It’s no secret that sleep is incredibly important. Besides providing the energy and focus to tackle our workdays, a good night’s sleep can result in decreased risk of inflammatory conditions like heart disease, increased memory function, a better mood, and even a longer life. But try as we might to get enough sleep, it’s easier said than done. So, in honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, we're determined to change our sleep habits for the better. We tapped the brain of Shawn Stevenson, creator of The Model Health Show podcast and author of Sleep Smarter (out March 15), to find out simple strategies to hit the hay more soundly tonight and beyond.
Curb the Caffeine
For many of us, caffeine—and coffee in particular—is a gift. But, it’s also one of the major culprits in sleep disturbance. “It’s easy to forget that caffeine is a very powerful nervous system stimulant,” says Stevenson, adding that ingesting caffeine even as much as six hours before bed is enough to create measurable disturbance in our sleep cycles. Don’t panic, you don’t need to kick the habit entirely, but Stevenson suggests curbing it to before noon only. If you need a pick me up later in the day, he suggests going for a quick power walk or having a conversation with a good friend, both of which can release endorphins and leave you feeling more awake with no side effects later in the night.
Focus on Time, Not Hours
When it comes to quality sleep, it’s less about getting a certain number of hours and more about sleeping during the right hours. “Timing your sleep is like timing an investment,” says Stevenson. “It doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.” And the “money time,” as Stevenson calls it, to invest is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. “You get the most rejuvenating sleep and beneficial hormone secretions during this time,” Stevenson says. This is based on the notion that humans are meant to wind down as it gets darker and so naturally our hormones are meant to secrete in sync with that. So, you’ll get your best doses of hormones like melatonin and HGH (what Stevenson calls “the youth hormone”) between these hours.
Go With Your Gut
What we eat can dramatically impact sleep. According to Stevenson, that’s because our gut is filled with neurotransmitters, similar to the brain, that control the secretion of hormones like serotonin and melatonin. So a balanced microbiome can mean more balanced sleep. To keep our guts happy, Stevenson suggests eating organic, locally grown, and unprocessed foods for the bulk of our diet, as well as eating three to five servings of foods that contain what he calls “good sleep nutrients,” or nutrients that have been associated with sleep disruptions when deficient, such as Vitamin C, potassium, and omega-3s.
Dress the Part
If you’ve ever gone to sleep in a sweatshirt only to wake up in the middle of the night to rip the thing off your sweaty body, you know that temperature and choice of pajamas plays a big role in good sleep. “Being cooler is important for high quality sleep because your body has this thermal regulation and it drops your body’s core temperature to facilitate all the processes for sleep,” says Stevenson. If you can’t regulate your bedroom’s temperature, the next best thing is to wear non-restrictive, loose fitting clothing that will keep you cool and comfortable throughout the night. Stevenson recommends a loose fitting T-shirt and boxers, flowy lingerie, or stripping down to your birthday suit to avoid any overnight clothing interruptions.