for as long as I could that day in case it was our last one to share together. I am so happy to report that Chakra is going to be alright, and has been happily resting on her IU blanket in the sunshine. She is such a treasure.
Like many of you, I've also lost sleep working weird hours, studying for exams, catching up with dear friends and family members during visits, tending to unexpected emergencies, etc. Research indicates that 1/3 of the U.S. population experiences sleep deprivation, and is sleeping less than it once did. When we don't obtain an adequate amount of sleep, it can negatively affect our health.
THE POWER OF SLEEP
Let's go ahead and state the obvious. When we don't obtain enough sleep, it's easy to feel crappy, moody, and exhausted. Combine this with the fact that insufficient sleep can negatively impact our ability to remember things and think clearly - and its understandable why it's more challenging to perform at our best when sleep-deprived.
In addition to negatively affecting our cognitive function - which can also lead to depression - insufficient sleep may contribute to experiencing inflammation in the body, and the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For example, some recent research suggests that just one night of poor sleep may induce insulin resistance. With time, insulin resistance can lead to developing type 2 diabetes. Not getting enough zzz's may also be disruptive for the A1C levels in people who are living with type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep has also been linked to making us hungrier by increasing the levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, while also reducing the levels of the hormone, leptin - which is a hormone that decreases a person's appetite.
The good news is that obtaining an adequate amount of sleep can help us feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically, and may reduce our chances of developing some chronic health conditions. In fact, some recent research indicates that sleeping sufficiently is just as important as nutrition and obtaining physical activity. As a dietitian and health coach who specializes in Intuitive Eating, I'll share that obtaining an adequate amount of sleep is also very helpful as you're on your Intuitive Eating journey and are working to make peace with food/tune into your body's internal cues.
In general, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults obtain 7-9 hours of sleep. With this in mind, today I'm providing some sleep strategies to help you obtain more zzz's.
4 SLEEP STRATEGIES
1) Determine a consistent bedtime - and let the people in your life know about it. You work hard. You deserve to practice self-care. With this in mind, if some of your friends/family/colleagues - and anyone else -have made it a habit of contacting you during your future bedtime, let them know that starting now you consistently will not be available at this hour. If it's tough for you to set this boundary or boundaries in general - because you feel guilty in doing so - you might find this article helpful for releasing the guilt, and this one for setting and keeping your boundaries. Remember, you are worthy. You deserve to feel well rested, and empower your well-being in the process!
2) Create a bedtime routine. Turn the electronics off at least 30 minutes before heading to bed. Then do something relaxing that you actually enjoy. Maybe this means taking a hot bath, meditating, reading something mellow, writing in a journal, or listening to soothing music. For a simple deep breathing exercise, give this a try: First, inhale deeply for 3-5 seconds - tuning into the different sensations in your body; next exhale for 3-5 seconds - tuning into the different sensations in your body; and repeat this process three more times - tuning into how your body feels.
3) Make your bedroom comfortable. If possible, lower the temperature of your bedroom before you head to bed, and keep the bedroom's humidity in check. The National Sleep Foundation recommends maintaining a nighttime bedroom temperature of 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity within a range of 30% to 50%. This humidity range is for the purpose of keeping enough water in the air to breathe more easily, but dry enough that you're comfortable. Make your bedroom your relaxation station that's dedicated solely to rest, relaxation, and intimacy - versus a place where you squeeze in some work. Keep your room dark by using blackout shades/curtains or a sleep mask. If you'd rather get hit by a bus than part with your cell phone when you go to bed, use the night mode (The blue light wave that's emitted from the cell phone makes it harder to sleep because it decreases the amount of the sleep hormone, melatonin, that's generated in the body). If you experience some unwanted noise, try something like "white noise" as a relaxing buffer.
4)Be mindful of when you consume caffeine, alcohol, and exercise. I'll just tell you now that I LOVE sipping my caffeinated coffee each day - and enjoy some red wine with the best of them. We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and that alcohol is a depressant. While alcohol helps you fall asleep faster, it blocks the most recuperative form of sleep - REM sleep. Meaning that when you wake up the next day you're more likely to feel tired, in addition to finding it more challenging to focus. The National Sleep Foundation recommends refraining from consuming caffeinated beverages at least 4-6 hours prior to heading to bed, and avoiding alcohol at least four hours before getting some zzz's. Does this mean that you should never consume caffeine or alcohol later than usual. Nope. It's all about balance. You can use this information to determine if the benefits of consuming caffeine later in the day - or some alcohol before you go to bed - outweigh sleeping as well for the night. It's YOUR body - and your life. When it comes to obtaining physical activity, some people find that activity too close to bedtime can keep them awake. Experiment with moving your body at least 3-4 hours before you go to bed.
The bottom line is that you deserve to sleep well - and empower your emotional, physical, and mental well-being in the process. Experiment with one or more of these sleep strategies and see what works best for you! Enjoy life. Celebrate food. Be you!