Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Shawn Stevenson is the guru on sleep. His book, Sleep Smarter, offers 21 strategies for getting a great night’s sleep. But first, we must discuss the importance of sleep.
How important is sleep? In my opinion, sleep is more important than exercise. Sleep is more important than diet. And yes, sleep is more important than watching one more episode, more important than meeting friends for drinks, more important than writing that important email to the boss, more important than finishing that English 101 paper. I might be tempted to say that sleep is the most important element of health and wellbeing – right up there with controlling stress and maintaining a positive attitude (but of course, the two are related).
Sleep deprivation has been connected to increased risk of Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, memory loss and decreased performance of our brain functions. Why is sleep deprivation so bad for our bodies? Well, when we are awake, we are in a catabolic state (catabolic=breaking things down). That makes sense – we break down food for energy and our muscles tear in order to get stronger. When we sleep, we are in an anabolic state (anabolic=building/repairing). When we sleep, our bodies perform their most important work. When we sleep, our bodies find those places that are broken and then heal and repair. Building up our bodies in the gym is only the first part of the equation – the second part, sleeping, completes the equation. Additionally, studies have shown that sleep deprivation negatively affects one’s ability to lose body fat.
So, here’s the point: if you’re strapped for time and must choose between adequate sleep or waking up early for that spin class…it might be in your best interest to hit the schnooze button. [Zzzzz…]
A few of us are lucky ones – we can sleep anywhere, sleep through anything, and sleep until noon. I am not one of the lucky ones. For me, getting a good night’s sleep requires a lot of diligence, and I find that Shawn’s 21 tips are easy to follow and, well, work. Here 7 of my favorites:
1. Get more sunlight during the day. This one is interesting – luckily for us in Arizona, this is within our reach. It’s important to get outside at some point in the work day and get a little sun exposure – it can be as little as 5-15min. depending on skin color (darker skinned=longer time exposure than lighter skinned). Increasing our sunlight exposure helps our bodies regulate melatonin levels (melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy at bedtime). If we’re indoors all day, the timing of the secretion of our melatonin will be off. And, added benefit – sunlight increases our vitamin D levels, too! (If you’re in the sun longer than 15min. or if you’re pale-skinned, be sure to wear sunscreen.)
2. Have a caffeine curfew. I feel that coffee drinkers probably already know this one. The catch, however, is that this curfew is different for everyone. For me, I can’t drink caffeine past 2pm. The key is to pay attention to your body. I recommend keeping a food journal (or a caffeine journal) to track caffeine consumption and how you feel.
3. Avoid the screen at night. This includes TV. Electronics emit blue light, and this affects our circadian rhythms. In other words, watching TV or being on our cell phone or computer late at night signals to our bodies to emit the “daytime hormones” like cortisol which keep us up.
4. Relatedly, use a blue light blocker on your computer or invest in blue light glasses. If you must be on the computer or cell phone late at night, change the settings so that it blocks the blue light or changes the color of your screen (from the bright, fluorescent light to a warmer light). Better yet, invest in blue light glasses that filter out the blue light from the screen.
5. Be cool (literally) at night. Use a fan or keep the air conditioning low so that you can snuggle under the covers. Studies have found that the ideal room temperature is 68 degrees F. Oooo….makes me sleepy just thinking about it!
6. Create a sleep sanctuary. Some ideas: soft sheets and pillows, curtains or shades to block the early morning sunlight from coming through the window, a sound machine, a humidifier, a sleep app to track sleeping or help you fall asleep. Be sure to go to the bed at the same time each night, too.
7. Eat a high-protein, low-carb snack before bed. This can help you feel full longer, and when we feel full, it’s like that coveted post-Thanksgiving nap! Suggestions: ½ tbsp peanut butter, glass of milk, boiled egg, cottage cheese.
More and more are doctors and scientists realizing the importance of sleep on our cells’ ability to rejuvenate, repair, and rebuild. The quality of our sleep is an influential determinant of health and longevity. If you’re not sleeping well, then you’re not healing well. Plus, at the end of the day, we feel better after a good night’s sleep – like we can conquer the world! And who wouldn't want to feel like they could conquer the world?!
Curious to know the other 14 tips from Sleep Smarter? Message me for details!