Building Better Sleep Habits
It is 10 pm… the kids are in bed, the house is quiet and it is now your “ME TIME”. It is tempting to get under your comfy blanket in front of the TV with your favorite show queued up on Netflix… and 3 hours later you realize the time and that you will have to get up in 5 hours!
This type of cycle of chronic sleep deprivation in favor of getting things done or to get in your me time may seem harmless, but comes with a cost.
Today, I want to share with you some reasons why we should prioritize our sleep and some ways to build healthy sleep habits.
So, why should you care about lack of sleep?
Sleep is closely linked to metabolic health- sleep impacts the regulation of weight and hunger hormones as well as cardiovascular factors like blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation. Sleep also has effects on our brain function and emotions.
When we chronically deprive our body of needed sleep, we pay a price.
Not only might we have trouble functioning the next day (the immediate impact!), but we actually increase our risk for weight gain (especially that dangerous visceral fat around our intra-abdominal organs) and subsequently the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers- we also increase our risk of dying because of developing these conditions.
How much sleep do we need?
A study from University College London published in PLOS Medicine 7,000 men and women at the ages of 50, 60, and 70, from the Whitehall II cohort study. Sleeping for less than a 5 hours duration at age 50 was correlated with being 20% more likely to have been diagnosed with a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes and 40% more likely to develop 2 or more chronic conditions over 25 years compared to individuals who slept for up to 7 hours. Typically, adults should be aiming for 7 to 9 hours according to CDC guidelines.
So, why do you delay sleep?
Because you may be feeling like.. you come LAST. Could this be your reason for delaying sleep?
Have you heard of “revenge sleep procrastination”? Essentially, you are foregoing sleep because that is the only time you get for yourself. Between all the obligations and responsibilities of work, home, family, and the “need to dos”, the only time left in the day for the “want to dos” are those hours you should be resting.
Now that you know not getting sleep has serious health impacts and can lead to increased hunger, weight gain, blood pressure issues, inflammation, and more- consider looking at sleep as self-care ME TIME too!
Some ways to avoid revenge sleep procrastination:
- Consider blocking short periods of time (just 10 mins) once or twice a day for yourself to take a break. Schedule it into your calendar! The world will NOT fall apart if you step away for a bit.
- Prioritize yourself weekly- make time to cultivate your own interests like music, reading, or other hobbies, and try to schedule even 30 minutes that you can look forward to and enjoy.
- Watch JUST ONE show and set an alarm to remind yourself to turn it off and get to bed for that much-needed rest you DESERVE and NEED.
What if you are getting in bed and can’t sleep?
If you are getting to bed on time but struggling with getting good sleep, I know this can be very frustrating! There can be many reasons for insomnia- either trouble falling asleep or waking up throughout the night and then having trouble getting back to sleep. Often medical conditions like perimenopause/menopause, restless legs syndrome, anxiety, and obstructive sleep apnea could play a role. If you are concerned about medical issues impacting sleep, please consult with your primary care provider.
There are some ways to improve sleep through your lifestyle and always discuss with your physician if you are considering using sleep aid medications as they can have side effects.
Here are 7 science-backed ways to improve your sleep quality today:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule for bedtime and waking up at the same times as much as possible.
- Build a relaxing sleep routine that helps bring more blood flow to your skin like taking a bath or shower or wearing socks.
- Minimize watching TV and being on the phone while in bed as much as possible. (Do it outside the bedroom and go to your bed when ready to turn off the lights). Dim any lights and cover alarm clocks and other light sources in the room.
- Increase daytime exposure to sunlight outside, especially getting some physical activity in the later afternoon can help with nighttime awakening.
- Try listening to a sleep meditation or story with an app like Insight Timer (free), Calm, Headspace, or CBT-I at bedtime or when you awaken at night.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after 12 p.m. and limit the amounts based on what you can tolerate.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening which may help you fall asleep but keeps you from staying asleep!
As you can see, it is well worth it to focus on getting restorative sleep for many reasons, including impacts on mood, metabolic health, and overall well-being. So next time you are heading to sleep, get in that warm bed and enjoy some much-deserved rest and a chance to reset while you also improve your whole body health!
Dr. Richa Mittal is an Internist and Obesity and Lifestyle Medicine physician in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Her membership-based practice focuses on a patient-centric approach to weight management, cardiometabolic health, and prevention. She offers medical, lifestyle, and culinary medicine tools in her practice to help her patients with sustainable lifestyle changes to optimize long-term health.