How blissful do you feel after a really good night of sleep? And how often does that happy event occur in your life?
Part of the reason deep, restful sleep feels so great is because it allows your body to perform health-restoring processes of rejuvenation and renewal. Not getting enough high-quality sleep keeps these things from happening, and can lead to feeling like your physical, mental, and emotional energy has been zapped. It also increases your risk for immune issues.
Coordinate Your Sleep Chemistry
You might think that sleep is just something that either happens or doesn’t, but your body actually has to do some intricate planning to get it to happen the right way.
Most people really do need to get a solid 7-8 hours for their best health and immunity. Why? Because sleep happens in stages, and 7-8 hours typically represents three periods of different types of sleep.
In each of these periods, your body is prioritizing its needs and re-setting its use of resources according to what you experienced since the last time you slept. If you change your regular sleep schedule, it’s trickier for your body to figure out when to produce the sleep-inducing and stress-busting hormones that let you sleep deeply. Shifting your sleep time around can also stop your body from running its natural cell renewal programs, which update and fine-tune your immune, brain, and healing functions.
What can you do to help coordinate your body’s best sleep chemistry and optimize your immunity? Here are a few ways:
Stop eating at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. That way you’re really sleeping, and not just busy digesting!
Try to separate exercise and physical work from your bedtime by at least 2-3 hours.
To help prepare your brain and muscles for sleep, stop using devices and apps that are stimulating to senses and emotions at least 1 hour before bedtime.
Limit your caffeine intake, and keep it to morning only. This way it’s less likely to interfere with your body’s natural rhythms in producing 1) the precious sleep hormone melatonin, and 2) the crucial stress hormone cortisol. It also helps limit interruptions in your sleep for bathroom excursions.
Keep your bedroom environment dark, cool, quiet, and as free from sleep distractions as possible.
Stick to a solid, consistent sleep schedule at least 6 days a week.
If your sleep is really out of whack, you might consider using a sleep-tracking app or device as a reasonable exception to the no-devices-before-sleep rule. It can really clue you in to the sources of your sleep difficulty.