Your Best Life: Tips to finally get to sleep

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Ahhh. That buzzy yet comfortable feeling after a good night’s sleep. There’s a lot of talk about morning routines regarding productivity, but if you want to really move the needle on your energy and brainpower, think about your nighttime routine. Do you have one?

In foundational pillars of health, sleep always places in the top three. If basic human functioning were an Olympic event, sleep would always take home a medal.

Studies show that missing a single night of sleep basically makes us:

• Statistically drunk the next day in terms of reaction time, mood, and cognition.

•Crave carbs like there is no tomorrow, leading us to eat junk food, and when the glucose spike dives, makes us want more.

After a bad night, we are shadows of our best selves. People who are chronically sleep-deprived suffer hormone irregularity and even metabolic dysfunction, altering their brain and body. This includes shift workers, new parents, and caregivers. Compared to a well-rested brain, SPECT scans of brains done by Dr. Daniel Amen demonstrating long-term sleep deprivation look like Swiss cheese.

Video fitness star Chalene Johnson tells the story of her scan, saying Amen asked her if she had a history of drug abuse or alcoholism after seeing her scan. It turns out she just slept only four to five hours a day to teach early morning fitness classes. According to her podcast, she has reversed the damage since and now protects her sleep.

If you are one of those people who say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” you might want to rethink that. Do you want to be behind the wheel of a car, making key decisions at work, or having important conversations with loved ones in such a compromised state?

Conversely, beyond rest, sleep has the power to help us retain memory, process emotions, digest, and recover from injuries. That’s why it’s always in the top three foundations of health. So here are some ways to protect your brain and body, and help you operate at full capacity if not tomorrow, very soon, going from morning til bedtime:

Start in the morning – Stamford’s Dr. Andrew Huberman recommends you tee up your circadian rhythm in the morning with at least ten minutes of exposure to (in order of preference) direct daylight (not through a window), a sunlight lamp, or at least bright light.

Corral the caffeine – Experts recommend nixing caffeine after 2 p.m., sooner if you are a slow metabolizer of caffeine or sensitive to it. Yes, that includes iced lattes in summer.

Exercise, but not too late – Movement helps regulate hormonal activity and can make the body yearn for rest. Some people get pumped up afterwards so aim to finish your workout a couple of hours before hitting the pillow.

Make dinner your carb meal – Longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia suggests taking a tip from the haze we fall into after Thanksgiving dinner. Hold off on carbs until your evening meal, and let that post-prandial tryptophan released in digesting carbohydrates send you off into dreamland. 

Stop eating two hours before dinner Digestion can keep us awake.

Chill on the Netflix – Blue light from computers and regular light bulbs suppresses melatonin, so it’s best avoided after dark. Skipping TV and phones is best, but if you’re not ready to start weaving or reading “War and Peace,” some workarounds include using screen settings on your phone (“Night Shift” on iPhones or under “Eye Comfort” on Androids) or computer to remove blue light on your schedule or wearing blue-light blocking glasses such as TruDark. I start at 8:00 for a 10:00 bedtime.

Keep it cool – cooler temperatures mimic the night conditions we had when we slept under the stars. Ideally, experts say, temperatures should be a tad cool, say in the mid-60s as you go to sleep and for an hour or two before waking.

Make your bedroom a sanctuary – your brain, ever striving to build patterns of efficiency, makes strong associations with your behavior that feed into your parasympathetic nerve system. That’s why toddler bedtime routines (mostly) work – bath + pajamas + book + goodnight kiss = sleep time.

When you work in bed or spend hours online shopping or playing “Angry Birds,” you are telling your brain to plan to stay awake – anything can happen in here! On the other hand, yoga, meditation, stretching, light reading, time with your significant other, all good.

Ironically, if you want to remember what you read, speedreading expert Jim Kwik argues against reading in bed for this same reason – it’s telling your brain not to pay attention to your book!

Stay on the dark side  Another way to cue your body it’s time to sleep is to remove extra light sources. Shawn Stevenson, author of “Sleep Smarter” says that our eyes and skin are exquisitely sensitive to light, which can scramble the melatonin cycle, waking us up. If you go to the bathroom, do your best to keep the lights off. You can buy stickers to cover up LEDs from clocks, WiFi routers, chargers, etc.

Set the scene  Make your bed as comfy as possible, from the best mattress and linens you can afford. Cool-feeling linens like those made from linen or bamboo will help keep the temperature around you cooler.

Build a routine – Time to parent yourself. Figure out your optimal bedtime for your body (you know if you’re a night owl or not), plan to wind down about one-to-two hours before. If you’ve set your phone or computer on a timer, that can be your cue. Dr. Huberman turns his home lights down in the evening.

Experiment with what works for you – herbal tea (I’m partial to Yogi Stress Less Kava and Sleepytime), a hot bath, reading, or listening to a guided sleep meditation. I know I could shave off some time from my television entertainment, but I spend about half an hour on my acupuncture mat reading before bed every night. Some of the best deep sleeps come after having an Epsom salts bath right before bed.

Set your alarm (I use my Fitbit for a soundless buzz alert) to wake you during the same one-hour time range – even on the weekends – to keep your rhythm consistent.

Sweet dreams ...