Becoming the Boss of Your Circadian Rhythm
I don't know about you but when quarantine started for me, I got into some super funky sleep habits. For one, I was completely removed from my routine! I was going to sleep and waking up later, I was expending less energy throughout the day, eating at random (and frequent) times, and worse... spending significantly more time on my electronics!
After a few weeks, I really began to experience the effects of low-quality sleep in the form of reduced energy, reduced motivation, and the introduction of extremely vivid dreams.
I've learned that healthy sleep habits make a huge difference in my quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene. Yes. Hygiene. Like washing your hands or brushing your teeth. That is how important your Zzzz's are!
In order to relieve the negative effects of my bad sleep hygiene and become the boss of my own life, I began to implement the following sleep practices on a consistent basis: (Cliff note: consistency has been a major theme in this entire quarantine series)
Stick to a regular sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual consistently. A relaxing, routine right before bedtime helps separate your sleep time from daytime activities that can cause excitement, stress, or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, have deep sleep or remain asleep. I really enjoy reading a book or taking a bath. Melatonin or sleep-aid supplements can be used to enhance your body's natural "sleepy" hormones.
If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through these long and boring days, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, cutting the catnaps may help.
Exercise daily. Strenuous exercise is best for deepening your sleep, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise can be at any time of day, but I discourage adding exercise to your relaxing bedtime ritual, as that sort of defeats the purpose. Check out my previous post for some unique exercise ideas!
Evaluate your room. If you feel that you do a decent job completing those tasks, maybe the climate in your room needs to be adjusted. Try to design your sleep environment to promote restful conditions. It should be nice and cool – try somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees. The bedroom should also be as quiet and free from noise as possible. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any unwanted light. It's worth noting that a partner’s habits may be considered sleep disruptions (snoring or watching tv). Consider using blackout curtains, sleep masks, earplugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, and fans if this is the case.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and try to get some sunlight in the morning. This will help keep your circadian rhythms in check.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating heavy or spicy meals can also cause discomfort that makes sleeping difficult. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack or a large glass of water 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
The importance of winding down. As I mentioned in tip #2, our body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so dedicate the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For most people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the light and motion from the screens are very stimulating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment. When you use your bed only for sleep and intimacy, it strengthens the association between bed and sleep.
If you’re still having trouble achieving restful sleep, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional for extra help. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits. I enjoy monitoring my sleeping patterns with my Fitbit watch. The Fitbit can analyze sleep by recording changes in heart rate, heart rate, and muscle movement. While the results will be fairly accurate most of the time, don’t skip the doctor’s appointment if you feel you're having a particularly hard time getting to or remaining asleep.
Sweet dreams, my lovely lovely humans!