The last year as a midwife has convinced me of just how important sleep is for our physical body, our mental capacity, our emotional stability and honestly just our overall well being. I'm now even more convinced in the last 2 months after investing in a Whoop and receiving biofeedback every morning on the quality of sleep I'm getting. See, all sleep is not created equally. And I didn't know that prior to getting the Whoop... eight hours was eight hours right? Wrong.
To put it simply, there are three main categories of sleep. Light sleep, Deep sleep, and REM sleep. Light sleep is the phase of sleep where you can be easily woken up and for the majority of people, it takes up nearly half your night's slumber. Deep sleep is the portion of sleep where your physical body is repaired. Cellular repair occurs and hormones are regulated during this time. REM sleep, also called rapid eye movement sleep is the stage of sleep when your brain is repaired and ideas and skills are put into memory.
Here's a healthy breakdown of the percentage of each category of sleep you should be aiming for:
Graphics taken from Whoop website
For obvious reasons, it's important that our body receives adequate amounts of all three of the levels of sleep and not simply just a certain amount of hours. So how do you go about maximizing the quality of your sleep? It starts with the actions you do in the day and hours leading up to bedtime.
Get links to my nightstand decor here
My 10 Tips for improving the quality of your sleep
1. Conscience Caffeine Intake
By no means am I saying cut caffeine out of your diet completely. (Trust me, ya girl loves her iced coffee!) But become more conscience of the time of the day your're consuming caffeine because it affects the body in a stimulating way through the sympathetic nervous system. The exact opposite way your body is able to sleep and repair through the parasympathetic nervous system. As a rule of thumb, I cut myself off from caffeine after noon, but you know your body best!
2. Establish Sleep Consistency
If your job is anything like mine, this aspect is a little challenging. However, if you have a predictable schedule, sleep consistency -meaning going to sleep and waking up at the same time- has been proven to be very beneficial in the quality of sleep you get.
3. Establish a Nighttime Routine
A night time routine is helpful to signal your body it's time for sleep. It's even more helpful if it's one that facilitates sleep. Incorporate some of the tips below into your bed time routine every night to help facilitate and ease the process of falling asleep.
4. Stop Screen Time 30 Minutes Prior to Bed
Blue light that's emitted from our phones and computers isn't only unhealthy for our eyes (its been shown to lead to macular degeneration), it also suppresses levels of melatonin in our brain (the naturally occurring chemical that is released at night that calms our bodies and helps us fall asleep). *P.s. This is why melatonin supplements can be beneficial for those of you who struggle with insomnia.
If you are a person who has to look at their phone/computer all day long for work, I highly recommend investing in blue-light blocking glasses. These will not only protect your eyes but also prevent you from developing migraines and insomnia when it's time to get to sleep.
My favorite are Felix Greys but I have an amazon Dupe that work just as well!
5. Reserve your bed for sleeping
This may seem obvious but reserving your bed for sleep helps your body to recognize what it's responsible for when it gets there. I often times used to study/do work in my bed and then I couldn't fall asleep because I wasn't able to shut my mind off when trying to fall asleep after just having been in a working mindset in the same exact spot. Additionally, invest in sheets and bedding that you enjoy. My Slip pillowcase is by far my favorite thing not only for the benefits it has on my skin and hair but the fact that it always remains cool and helps me to sleep better.
Get my pillowcase and the rest of our bedding here:
6. Stretch + Meditate prior to bed
I cannot recommend these two practices enough. Stretching, especially your back, hamstrings, and side body is so restorative for your body's muscles and also helps to release any tension that has built up during the day. It's a great precedent for relaxing the muscles in the same way you want to relax your mind through meditation. My husband and I listen to the Headspace App quite often before going to bed to achieve relaxation of the mind.
*P.s. for any fellow nurse practitioners you can enter your NPI number for a free year's worth of the subscription!
7. Use a weighted blanket
I didn't necessarily see the benefit of this until I got one and experienced it for myself. The science behind the benefits of a weight blanket are as follows. The weight of the blanket pushes on touch receptors creating a feeling of being held down in a secure way (known as deep touch pressure). This feeling stimulates serotonin to be released within the brain which is a chemical that has pleasure and calming effects and is also necessary for the regulation of sleep. I didn't even necessarily buy a blanket that was marketed for this use but I use this Pottery Barn blanket that does the trick.
8. Make use of a sleeping mask
If you're unable to create a completely dark environment, the use of a sleep mask can be helpful to close out any lights. In our room, we have black out curtains and also utilize sleep masks. My husband jokes that he's going into the cockpit overnight because it definitely looks like he's wearing a fighter pilot helmet, but it gets the job done. You can get his rendition or mine which is way cuter, here:
9. Use a white noise machine if all else fails
These aren't just for kids! If you live in a busy city or have loud neighbors, you may want to get a white noise machine. You don't even necessarily have to get one as they have apps on your phone that supply the same noise but it can be distracting if text messages or alerts are coming through at the same time. For all of you who also work wonky hours, a sleep machine can be beneficial when trying to fall asleep when the rest of the world is awake (and loud!)
10. Get moving during the day
Your body will sleep on a 24 hour cycle because it needs it and we all have circadian rhythms within us, but it will sleep even better if you have given it a reason to be tired. Moving at least 30 minutes a day is great for your body, mind and your sleep.
I hope these tips help you fall asleep, stay asleep and improve the quality of your sleep! I share these tips from my own personal experience backed by scientific data. For me, I like knowing the why behind somethings efficacy and I hope that by sharing it with you, you can make informed decisions about your sleep and improve your overall wellbeing!