Twenty Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

I think by now we all know the importance of sleep in our lives and how we are less competent, more prone to get sick, less emotionally stable, and less motivated when we don’t get enough. However, it can often be “easier said than done” when it comes to consistently getting enough sleep at night. Sleep is so important to our physical, mental, and emotional health that it’s worth putting effort and planning into getting a sufficient amount. Here are some of my best tips for getting good sleep.

1. Don’t exercise or watch anything that will get your heart racing (for example, a horror movie or true crime) within two hours of bedtime. This also applies to heavy cleaning or other major activities too close to bed. Your adrenaline and cortisol take a while to come down and you will feel too awake and revved up to go to sleep.

2. Take a bath or shower before bed. It will lower your temperature and is relaxing, putting you in a sleepy mood.

3. Don’t eat a big meal two hours within bedtime. It is uncomfortable to lie down while very full and can lead to acid reflux. As well, the digestion of your food will keep you awake.

4. Try to limit screen-viewing and harsh lights within two hours of bedtime. Doing so causes your body not to make the natural melatonin it usually does when it’s dark. Your body thinks you’re still supposed to be awake because of the bright light. Indirect lighting or soft lighting such as candle flame or a light on a dimmer is much better for not interfering with your natural circadian rhythms.

5. Don’t lie in your bed during the day. Your body will start to associate your bed with activities other than sleep.

6. Use white noise. Sounds of water, wind, or a fan will lull you to sleep. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m in a tent, in the middle of a forest, at night, during a rainstorm, with the drops hitting against the sides of the tent, while I’m snuggled down into a sleeping bag. ASMR videos on YouTube can also be used for this purpose and offer a variety of soothing noises, depending on your preferences, such as water, crinkling, whispering, and gentle tapping.

7. Make sure the room is cool. 65 degrees is the ideal sleep temp. There’s nothing like a hot room to keep sleep at bay and, if you’re anything like me, cause you to wake up with a headache. Relatedly, make sure to wear cool clothes to bed. I enjoy wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts to bed and keeping socks nearby in case my feet get cold (which will also keep you awake).

8. Write down anything you’re worrying about to handle tomorrow. This practice allows you to sleep stress-free tonight.

9. Use some lavender essential oil in an oil diffuser. Lavender is widely known to aid in relaxation and sleep (and it smells really pleasant).

10. Avoid long naps and evening naps. These will disrupt your sleep at night. Twenty-minute “power naps” can be helpful for getting through the day while sleepy, and they shouldn’t cause any issues with sleep at night.

11. Make sure to exercise every day. This tires the body out so that you’re worn out enough by the end of the day to fall asleep.

12. Rise and go to bed at the same times every day. This will get your body used to a sleep schedule. Try not to change this pattern too drastically even on the weekends. You want your body to learn when it is time for bed and when it is time for wakefulness.

13. Make sure your bedroom is clean and neat. Make your bed every day. Existing in a messy, chaotic area will cause your mind to have trouble settling down. And if there are chores you didn’t get to during the day like that pile of books in the corner you didn’t put on the shelf yet or that pile of clothes you were supposed to put in the washing machine, your mind might not let you go to sleep without attending to them. It’s also a lot more pleasant to wake up in the morning to a clean and orderly environment.

14. Don’t drink 1-2 hours before bed, especially anything with carbonation. Doing so will make you more likely to pee, and the carbonation will give you gas and a tumultuous tummy.

15. Don’t look at a clock if you wake up in the middle of the night. I don’t have a clock in my room, only my cell phone. I make it a point not to look at the time if I wake before morning, because I know it will give me anxiety. If it is still pretty early (say, 1 AM) I often think, “Oh great, I still have a lot of time to sleep. Let me jump online for a bit”. If it’s late into my sleep (say, 6 AM), I often think, “Oh no, I don’t have that much more time to sleep. I have to get up pretty soon”, and this thought makes me anxious and sleep impossible.

16. Make sure the room is dark. Brightness will keep you awake and make it more likely you’ll wake up in the middle of the night. Make sure your nightlight is soft.

17. Make sure the room is quiet. Noise can keep you awake. Use earplugs or some white noise loud enough to drown out ambient sounds such as traffic outside or loud neighbors.

18. Do some stretches. This releases tension in the body and feels good. It relaxes the body and prepares it for sleep.

19. Do a deep-breathing exercise. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it as long as you comfortably can, then let it out slowly through your mouth. This activity enriches the blood with oxygen which helps you feel relaxed.

20. Get some sun. Getting sun during the day helps keep your circadian rhythms regulated. Getting sun ensures less melatonin will be produced during the day and more at night, when you need it.

I hope these help anybody currently having sleep issues. Please let me know if you have any additional tips for me.

I’m Officially Committing to Losing Weight and Getting Healthy

Well, folks, I am officially committing to losing weight and getting healthy. I have needed to do this for about half my life. I have had an unhealthy relationship with food since my teens and have relied on food to be my comforter and my entertainment. I have gained and sustained a lot of extra weight (I need to lose 100 pounds), and I’ve spent a lot of unnecessary money (mostly on fast food). I am out of shape and incredibly unfit. I was unable to even complete a fitness assessment at my gym recently and had to stop halfway through. At one point, the treadmill read “extremely low oxygen”.

