Best Tips for Getting Better Sleep

Sleep is your friend

This morning I woke up to an amazing sunrise. There was a beautiful orange ball surrounded by strata of clouds of many shades of grey, pink, mauve, gold. It was absolutely breathtaking.

The first words out of my mouth (actually in my head) were “Good morning new day! I awake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for this beautiful sunrise, and for another day of loving and living.” The sunrise was so incredible it reminded me of this morning practice that I like to do but had not been consistent with lately. Wow!

What a good way to start the day. I love this time of year when waking up correlates with when the sun comes up even if I have set my alarm for a later time. Today this gave me extra time to do my morning routine and morning meditation practice…

But it also made me notice that I felt especially sleepy.

I must admit, I have been burning the candle at both ends, waking up when with the sun rises but not going to bed until hours after midnight. I try to get my business work done late at night when it’s quiet and I’m not interrupted, but more often than not, this means that my head is bobbing as I try to send emails, and my finger gets stuck on a key creating nonsensical words, or I accidentally move things around in my phone calendar, or I come near slithering out of my chair because I keep nodding off. Not really good for getting any good work done!

Then I heard an interview today with Matthew Walker, who wrote a book last year called ‘Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams’. He is the director of the UC Berkeley Center for Human Sleep Science. I listened with peaked interest, knowing the importance of sleep, and knowing that I may be shortchanging myself with a regular dose of short sleep hours. Let’s just say I learned a lot about sleep or the lack thereof, and its impact on our lives.

Of course, during that talk about sleep, I heard some startling facts that I hadn’t realized before about sleep. Walker reports, and backs it up with evidence, that shortened sleep correlates with a shortened life. GASP!! I really don’t want to contribute to anything that potentially shortens my life! Especially if I’m not getting anything done anyways, in those wee hours around midnight.

Also, there’s a pretty strong relationship between lack of sleep and the development of Alzheimers. As a client said to me recently, “I need all the brain power I can get – I don’t have too much extra as it is, to spare”! My thoughts exactly.

AND, Walker mentioned that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world! A pretty powerful indicator about how we are trying as a society to fight the need for sleep or the sense of sleepiness that many of us are overwhelmed by, and live with daily.

Here are some facts and good things to know about how Sleep or lack of sleep affects us:

  • Sleeping pills and medication create more of a sense of sedation rather than the healthy sleep that we need.
  • You can’t catch up on the weekend for lost sleep during the week. It just doesn’t work that way. You forever lose the benefits of a full amount of sleep on a regular basis.
  • REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep is really important for one’s mental health.
  • Sleep is really good for our memory – it helps us to remember things. And it also clears up storage space. It acts as a clutter removal, it gets rid of things that aren’t so important. It removes the “noise“.
  • When we’re awake, we do information collection and reception, gathering and analysis of that information. When we’re asleep, we do more reflection, which improves the integration and consolidation of all of that information.
  • Melatonin is a hormone naturally released when it gets darker, which then helps the process of sleep to begin. It doesn’t make us sleepy per se, but facilitates the wind-down process that needs to occur for good sleep to happen.
  • Caffeine works to block the sleep pressure process that makes us tired, that naturally builds during the day. So it attempts to trick that system but it ends up making us more tired.
  • We suffer cognitive decline when we don’t sleep enough.
  • Many of our diseases (diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s) are made worse by a chronic lack of sleep (less than six hours a night).
  • Chronic lack of sleep ages our reproductive systems by about 10 years.
  • Our lymphatic system is the sewage system of our body. The brain has its own sewage system as well and it works to clear stuff, out especially during deep sleep. It removes a toxic protein that is often found to be underlying in Alzheimer’s. The thing is, the more of this toxic protein that you have, the less you’re able to sleep and the less you’re able to sleep, the more this toxic protein builds up.
  • We do a disservice to our kids and teens by making them start school so early when their natural circadian rhythm is wired to wake up later and perhaps go to bed later. (Not to mention the havoc wreaked on their brains when they sleep with their phones, or text all night – but that’s another blog post!)
  • Better sleep affects the quality of your relationships.
  • Stage four sleep brain waves are similar to being in a coma (no dreaming here and you may not even be able to feel pain during this time of sleep). This lasts about 30 minutes max in a sleep cycle.
  • Fatigue increases auto accidents and medical errors. The Monday after daylight savings time change in the US there are increases in the number of heart attacks and car crashes.
  • Insomnia is taking too long to fall asleep or waking up for a prolonged period during the night.
  • The first part of the brain affected by no sleep is the prefrontal cortex, which is where our decision-making and problem-solving happens. It makes us more irritable, moody, irrational and decreases our cognitive functioning.
  • Sleep reinforces memory. The brain curates what to keep and what to toss. Sleeping soon after a major event or ordeal can turn those experiences into long-term memories.
  • Sleep is important for the preservation of life itself. It’s universal in every animal.
  • Sleep is necessary for a healthy immune system, to regulate our moods, maintains our blood pressure, and allows us to recover from injuries.
  • Maybe sleep is even more essential than food – many animals will die of sleep deprivation before starvation.
  • Good sleep decreases the risk of developing dementia. 

And here are some best tips for getting better sleep:

  • Make sure the room is dark.
  • Have regularity in your schedule, which means go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, whether it’s weekend or travel time or workdays.
  • Keep the temperature relatively cool, between 65 to 68°.
  • Don’t stay in bed if you’ve been awake.
  • No caffeine after 2 PM or alcohol nightcap.
  • It’s recommended that we get eight hours of sleep (some others say seven hours per night) which means creating the opportunity for eight hours, which means being in bed for longer than that.
  • There is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia that has proven to be very effective for people who have prolonged difficulty sleeping.
  • Remember, Sleep is not the adversary. No need to diminish it, avoid it, put it off, try to get out of it, feel ashamed that you need it, or see it as the thing that gets between you and your work.
  • When you have a problem or decision to make, it’s actually good to sleep on it. A whole different kind of healthy processing actually takes place when you’re sleeping.
  • When we can’t sleep at night it’s better to get out of bed and go into a dim room and read (no devices or screens) until feeling tired again. Otherwise the brain begins to associate the bed with being awake.
  • An even better way to deal with lack of sleep at night is to meditate!
    See these article for more tips about using mindfulness to help you sleep: Turning Your Worries Into Blessings and Anxiety and Panic in the Middle of the Night

So, I was reminded that getting enough sleep is an essential part of our self-care practice, and it is pretty central to our physical, social, and mental health, and to our emotional well being. It really is not something to take lightly because the potential negative consequences can be substantial and far-reaching.

We seem to have an epidemic of poor sleep going on, with the excessive demands on our time, the availability of and expectation to be in “connection” 24/7 with our devices, the overload of information coming at us that we don’t have time to fully absorb, and intensified by the complex and troubling goings on in our world today.

The good news is that by being more mindful about how we ready ourselves for sleep and how we embrace it into our lives, we can create environments and spaces that are more conducive to sleeping better and feeling and BEING better. With intention, we can take better care of ourselves and build our resilience so we can more effectively handle the next batch of waves of overwhelm, struggle or pain that we encounter.

I wish you many sleep-filled nights that are long enough and deep enough, and restorative to you as you continue on your journey of working, parenting, being in relationships and living fully.

If you or someone you love is losing sleep and feeling the worry, exhaustion or sense of depression about that, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445

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