The second step on my 10 Healthy Living Baby Steps is to work on getting quality sleep. The amount and quality of the sleep you get have a HUGE impact on your health. Your diet and fitness might be in check, but if your sleep is not, your health may be suffering. Keep reading to find out why quality sleep is so important, how much sleep you should try to get, and how you can improve your sleep.
Importance of Quality Sleep
You know that sleep is important, but why? What happens when you do and don’t get enough sleep (which definitely happens – especially with new moms!)?
What Happens When You Don’t Get Quality Sleep
- Depression – A lack of sleep increases the symptoms for someone who has depression. I definitely am not in a good mood when I don’t get enough sleep. I can get grumpy and irritable when I’m running low on sleep!
- Memory Problems – A lack of sleep has an impact on your memory. Your brain has trouble storing information in your memory on days following sleepless nights. So it is very difficult for children (and adults) to learn when they’re sleep deprived.
- Slows Reaction Time – This is why driving when sleep deprived is not okay! My husband used to be a truck driver, and they had limits on how many hours they can drive before they have to take a break to sleep. So many accidents happen when sleep deprived adults drive or operate machinery.
- Increased Risk of Sickness – Sleep is the time our body fights infection and inflammation. Our immune system releases proteins called cytokines that help fight sickness during sleep. When we’re sleep deprived, these proteins aren’t released and working to fight our sickness as much. So we are more likely to get sick, and it takes longer to recover when we are sick.
- Obesity – Sleep deprivation increases hunger, and it decreases your judgment. So, there’s more of a chance you will choose foods that are not health-promoting when you’re tired. Lack of sleep also causes an increase in the hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can also lead to weight gain.
- Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes can result from lack of sleep, increased cortisol, weight gain, and an increase in blood glucose. All things that can happen when you’re sleep deprived.
- High Blood Pressure – Like I said, the stress hormone cortisol increases with lack of sleep. This can also lead to high blood pressure.
- Heart Attack – High blood pressure from a lack of sleep increases your risk of heart attack.
- Stroke – Like heart attacks, high blood pressure can also lead to strokes.
- Skin Issues – Sleep deprivation can cause puffiness under our eyes, as we all know (especially us moms!). It can also reduce our skin collagen, making our skin less smooth and elastic.
Benefits of Quality Sleep
So much goes on when we’re sleeping! Besides helping prevent the things listed above, enough quality sleep can promote:
- Brain Function
- Positive Mood
- Healthy Metabolism
- Reduced Sugar and Carb Cravings
- Healthy Weight
So, as you can see, it’s really important to get enough sleep! You’re probably not going to develop one of the above health issues after a few nights of sleeplessness, but over time, one or more of those can become a reality. So, don’t take the chance! Get your sleep!
How Much Quality Sleep Should You Get?
It is best for adults to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
I notice a BIG difference when I get anything less than 7 hours. It is so hard to wake up in the morning, it takes me longer to fully wake up, I move more slowly, I’m not in a great mood, I get under-eye circles, and I get a headache.
Over time, you may get used to not getting enough sleep and think that you can handle it. But that doesn’t mean your body gets used to it. Your health may still be suffering, even if you don’t see any effects right away.
I know we all have a million things to do in just a 24-hour day, but try your best to get AT LEAST 7 hours of sleep a night. Your body will thank you!
Tips for Getting Quality Sleeping
In order to get quality sleep, it is important to follow your natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour sleep and wake cycle. It’s like your brain’s clock. It knows when you need energy and when you need to get sleepy. I find this SO fascinating. Your body knows what is best for you!
Circadian rhythm can be adjusted and change over time (babies’ circadian rhythm is far different from young adults’). It’s important to follow our bodies’ signals and support our circadian rhythm so that we can get quality sleep and increase our health overall.
So, what we’ve all been waiting for! Here are some ways you can support your healthy circadian rhythm and sleep well:
1. Adjust your lights.
When the sun goes down, it signals your body to wind down and get ready for bed. Think back to the old days, before light bulbs were invented. People woke up at the crack of dawn, worked all day, came in at dusk, ate dinner, probably read a little bit by candlelight, and went to bed. They didn’t stay up for hours after the sun was down to keep working or watch TV. They went to bed!
Obviously, we’re not all going to actually go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down, especially during the winter when that happens at 6 pm. But, when the sun goes down, the lights in your house should also go down.
Turn bright overhead lights off and leave just a few lamps on. Even better – turn off all white and blue lights (that mimic the day sky) and use red lights. Blue lights (think TV and phones) make your brain think it is still daytime and you still need energy. I use this Himalayan Salt Lamp at nighttime. I love it and the soft pink glow it gives off! It’s so relaxing! And relaxation = better sleep!
Gradually reduce light until you go to sleep. I know this is a hard one – but try to avoid using your phone or watching TV at least an hour before bed. Use that hour before bed to really wind your body down.
Low lighting signals the brain to release melatonin, a hormone that calms the body to get ready to sleep.
