What if I told you I went to the local Body Master..yes, Body Master! Imagine a cross between a yoga instructor/ CrossFit games athlete and ancient witch doctor. When I was examining the items for sale on the Body Master’s table I saw a pile of green beans. I asked him, Mr. Body Master, what do these beans do? “Young woman, these are magic beans,” he said. “If you eat these beans you will have benefits beyond your wildest dreams.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I was skeptical for sure. “What kind of benefits, I asked?”
These magic beans will:
- BURN STORED BODY FAT
- BALANCE HORMONES
- IMPROVE MOOD AND ENERGY LEVELS
- IMPROVE DIGESTION AND SEX DRIVE
- AND EVEN…EXTEND YOUR LIFESPAN
Needless to say, I immediately bought the magic beans for a pretty penny, brought them home and then cooked them up as per the instructions. I placed them on my white plate for my usual Instagram picture, but before my eyes, they began to melt! The melted beans oozed together and as I looked closer I realized they were spelling a word. SLEEP!
Ok, I know you liked my funny story. But the takeaway is you can all those benefits from something your body should do naturally. So before we dive into any sleep science or steps for improvement. Here is a list of reasons we don’t sleep enough:
- We live in a society where sleep isn’t valued. In fact, it is common to brag about working hard, exercising, conquering the world on barely any sleep.
- We are not tuned in the rhythm of the sun. We wake when our alarm goes off and we go to sleep way after the sun goes down.
- Stimulation- Netflix, iPhones, reality TV, news, twitter, Instagram, text alerts, beeps, rings, and bells. I could go on and on.
- Poor diet and lifestyle. Drinking too much, eating junk, overeating, undereating can all negatively impact sleep.
- Work- Many people I know work incredibly hard. They sacrifice sleep for work every day because that is what we are supposed to do. It is the cultural and American norm.
For numerous reasons, sleep might be shorter and less restful than it should be. We know the benefits of adequate restful sleep…see magic beans story above.
So what do we do about it? It is common to hear about prescription or over the counter sleep aids as a solution, but maybe that isn’t the quick fix you think. According to the Mayo Clinic, over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. You can develop a tolerance to the sedative effects and you will need more for the same result. Many can also leave you groggy or feel unwell the next day. On Episode 270 of the Paleo Solution Podcast with Robb Wolf, sleep specialist Dr. Kirk Parsley questions sleep aids like this,
“Are they actually making people asleep longer or are they just making them unconscious?”
He then goes on to describe how prescription or over the counter medication impact the brain, tricking it into sleep, but often times not giving the person any of the benefits of restful restorative sleep with numerous possible negative side effects. Listen to the entire podcast for the deep dive.
So if we want to minimize or avoid sleep aids, how can we improve our sleep naturally? Here are 5 basic steps that can have a big payoff.
- Establish a strict bedtime routine. Go to bed and wake-up at the same time every day. Start the wind-down process every night consistently. Implement a progressive relaxation strategy so by the time your head hits the pillow you are ready for sleep.
- Build a sleep sanctuary. Your bedroom should be as dark as possible and cool for sleep. Never take your laptop to bed.
- Remove bright lights and disruptive sounds and by all means turn off notifications on your phone. Use earplugs and an eye mask if necessary.
- Institute an electronics curfew. This is probably the hardest one but can have a huge impact. Decide what time you will close the laptop, turn off the phone and TV. All of these electronics can overstimulate your brain making sleep more difficult.
- Improve food quality and get the right dose of exercise. Sleep disturbances can be signs of hormonal imbalances, specifically high cortisol, and low progesterone.[note]The Hormone Cure, Sara Gottfried, MD, pg.378.[/note] Improving your diet and routine can with managing these hormones. That could mean more or less exercise.
- Eliminate all caffeine after 2 pm.
To get the benefits of sleep aim to get between 8-10 hours a night. Too tall an order? Start with just getting 30 min more each night and build from there. It will add up and so will the benefits. Want more bang for your buck? “It is said but not proven that every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 2 hours of restful sleep after midnight. [note]Nutrition Coaching Institute Hormone Level 1 Certification, pg 71.[/note]. Honestly, I wish I could give you some magic beans because I know these changes can be challenging to implement. The effort is worth the payoff. Implement the 5 action steps and reap the benefits. It’s better than magic, its sleep!