My issues with food began when I was a young teenager and my family and I moved to a different state. I had to leave all my other relatives, friends, and school. I became home-schooled. My life became very insular. We even ended up leaving the small church we were attending due to a schizm which took away my opportunities for fun and socialization as part of the youth group. I hardly ever left the house. A few years later my parents ended up divorcing, my mother fell into a deep depression, and at age 18 I was responsible for doing much of the raising of my three youngest siblings, all while processing my mother’s dark mental health, my dad’s abandonment of our family, and the new norms under which my family now operated. Oh, and I was going to college full time (20 hours a semester and doing summer school in order to finish in three years). And during all of this turmoil, food was my only solace. And so began an entrenched habit where I leaned on food to both fill any voids in my life as well as to act as a distraction from the boredom and chaos. Thus, to this day, whenever I am feeling down or empty, I use food as a coping mechanism.

About eleven years ago, I lost 90 pounds, but I did it by drastically lowering my calories and only eating once a day, and, unsurprisingly, I put it back on within the next year. Food is my one major vice and obesity my one health concern. Otherwise, I don’t smoke, take any prescription medications, or drink heavily. And I get enough sleep most nights.

I plan to lose weight the old-fashioned way, by eating normal portions and picking healthier options most of the time (like a grilled chicken sandwich over a fried one). I also don’t plan on doing any snacking or eating sweets, including soda, as these are generally not very filling, have little to no nutrition, but add considerably to my calorie intake. I will be concentrating on diet over exercise, as it is a lot easier to simply avoid eating something rather than working it off. It takes me about five minutes to eat a candy bar, for example, but a lot longer than that to burn off the calories. As I lose weight and it becomes easier for me to move my body for extended periods of time, I will gradually re-introduce exercise into my regimen.

I had considered doing the keto diet. However, I don’t want to make this diet tough by cutting out food groups, because then I’m more likely to fail by accidentally eating something I shouldn’t or by getting frustrated and giving up. I also don’t want to go through the “keto flu” and end up having to miss work. Third, considering the newness of this diet, I am worried that there are negative long-term effects of ketosis that we don’t know about yet. I want to pick a diet I can stick to for life, without disallowing myself from eating “bad” foods or calorie-counting.

I am also planning to weight myself every other week. I get discouraged when I see the small amounts lost every week but feel like weighing only once a month can be risky. If your weight loss has stalled for some reason, you don’t want an entire month to go by before you realize. So I’ve decided on every two weeks.

The biggest issue for me is hunger. I tend to be cranky and to get a headache when I’m hungry. Also, I work a desk job where most people snack in-between meals while on the job, so this will be a temptation for me. However, I find my stomach starts shrinking pretty soon after decreasing my food intake, and overeating only makes me want to eat more.

I want to lose weight not because I want to be a smaller size or be able to wear the trendiest fashions, but because of the physical issues I have begun to experience the older I get still carrying so much weight. So many diseases and conditions are either caused by or worsened by obesity. Personally, my inflammatory diet high in greasy, fried, sugary, and salty foods has given me cystic acne, greasy skin, nightly acid reflux and other GERD-related symptoms, headaches, chafing, joint pain, bad moods, brain fog, greasy skin and scalp, excess body heat, itchy skin, and caused me to become winded going up even just one flight of stairs.

I know how much a normal portion size is. I simply choose to make the unwise decision to overeat. I cannot trust my instincts anymore as I have all but lost the ability to tell if I am full or not. I *think* that “full” is supposed to mean you’re not hungry anymore. However, I usually act as though “full” means your stomach starts to hurt from how much you’ve eaten. My natural alerts have become distorted and I can’t trust myself anymore. My instincts are not trustworthy at this point due to chronically eating past the point my instincts tell me I’m full and to stop.

I don’t just want to lose weight. I also want to nourish my body with what it needs to function at its peak by giving it balanced meals and adequate hydration. By treating it with respect and the care it deserves. And by using other healthful activities as coping mechanisms and outlets rather than overeating, such as reading, writing, taking walks, and watching movies.

I plan to write progress posts every two weeks and let you know how things are going. Please let me know if you are on a similar journey so we can support each other. I will start my new healthy, balanced eating regimen tomorrow. This is the number one most important thing I can do for myself at this point in my life. I am both excited and nervous about starting down this road once again and am determined to reach the end of it this time. I would say, “Wish me luck!”, but I know it will take focus, motivation, planning, and self-control, not luck. So wish me all of those, please 😉

Update: Me weighing in at 244 before work morning of 12/28.

The Effect Sun and Heat Have on Me

It’s been a very hot summer this year, even in areas that typically have moderate summers. Is anyone else intensely affected by sunshine and heat? When I am in the sun and heat for very long at all, I end up with a lot of ill effects. The other day I was out in it for a couple of hours (part in the sun/part in the shade). For hours afterwards, I had a headache, was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open and my head up, and felt nauseated (like I was going to throw up). I took some Tylenol, got a hot shower, laid down, and slowly began feeling better.

Looking back, there are some things that I felt contributed to it. I wasn’t wearing a hat, which would have kept me cooler. I didn’t drink enough fluids, and what I did drink was sugary lemonade. I also played basketball for about half the time I was outside, and I’m sure the physical exertion made the intensity of the heat worse.

I have been dangerously close to heat stroke in the past. When I was a child, one summer I visited family friends with my mother. I ended up getting very sick. My mother brought me in from playing outside, gave me fluids, then Dramamine, and I slept for 10-12 hours, after which I felt much better. Eight years ago, I was at a Memorial Day festivity. The sun was out and I let myself get overheated and dehydrated. I became very confused, started slurring my words, and actually felt chilled. We made it to the car and air conditioning just in time, but I know I was very close that time to having 911 called.

Do you feel you are more intolerant of the sun and heat than others? What tips and tricks have you found that help? I definitely think seeking shade, not doing strenuous activity, staying hydrated, and wearing a floppy-brimmed hat are important.