Nighttime Routines


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Nighttime Routines

Nighttime Routines

By Henry Toraño

 

In recent years we’ve undoubtedly seen a growing awareness for the benefits of sleep and how much of an impact it has on growth, physical performance, cognitive function, vitality, short and overall health in prevention of chronic disease. There’s plenty of science to back this up as far as the mechanisms that are unchained while we sleep and how those work to promote optimal physiological function. To better understand some of these processes you can read one of our previous blog posts on sleep cycles. While this may all make a ton of sense and have scientific data to back up a lot of these points, many still find themselves with the issue of not being able to sleep enough, or at the right times, or get quality rest while they slumber. Hence, the purpose of this article is to discuss some strategies that one can implement as nighttime routines to prime the system well for better sleep.

 

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that an effective nighttime routine starts during the day. There are many things that we can do during awake time that will result in better circadian rhythm. As the term “rhythm” suggests, it’s not so much about “dos and don’ts” but rather about timing. One thing to consider is consumption of stimulants. While we can include prescribed and recreational drugs as well as accepted non healthy substances such as nicotine in this category, I’m referring more to caffeine. Whether it be in the form of coffee, tea, or energy drinks, we want to limit consumption to moderate levels and keep it as far away from bedtime as possible. By that, I mean before 12:00pm. More on that here. Another offender in this category is exercise. This may come as a surprise to most, but exercise triggers the release of adrenaline, our body’s most effective natural stimulant. Working out late in the day will induce this stress response that may linger too long to allow for some to be able to fall asleep at the right time. Our schedules also play a big role in dictating circadian rhythm and whether we put ourselves in a sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. Working, doing homework with the kids, engaging in stressful conversations with a loved one, or even watching tv into the evening may negatively affect our ability to get good sleep. Everyone is different in this regard, but I do believe that in most cases, with some though and planning we can all schedule our more engaging activities to happen earlier in the day and leave the later afternoon and early evening hours for those that are not as stimulatory. Lastly, another big issue that I run into with clients who are not getting good sleep is that they’re also not eating enough. By not consuming enough calories, or perhaps enough carbohydrates, blood sugar will drop. This usually happens in the middle of night, after going 4-5 hours without consuming any food. The result of this drop in blood sugar is a spike in cortisol (stress hormone, cousin to adrenaline). Cortisol will result in a temporary rise in blood sugar, but as is the case with adrenaline, will also have a stimulatory effect. This may be the reason why you may find yourself waking up at 2:00-3:00am every night, feeling like you need to urinate. It’s not the actual need to urinate that wakes you up, but rather that you woke up and the brain triggers all the processes that it usually would in the morning.

 

Amongst the things you can do to your nighttime routine that are 100% controllable is to prep your space for optimal sleep. By this, I mean the room in which you sleep in. First and foremost, it is important to establish that your bed is for sleep and sex. Not for watching tv, not for looking at your phone, ideally not even for reading. We want to create what is known as behavior coupling. That is, as soon as you hit the sack, your brain will associate that with sleep. More on the sex part later. You’re going to want your room to be as dark as possible. Invest in black out curtains, turn off all lights, tape up any status lights from electronics, a/c, and even smoke detectors. This is easily done with black electric tape. You’ll also want to invest in a good mattress. What’s comfortable for one may not feel as such for another, so I won’t provide any direction there. But definitely do make sure that your bed is comfortable is providing for a better experience. You also need your room to be cold. Ideal temperature for optimal sleep and recovery is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in warmer climates, it may be near impossible to accomplish this, but do try to get it as close to that as possible. Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) can be a significant sleep disruptor as well as a general health contraindication. EMF is emitted by any electronic devices that emit a wireless signal. Wireless phones (including cel phone) and wi-fi signal are the two most obvious one. It would be wise to leave your phone in another room (or activate airplane mode) and turn off wi-fi from 10pm to 6am. This can be done automatically by using a wall plug timer. Lastly, the clothes you wear may have a huge impact on sleep quality. Whether it be shorts and t shirt, pajamas, or au naturel, try out different combinations and see what suits you best. 