2. Create a good nighttime routine.
Thirty-60 minutes before bedtime, start your nighttime routine. Having a nighttime routine will help relax your body to support optimal sleep. This could include:
- turning off your tv,
- plugging your phone in (try to keep it AWAY from your bed),
- taking a bath or shower,
- washing your face,
- drinking a cup of herbal (non-caffeinated) tea,
- brushing your teeth, and
I find it really helpful to diffuse lavender essential oil (that’s a GREAT pure, organic one!) at bedtime. It really helps relax me.
3. Have a consistent bedtime.
In order to keep your circadian rhythm healthy, it’s important to go to bed at the same time every night. Staying up way later on the weekends can throw your circadian rhythm off and make it difficult going to sleep on time on weeknights. I’ve definitely been victim to this. I used to stay up until 11 or 12 on the weekends. Then when I needed to go to sleep at 9:30 on school nights, I would lie in bed wide away for hours because I wasn’t tired yet.
It’s helpful for me to set an alarm on my phone for bedtime. I figure out what time I need to get up and go back 8 1/2 hours. I currently get up at 5:45 am, so I set my bedtime alarm for 9:15 pm. If I want to get 8 hours of sleep, that gives me 30 minutes to do my nighttime routine and fall asleep. It’s not like you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow (at least not for me – if you do, that’s awesome! Teach me your ways!). Allow a few extra minutes for actually falling asleep.
4. Avoid caffeine after noon.
This one is difficult for me too, because I love coffee! I don’t usually feel like I actually NEED coffee to function. I just really like the taste and the coziness (it’s like a warm hug!).
Try to limit your caffeine intake and only consume caffeine before noon. Even if it’s several hours before bedtime, drinking caffeine in the afternoon can impact your ability to fall asleep.
5. Create a good wakeup routine.
Another way to sleep well at night is to start your day the right way. Your ability to have good sleep starts as soon as you wake up. To support your body’s natural circadian rhythm, try to wake up when the sun comes up. If you need to wake up earlier to be on time for work, do that. But try not to sleep in way past sunrise.
When you wake up, do some stretching, drink some water, THEN coffee or tea if you choose, and go through the rest of your morning routine.
In your morning routine, add in some sunlight. Sunlight first thing in the morning helps promote our circadian rhythm and signals to our bodies that we need energy. You can sit outside and drink your coffee or go on a short walk outside.
6. Exercise earlier in the day.
Exercise and getting plenty of movement throughout the day is so important. Read more about why exercise is so important and ways to create an active lifestyle here. As important as exercise is, it’s important to not do it RIGHT before bed.
Exercise increases the hormone cortisol (there’s that stress hormone again!) which spikes our energy. We NEED that during workout times, but not during sleeping time. To fall asleep quickly and to sleep well, we need our relaxing hormone, melatonin, not high cortisol.
7. Work on your stress management.
Like I mentioned several times in this post, the hormone cortisol is not great for sleep. And when we have high stress, our cortisol is high. Stress and sleep go hand in hand. Improve your stress, and your sleep will improve as well. And vice-versa. So if you’re struggling with getting in enough sleep, definitely take a look at your stress level and how you can better manage your stress. Check out my posts 8 Tips to Help You Manage Your Stress and 7 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress for ideas.
8. Ask for help.
If the reason for your lack of sleep is because you’re a new mom and your baby’s keeping you up at night, ask for help! Take shifts with your husband. Have him feed the baby for a few nights so you can catch up on some sleep. When my kids were babies, I remember thinking that, since my husband had to go to work, and I was staying home the next day, it only made sense that I would be the one to do the middle-of-the-night feedings and comforting. However, mamas need their sleep too! Being at home or being at work have no affect on the need for sleep!
Another option would be to ask a (really) good friend or your mom to spend the night and take a shift taking care of the baby at night so you can get a great night of sleep.
We all deserve good sleep, even moms.
But do remember, this time will not last forever. The first year or so is tough! Our sleep suffers. But, get in naps when you can and just remember it’s only for a short time. You will be able to get in good sleep again soon!
9. Supplement if needed.
If you’ve tried all the other things and are still having trouble falling to sleep and staying asleep, then consider adding in a supplement. When you’re choosing to add in supplements, medications, or other treatments, always start with the least invasive one that causes the least amount of negative side effects.
I would start with adding in an herbal tea. Some of my favorites are chamomile with lavender or Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir (technically not an herb, but a mushroom!). I drink one of those most nights before bed, and they definitely do help calm and relax me.
If that’s not helping enough, you can add in 5-HTP (a supplement extracted from an African seed). 5-HTP works in the brain to increase serotonin, which helps promote better sleep and stress manangement. It can also be used to help with depression and obesity.
Finally, you can add in Melatonin supplements, if the other things are not working. Talk to your doctor before you add melatonin in. It is a hormone, and I would not mess with adding in hormones without careful thought and consulting with your doctor. If for some reason your body is not making enough melatonin, you can add some in to promote better sleep.
I hope these tips help! Try to work on these things over the next week or so. Go to bed on time and make sure you get enough quality sleep each night. It will really help improve your health and wellness! Let me know if you have any other sleep tips to share.
Get some rest! You deserve it!