Insomnia. It’s real and normal to experience it from time to time. But it’s no joke. Consider the following incidents in which sleep deficiency played a role:
- 1979 Three Mile Island Accident
- 1986 Chernobyl Disaster
- 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
- 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
- 1995 Grounding of the Star Princess
You don’t work at a nuclear power plant, not employed by NASA, or pilot an oil tanker or passenger ship? No worries, sleep deficiency does not discriminate. Here’s a stat that is relatable to many of us:
“In the United States, drowsiness was estimated to contribute to 21% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes and 13% of severe injury crashes.” (Cai et al., 2021)
Sleep is when our body carries out detox and recovery functions essential to life. Memories are being organized. Our glymphatic system goes to work clearing away toxins that have built up in the brain throughout the day. Cells are being repaired. When our sleep is less than optimal it is no wonder we do not feel our best!
Ready to get serious about your sleep quality? Ok, let’s talk about sleep hygiene. Have you heard of it? It is a real thing! Sleep hygiene is all about creating habits and an environment to help set yourself up for a good night’s sleep. First, let’s take a look at how to create a sleep supportive environment.
Transform your bedroom into a hibernation chamber. Start by making your bedroom dark, really dark like a cave where a bear would hibernate dark. Your brain needs to perceive darkness for melatonin to go to work and make you sleepy. So, if that means getting blackout curtains because your neighbor has stadium lighting illuminating their back porch 24/7 (true story), then do it. Cover or eliminate other light-emitting sources like your alarm clock, air filter, CPAP machine, etc.
Get the tv out of your bedroom. I know, I know. Watching tv in bed helps you relax BUT the blue light your tv emits is wrecking your sleep quality. Watch tv in the living room. The bedroom is for two things: sex and sleep. That’s it. Limiting the activities occurring in the bedroom is another way to cue your brain that sleep (or sex) is what’s supposed to happen when you crawl into bed.
Minimize or eliminate stimulating sounds. No ticking clocks allowed! Keep your brain focused on the sleep-supporting environmental signals you are sending and avoid distracting it by listening to your favorite true-crime podcast while trying to nod off.
Keep your bedroom cool. Temperature is a cue, like darkness, that signals your brain it is time to drift off to dreamland. Aim for somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remember, you are creating a hibernation chamber. It needs to be dark, quiet, and cool like a bear cave.
Turn your bed into a cozy oasis. What do you need to create a luxurious bed you can’t wait to crawl into every night? Maybe a soft fuzzy weighted blanket, a wedge to support your knees, a new pillow for your head, numerous frilly decorative pillows, or high thread count sheets. Really give this some thought, the average American spends about 36 years of their life in bed – make it comfy and cozy and possible. And yes, high thread count sheets are worth the expense! Also, think about your sleep clothes. Is it time for a new pair of jammies? If you have always wanted a Snuggie® now is your chance to fulfill that dream.
Pick your sleep partner wisely. Sometimes the family member(s) we sleep with contribute to our poor sleep quality. Spouses, kids, and pets may unintentionally be making it difficult to get the rest we require (and deserve). If your spouse regularly steals the blankets causing you to shiver yourself awake, or your kiddo turns into a pro wrestler between 2 and 3 am, or you have a cat that transforms into a terrorist when he gets the late-night munchies, then something needs to change. Consider creating a hibernation chamber for one – just you. It doesn’t mean you love your family members any less. It means you are giving yourself the chance to sleep well which will allow you to shine more brightly in their lives.
Now that you have some ideas for creating an environment conducive to sleep let’s talk about shifting some habits that may be holding you back from experiencing quality sleep.
Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol are the enemies of sleep. There are countless reasons to quit smoking and I am not going to belabor the issue. Simply put, nicotine is a stimulant which is the opposite of what you want when trying to optimize your sleep.
The story is the same with caffeine. That post-dinner cup of coffee is a nice way to finish off a meal but is it worth the cost of your sleep? I love coffee and figured out that any caffeine after 2 pm is a no-no for me so I switched to decaf. Maybe that would work for you too or how about a fragrant cup of herbal tea instead? Bottom line, kick the caffeine habit in favor of protecting your sleep quality.
Alcohol is a crutch used by many to fall asleep, but it may also be why you wake up a few hours later. Before you freak out, I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking. I am going to say that if you choose to indulge you should be thoughtful about the timing of your tipple. I discovered that if I have a drink with dinner, I will wake up around 2 am and have trouble getting back to sleep and so I factor that into my decision whether to imbibe or not. You have the same choice. If you want to find out if that glass of red is impacting your sleep, then try going without it for two weeks and see what happens.
The timing of your last meal of the day may influence your sleep quality. It is generally recommended to avoid eating within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime. Digestion is a labor-intensive process. Give your body a chance to get the heavy lifting done prior to laying down for the night. If you feel the need for a nibble just before bedtime or are worried about waking up hungry in the middle of the night, try snacking on a small handful of nuts (walnuts and almonds contain melatonin), a tablespoon of nut butter, or a little cheese.
Ok, now you have some suggestions for creating a sleep supportive environment and a few habits that may need to be adjusted. Do not feel like you must make these changes all at once. Slow and steady wins the race. If all this sounds overwhelming, choose one thing to get the ball rolling. A good first step would be to eliminate the excess light being emitted by appliances in your bedroom. It could be as simple as throwing a towel over the offending light or you could put a post-it over the light and then color a black circle over the light that shines through – neither are a high-tech solution but they get the job done!
Let me know if you decide to put any of these strategies to work and what you experienced.
Cai, A. W. T., Manousakis, J. E., Singh, B., Kuo, J., Jeppe, K. J., Francis-Pester, E., Shiferaw, B., Beatty, C. J., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., Lenné, M. G., Howard, M. E., & Anderson, C. (2021). On-road driving impairment following sleep deprivation differs according to age. Scientific Reports, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-99133-y
Mitler, M. M., Carskadon, M. A., Czeisier, C. A., Dement, W. C., Dinges, D. F., & Graeber, R. C. (1988). Catastrophes, Sleep, and Public Policy: Consensus Report. Sleep, 11(1), 100–109. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/11.1.100
Alaska Oil Spill Commission. (1990, February). Spill The Wreck of the Exxon Valdez Implications for Safe Transportation of Oil. https://www.arlis.org/docs/vol1/EVOS/1990/33339870.pdf
National Transportation Safety Board. (1997, March). Grounding of the Liberian Passenger Ship Star Princess on Poundstone Rock, Lynn Canal, Alaska, June 23, 1995. https://maritimesafetyinnovationlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/NTSB-Star-Princess-Grounding-June-1995.pdf#:~:text=The%20National%20Transportation%20Safety%20Board%20determines%20that%20the,watch%20officers%20did%20not%20practice%20bridge%20resource%20management.?msclkid=eaf3e074af8b11ec8f0f5db250e7a4c0
Schmall, SWNS, T. (2019, March 21). We spend nearly half of our lifetime lying around in bed. New York Post. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://nypost.com/2019/03/21/we-spend-nearly-half-of-our-lifetime-lying-around-in-bed/
M.D., C. W. W. (2018). The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It (Reprint ed.). Berkley.
Hello! I’m Mary, a Functional Nutrition Therapy Practitioner and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. I help women identify the missing pieces of their thyroid disease management plan. I believe in your body’s innate ability to use food and lifestyle as medicine. I can show you how to use them to build a foundation for health and wellness so you may live your most vibrant life. Contact me to discuss how a real food diet and lifestyle options may be used to propel you to a higher level of wellness.