Sleep is the single greatest and cheapest form of rest, repair and rejuvenation for the human body and mind, but often the very first thing sacrificed by today’s high performing professionals. Our 24/7 access to work, light and carbohydrates has completely deteriorated the quality and quantity of sleep, leaving corporate America running on fumes. Caffeine and sugar are the artificial energy sources of choice for the sleep deprived, which only worsens sleep due to the havoc created on the hormonal system responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles.
During the 1950’s the average person was sleeping 8 hours per night and by 2013 that number has dropped to 6.5 hours per night. Interestingly enough, individuals that get less than 7 hours of sleep are 3x more likely to get an illness! To make matters worse, lack of sleep puts us into a chronic state of stress, increases hunger hormones leading to obesity and prevents the removal of cellular waste from the brain linked to depression. Not only are we not getting the recommended amount of sleep, but also we are not sleeping during the most optimal times either.
During the 8 hours of sleep, we are supposed to go through full repair of the mind and body. The time we go to bed and awake also has a significant impact on that restoration. Specifically we experience physical repair between the hours of 10:00pm and 2:00am. Our mental repair occurs between the hours of 2:00am and 6:00am. It’s important to note that these hours do not change just because our deadlines, lives, schedule and work do. As an example, a professional that is regularly going to bed at midnight is missing 50% of their physical repair which leads to aesthetic, energetic, health, medical and pain challenges!
These 10 Tips for Deep Sleep are going to target moving you towards getting the recommended 7.5-8 hours of sleep from 10:30pm to 6:00am to improve your energy, focus, health, mood, stress and even weight!
Slow breathing helps sleep and repair hormones to elevate because it suppresses stress hormones, which cause us to be up and alert. The mind also mirrors our breath, so the slower we breathe the slower our mind thinks. Focus on five to ten-second exhalations.
Stressful thoughts and to-do lists race through the mind of many professionals preventing sleep. Writing down all the thoughts currently on your mind before bed is an effective strategy for putting those thoughts aside until tomorrow. Also journal what you are thankful about or any positive, uplifting experiences from the day helps one fall asleep with a peaceful mind.
Dimming down, unplugging, and limiting lights and screens are essential to lowering stress hormones before bed. Light stimulates arousal and alertness through the release of cortisol that competes with sleep. Begin darkening your home and minimizing screen time starting at 9:00pm to 9:30pm.
A very common, yet overlooked cause of sleep disruption is having a blood sugar crash in the middle of the night. Carbohydrate rich meals, desserts, alcohol and late night sugary snacks can all cause the blood sugar to rise quickly and crash during sleep. Since sugar is one of the brain and body’s primary fuel sources blood sugar instability and crashes release stress hormones that make more blood sugar available and keep us up. Focus having meals that contain protein, fat and above ground vegetables. Also pay attention what you had for dinner if you wake up in the middle of the night hungry.
Having too much caffeine and/or drinking it too late in the day effects sleep primarily because caffeine has a six-hour half-life in the body. That means the amount of caffeine you consumed in your coffee, tea, and energy drink will be half that six hours later. Here’s an example of what the standard cup of drip coffee at 3:00pm does to circulating caffeine in the bloodstream:
3:00pm – 300mg of caffeine
9pm – 150 mg of caffeine
3am – 75 mg of caffeine (average shot of espresso is 70 mg!)
9am – 32.5 mg of caffeine
The ‘legs up the wall’ yoga pose is very effective for calming the nervous system and mild cases of insomnia. By lying on your back and elevating your feet on a wall, the blood and lymph that accumulates in the legs flows back to the heart and head. Perform this pose for 5-15 minutes right before bed with eyes closed, slow breathing and any other relaxing elements.
When the brain goes into fight or flight during a stress response the body tightens up to get ready to spring into action. Unfortunately, today’s professionals are stressed and sedentary which doesn’t allow the muscles to release their resting tension. This chronic resting tension in the muscles sends a reverse signal back to the brain indicating the body is under stress as well. By performing gentle, long stretches before bed for the major muscles of the body this resting tension can dissipate resulting in a relaxed body and mind before bed.
A good choice of beverage before bed besides water would be an organic non-caffeinated herbal tea. Many herbs like lavender and chamomile have a soothing influence on the mind and body. Experiment with Yogi brand Bedtime tea and other sleep teas to add to your evening routine.
Another natural stress reducer and sleep improver would be organic essential oil. Calming scents like lavender can be combined with slowing breathing techniques, put on pillowcases or rubbed directly onto the body to improve your ability to fully relax.
One of the keys to reestablishing new sleep patterns is to keep the same daily routine. Maintaining the same sleep-wake times throughout the week and weekend is important for body adaptation. Staying up late and sleeping in late throws off your routine. Start by moving your bedtime back at 15-minute increments every 3 week until you are going to sleep between the hours of 10:00pm and 10:30pm.
Take the Deep Sleep 21-Day Challenge
Now that you have ten new sleep tips to help improve your bedtime routine, it’s time to let them work for you! I challenge you all to take at least one of these new habits (you can choose up to all four at once) and apply it every day for the next 21 days in a row. Repeating new behaviors on consecutive days for 7-21 days creates entrainment or habit formation.
I wish you all a very restful and energizing 21-Day Challenge! Please think of me as your personal Executive Wellness Coach and I invite you to share your questions or comments with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares executives and organizations for the most productive and healthy work-life. Lance has led online/on-site training programs for over one thousand professionals through his company’s four pillars of wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.
Lance is also a Master Instructor for the American Council on Exercise and the recipient of the IDEA Health & Fitness Association Program Director of the Year award.