Many New Year’s Resolutions propose getting fit, eating healthier, losing weight, giving up an addiction to smoking or sugar, and other personal health and fitness goals. But how many of us have considered getting better sleep as a laudable goal for the new year?
If you care deeply about fitness and overall health and wellness, you should move quality sleep to the top of your priority list.
Sleep is the prerequisite for every other health goal in your life. If you want to lose weight, control cravings, improve workout results, achieve mental focus and physical agility, reduce depression or anxiety, and improve your cardiovascular health, not getting enough sleep will torpedo all of those goals and many others as well.
Harvard medicine states that lack of sleep is a major contributing factor to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as declining cardiovascular house and immune response.
A lack of sleep contributes to many of your worst habits, like eating one too many snacks and binge eating. If getting enough sleep is a challenge for you, here are four ways to improve your sleep this year.
1. Get on a sleep schedule
Many enjoy sleeping in on their weekends or days off. But actually, most health professionals advise against drifting too far outside your normal sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Our mothers wisely understood that sticking to a sleep schedule was a must for our development when we were children.
Becoming an adult brings real-world challenges to maintaining a regular sleep schedule but that does not mean we should not strive to create one, especially as our bodies age.
Our bodies are on a regular cycle for digestion, hormones, metabolism, etc. As our body cycles through various stages of biochemical processing to keep us upright, it craves predictability so that it can process the energy needed for regular functioning. When we disrupt the cycle of sleep, it interferes with our body’s ability to function, causing long-term damage and harm to the body’s health.
Try to avoid long naps during the day which can also interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycle. There are many resources you can use to help set a sleep schedule and successfully get your body adjusted to a schedule if you do not have one currently.
Sleep.org advises being consistent with both your bedtime and your wake time. If having a healthy sleep schedule is new for you, try to gradually adjust your body, moving your bedtime down in 15-minute increments over the course of a week or two until you reach your desired bedtime.
2. Check your sleep environment
Many people fall asleep while watching television or after using a phone or laptop. Health professionals discourage these practices whenever possible. Your environment must be conducive to deep, healthy sleep.
Consider whether or not you’re constantly disrupted by screens, noise, light, or a poor mattress. Take note of anything that wakes you up throughout the night, such as a loud fan, faulty HVAC system, or uncomfortable air quality.
Your sleeping environment should ideally be between 60-67 degrees and your bedroom should be designed for fostering a healthy sleep. Television screens and computers should not be located in the bedroom.
Phones need to be silenced if possible and the screens turned off before bed. Additionally, consider your bed.
Given sleep’s primacy in health, you must invest in a quality mattress and pillow as well as quality sheets, comforters, and blankets that are seasonally appropriate to keep your body at a balanced temperature throughout the night. Position your bed to avoid unnecessary disruptions of light and noise.
3. Consider your daily habits
Your body needs to be prepared for sleep, particularly if you struggle with falling asleep. If sleep is challenging for you, you will need to consider your habits throughout the day to help your body properly prepare to fall asleep.
Consider your diet carefully. You’ll probably need to avoid stimulants, such as caffeine or cigarettes, after a certain hour of the day.
You may also want to pay attention to the kinds of food you’re eating and the time of day you’re eating.
For example, heavy or spicy meals late in the evening may interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Consider getting some exercise during the day to help relieve stress and tension in the body.
Also consider consider other relaxation practices such as yoga or meditation practice that can help relieve tension and stress in the body and mind. As much as is possible, make sure you expose yourself to sources of natural light during the day.
If this is challenging to accomplish, particularly in the wintertime in certain geographic locations, there are many natural light lamps you can purchase and use during the daytime to help assist your body’s circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycle.
4. Develop a nightly routine
Just as you have a preferred bedtime, you should also build into your sleep schedule time to get ready for bed every night. Generally speaking, a bedtime ritual is between 30–60 minutes, depending on the person.
You will want to remove audio and visual stimuli from your environment by turning off the television, dimming the lights, and finishing up any nighttime rituals and tasks. Consider starting a relaxing bedtime ritual by reading, meditation, a hot bath or shower, or other self-care practices.
As previously stated, it can be a challenge to balance work, life, and fitness, but it’s possible when you commit to organizing your life diligently.
Your body houses your spirit, and just as you would not risk your home investment, you should not risk the investment you make in your body. Set aside enough time for that most precious and valuable of health practices, sleep.
How much sleep do you get a night on average?