 

Having said all this, we also need to understand that physiologically there’s also things that we can do to promote better sleep. Now, your initial reaction to this may be that we can’t control the way our body’s respond to certain things. While this is largely true, you should know that we can do certain things to induce certain reactions. Some of these are already tied to what’s been mentioned above. For one, we can control light exposure and intensity around the house after sundown. Turn off all unnecessary lighting, dim down as many lights as possible. I personally installed Philips Hue Light Bulbs around the house that are not only dimmable, but I can also switch to red. This minimizes the amount of blue light that enters the eye and via de pineal gland signals our body to stop making cortisol and start making melatonin (sleep hormone). Another thing we can control is food intake. While there’s no one absolute time to eat dinner, you should always listen to your body. Have your last meal at a time that allows you to feel light when you go to bed. Avoid foods that make you gassy or keep you feeling too full. Don’t forget the point made on regulating blood sugar. I generally advice to have a good portioned, well balanced meal that includes healthy options of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for dinner. On the point of temperature, we can expedite our body’s process to lower internal temperature by taking a hot shower before bed. As the skin starts heating up from the hot running water, our internal cooling mechanisms kick in and starts driving down body temperature closer to optimal levels for sleep. Lastly, try to relax! Avoid things that put you in a wired state such as work, social media, tv, arguments, etc. Instead, opt for those that allow for you to calm down, such as breathing drills, meditations, reading, journaling, and sex (I promised I’d get back to it). While sex in and by itself may not be a calm activity, it releases the hormone oxytocin which promotes a sense of relaxation and well-being.

 

Finally, as with any other process that requires work and intent, everybody wants to know about possible hacks. Usually, I slam the door shut on this conversation, but in this case, I believe in certain things that can be implemented to improve sleep, hence endocrine function, and circadian rhythm. On reducing exposure to light, I recommend getting a pair of blue light blocking glasses. These will drastically reduce the amount of light that enters the eye and will start promoting melatonin production without the risk of kicking furniture due to low light. Not all are created equal, right now I like the ones from Felix Gray or RA Optics. Get pairs for the kids as well! Lavender Oil is well accepted to have relaxation properties. It can be diffused in the air or even applied directly to skin. I recommend applying to the bottom of the foot. Drinking a cup of Chamomile Tea before bed also has a calming effect, as it is rich in the antioxidant Apigenin and is considered a natural sedative. Reducing EMF in the household may be a lot tougher than it sounds, as technology is moving everything towards wireless and internet based. One thing you can do to reduce its harmful effects is to get a Somavedic unit. 

From their website:

Somavedic is based on the principle of the controlled release of energy from minerals – particularly from precious and semi-precious stones in a precisely determined arrangement which form the Somavedic core.Each precious stone, like all other matter, vibrates at a particular frequency and is able to radiate these vibrations to its surroundings. The precious and semi-precious stones at the Somavedic core are selected and coordinated so that they are able exert a direct influence and to neutralize disturbances around them (EMF radiation, GPZ disruptions and other enviromental burden etc.). The frequency range in which the individual precious and semi-precious stones vibrate is scientifically proven. This knowledge is used in combination with findings from quantum physics for the optimum adjustment and function of Somavedic units.

Lastly, one should know that while there’s several sleeping drugs and supplements out there, many of them don’t allow for all the sleep cycles that are required for restorative sleep. If you choose to go down this path, make sure you understand what you’re taking. If you’re working with a medical professional, ask about what the plan will be to wane you off the meds. While this may be a short-term remedy, you really should be working towards identifying the root cause.

I hope this has been valuable in providing a sort of guide of the things that you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. It’s a shame how as a society, we’ve come to neglect the importance of it and even romanticize learning to deal without it by putting labels of laziness or creating catchy phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Truth is, this is one of those things that applies and is required to every single health and fitness goal that may exist.



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