We’ve all heard it—regular sleep keeps us fit, sharpens memory, prevents illnesses like diabetes—and ensures emotional balance. Yet getting enough sleep is becoming more and more elusive. We have endless distractions, less routines and more choices. According to Stats Canada (2010), 46 percent of Canadians will avoid sleep to complete some activity—which may not be all that surprising, but the repercussions are terrible. Not only is lack of sleep negatively impacting our productivity, health and happiness, but when we do finally lie down to rest, we often can’t fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night.

What can we do? The first step is to develop a few sleep friendly habits and stick to them for at least one week, as it takes that long to reset your sleep schedule. It’s simple, mostly free and is sure to make an impact.

Photo by Aweisenfels

 

Embrace both darkness and light–regularly.

If there’s just one habit to adopt for a healthier sleep, it would be to remove all electronics from the bedroom and avoid electronics an hour or more before bed—including the phone. It’s not just the buzzing and chirping of messages and apps, it’s that the bedroom must be completely dark at night. No blinking lights and no shining streetlights.

Melatonin is a hormone that has become popular as a supplement, but in actual fact it is released naturally by your pineal gland to set your sleep-waking schedule once darkness hits. In order to ensure a complete and proper reset of your sleep, simply take a walk outdoors in the morning so that your body knows it’s daytime, and then shut off all lights at night when it’s time for bed.

There are now apps to allow the screen to adjust to the day’s light and remove the high energy blue light from computer (and phone) screens as the day wanes (the brightness returns during the day). One such app is Flux.  Of course, an app should never replace a bedtime routine.

Bedtime routines don’t just work for kids.

You know how moms turn down the lights, give their kids a bath and read a story before bed? Bedtime routines don’t just work for kids. Our bodies naturally crave routines and even as adults we need transitions between a high activity day and settling down at night. Maybe you love baths and candles, or just like to cozy up to a cup of non caffeinated tea and a comforting book. Having a 20-60 minute daily routine that doesn’t vary too much on weekends helps the body settle down more consistently.

If you need a little extra help, I would highly recommend incorporating just a few minutes of easy yoga poses for winding down and settling the body.  Spending a few minutes doing a yoga routine using inverted poses where the head is low or lower than the feet is calming before bed. Poses such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend), Balasana (child’s pose) and Viparita karani (lying on your back with legs up the wall) all help calm the mind. Adding Savasana (corpse pose lying on your back) at the end, paying attention to relaxing different parts of the body, starting with the head and face, moving down through the shoulders, arms, abdomen, and finally, the legs and feet. In yoga, any inverted poses, where the head is low or lower than the feet are good before bed.