There is nothing quite like waking up after a great night’s sleep. You revel in a refreshed, bright, energized feeling that catapults you into the possibilities of a brand new day. Consider that gratifying initial stretch, arms overhead. Hear the birds chirping and see the sun shining against the backdrop of a blue sky. Those deeply rejuvenating eight hours of downtime have become a powerful springboard into what might just be the best day of your life.
Unfortunately, for many of us, this is only a dream. Instead, we’re getting a few solid hours of sleep broken up by wakeful tossing and turning brought on by the restless “monkey mind.”
It’s no secret that we live in a 24/7 society. As a country, we face non-stop stimulation, a significant cause of the nation’s sleep deprivation epidemic. Stressed, overworked, sedentary; it’s no wonder that sleep issues have become the norm within our culture.
As an integrative health coach and body movement specialist, I believe that sleep is as essential for good health as diet and exercise. Lack of sleep is linked to poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, mood disturbances, and depression. Furthermore, studies are showing that those who get less sleep are at a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and obesity.
Coming from the perspective that health is the art of a balanced lifestyle, I see no coincidence in this correlation. Quality of sleep impacts your quality of life. Your quality of life affects your quality of sleep. What you choose to do during the day will play a significant role in your sleep patterns.
Making some simple lifestyle changes may go a long way toward a better night’s sleep. Explore the tools below and see if they help. If not, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your physician—a sleep study can reveal whether a physical issue like sleep apnea causes your sleep issues.
Get up from your desk for water every 30 minutes, take the stairs instead of the elevator, start a ‘wisdom walk’ group during lunch, dance while cooking dinner—it’s all good. Move as much as possible. Why? Because we as humans are made to move. Whether it’s playing sports, signing up for a race, or simply releasing your neck and rolling your head around, life is movement. The better mover you are, the better rested you’ll be.
The power of deep breathing is the most underutilized tool within our healthcare system. Taking full, lung-capacity breaths will relax the nervous system, increase focus, and help manage fear and anxiety. Set a reminder alarm at least three times in your day. As the alarm sounds, stop for three full breaths—in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each inhale, feel your spine lengthen; as you exhale, feel your shoulders soften. Over time, this daily reminder will become habitual, and you’ll find your breathing quality has improved.
Whether it is caffeine, sugar, social media, a horror flick, or your endless work emails, set a firm time limit on things that drive up your heart rate. Stop caffeine at least four hours before bed. Your nightly glass of wine, too, may need reconsidering—alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it doesn’t improve your sleep quality. Continuing these daily habits into your bedroom revs up your nervous system, making it hard to unplug the monkey mind. Try switching to sparkling water with lemon after lunch, fresh fruit instead of sugary treats for dessert, and reading a book instead of catching the latest thriller on Netflix in the evening.
Set the Mood
At bedtime, romance yourself and set the mood to help you relax and unwind. Start by cutting off all artificial light. Your cellphone, laptop, and any other form of electronics that gives off light should stay outside the bedroom. In the same way that breathing does, music has an immediate impact on your nervous system and mood. During the day, listen to music that makes you want to move, but when it’s time to get ready for bed, put on a playlist with a relaxing vibe.
Pay attention to your habits during the day. Everything that you eat, drink and do plays a role in who you are and how you feel. In the book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says it best: “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, it’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Shannan Slevin is a nutrition wellness instructor and a body movement specialist. She is a certified nutrition and health coach and is trained in Pilates and yoga. A California native residing in Oakland, she lives for fresh air and dance floors.