We all know what it’s like to power through a workday after a restless night of little to no sleep. And yet, it’s tough to prioritize this part of our health. However, the more we invest in our rest, the better we will feel — and the better we will perform at work and show up for our relationships. According to Samina Ahmed Jauregui, a sleep psychologist and advisor to Pluto Pillow, there’s no way around it: sleep is an essential pillar of wellness.
She says most adults should aim for at least 7 to 8 eight hours of shut-eye to strengthen their immune system, fight off illnesses, regulate their metabolism and emotions, manage stress, and improve cognitive function, including memory consolidation and learning new information.
As you look ahead to 2022, consider ‘sleep’ to be a top goal, with help from these experts:
Set aside at least an hour before bed to unwind.
Your days may be jampacked with one meeting and deadline after another, but you need a cool down before you attempt to rest your weary head. After all, there’s a reason marathoners don’t instantly lay down once they cross the finish line — you need to walk it out. That’s why it’s essential to set aside at least the hour before bed as downtime to unwind and not engage in stimulating activities, says Allison Siebern, Ph.D., LAc, CBSM, head sleep science advisor for Proper.
“This helps lower that sympathetic activation that can run interference with sleep onset and sleep continuity,” she explains. So what should you do during this period? Siebern says this varies by person; while some people may find relaxation from reading, others may turn to a podcast or take a bath. Test a few methods to see what helps you feel the most at ease.
Regulate your sleep patterns.
Though you may not want to hear this, it’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every single day — including the weekends. This is part of regulating your sleep patterns, and in return, produces a more restful experience since it anchors our circadian rhythm, Jauregui says. “Once you establish a consistent wake time, it is easier to predict when you are likely to get tired,” she explains.
Think of it this way: if you typically sleep eight hours per night and your set wake time is 7 a.m., then more often than not, you will start to get sleepy by 11 p.m. This is a smart rule of thumb, but it needs flexibility with your life, since hey, not every day is the same.
“If you have had a particularly stressful day and got home late, it is better to stay up longer and focus on winding down first,” Jauregui says. “Do not make it a priority to get to bed by a certain time; go to bed when you start to feel sleepy. It may be less total sleep but likely to be of better quality. Not delaying your alarm the next day will help your sleep get back on track quickly.”
Try these exercises to get your mind settled.
One of the biggest complaints from most folks when it comes to sleep is actually getting in the headspace to drift away. After all, doesn’t it seem like the moment you hit the hay, your brain decides to think about everything under the sun? Luckily, Siebern says there are mindfulness exercises that help you process, release, and well, sleep!
As an example, if your mind is running in a million different directions, sit up in bed and rest your feet on the floor. (Or if you’re comfortable, you can continue lying down, just close your eyes.) Whatever position you choose, tune into your body and notice how you feel. Then, pause. “If the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the moment. Now, pause again,” Siebern says. “Gently bring attention and awareness to the breath, not changing it but simply noticing it. Pause again.” Continue this practice of bringing your thoughts back to you through your inhales and exhales.
Say there’s a particular stressor that’s concerning, then Siebern says it’s vital to carve out a designated time to worry about it outside of sleep time. “Schedule 15 to 20 minutes of dedicated ‘worry time’ every day over a week that’s not near your bedtime,” she continues. “During that specific period, write down everything that seems stressful. Getting thoughts down on paper is often more productive than keeping them bottled up. Once time is up, go about a normal schedule.”
Find the right mattress for how you sleep.
Fess up: when was the last time you truly upgraded your mattress? If it’s been five or more years, it’s worth re-examining if it’s still meeting your needs. When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, not all mattresses are created equal for every sleeper, says April Mayer, a certified sleep coach for Amerisleep.
She explains your mattress should support both your back and joints, provide good alignment, and protect against pressure points and pain. Otherwise, you end up tossing and turning during the night, which could lead to long-term health issues, like a bad back if not corrected.
To figure out what works best for you, she recommends asking yourself these questions:
- What are your must-haves?
- What do you like most about your current mattress?
- What do you like least?
- What are your concerns?
- What is your sleep position?
That last one is a biggie since sleeping plays a big part in what support you need. Mayer says a plush to medium mattress is recommended for side sleepers, as it has enough give to allow hips and shoulders to sink in while supporting the back and waist. For back sleepers, the mattress should support our body’s natural alignment. Your best bet is medium to firm. And for stomach sleepers, a firm mattress can prevent the upper body from bowing down, resulting in neck and back pain.
Avoid any other activity in bed other than sleep — and sex.
For so many, the bedroom becomes a sanctuary or an escape from the stress of the day, Jauregui says. Though sure, you need a place where you feel at home and at ease — you need to be strict on what you do in your bedroom and what you don’t. As she explains, the more you do in bed — watch TV, eat, talk on the phone, pay bills, study, work, shop online — the less likely you will get quality sleep. Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex, and that’s it.
“Avoid worrying or planning in bed because the more you do it, the stronger the association becomes that the bed is a place to think or worry,” she continues. “Similarly, all other tasks associate the bed with stimulation. So if you are ever sleepy on the couch or your drive home from work and feel ‘wired’ or wide awake as soon as you enter the bed, then you have trained yourself to be stimulated in bed.”
In other words: she recommends only going to bed when sleepy and exiting the bed as soon as you are awake and avoiding all other activities in bed to strengthen the association that the bed is a place for sleep.
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