While it’s not something we usually think about, sleep is essential to a healthy life. The ability to fall asleep is highly dependent upon behaviors and routines, so disruptions to that may to difficulty falling asleep. Our bodies need to mentally prepare for sleep through ritualized behaviors. By having a routine with specific activities, we can better make this transition and improve the quality of our sleep. Developing your bedtime routine will help you be able to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The reason sleep is so important is because it directly affects your immune system. When you’re well rested, your body’s production of T cells increases, which are immune cells that fight against intracelluar pathogens, such as the flu, HIV, herpes, and cancer cells. When you’re sleep deprived, the number of T cells goes down, while the number of inflammatory cytokines goes up. These cells cause inflammation within the body, making you more susceptible to diseases, as I talked about in my last post, Clearing Your Body of Inflammation. Poor sleep can also increase your blood pressure, insulin resistance, cortisol, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease, and even decrease blood sugar regulation.
While ultimately it’s a physiological process, sleep is also a behavior that our bodies can learn to do well or poorly. Our bodies follow their natural biological clocks and through keeping a consistent sleep schedule, we’re able to reinforce it. To keep a healthy sleep schedule, children and adults alike need daily sleep rituals before heading to bed to help us unwind and mentally prepare for going to bed. If we rush through our day, making choices that ruin our sleep, we can’t expect our bodies to immediately relax and sleep when we want to. Our bodies do not adjust well with abrupt change. Calming sleep rituals help ease us into the sleep, which is a quiet, relaxing activity.
Sleep rituals should include calming activities prior to bedtime. How much time you spend unwinding may vary. If you’re able to fall asleep immediately most nights, you may not need much time to transition. However, if you suffer from insomnia or have trouble with racing thoughts as you’re laying down to sleep, spending more time with sleep ritual activities may be helpful. In general, spending about half an hour to an hour will likely be sufficient.
To help develop a new sleep routine, one of the most effective ways is to break it down step by step. It’s best to start by picking a certain time that you will commit to being in bed and ready to sleep. Now you can work your way backwards with your routine. Then spend time thinking of activities you’d like to try and the order of them. After you begin developing your ritual, you can test out different activities and find ones that work best for you. Relaxing activities you may include:
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Drinking herbal decaffeinated tea
- Listening to calming music or nature sounds
Over stimulating activities, such as exercise, watching, or playing video games, may disrupt your sleep. Some of these activities may already be involved in your sleep routine if they aren’t disruptive to your sleep. However, if you do have trouble sleeping, they may be contributing so limit stimulating activities an hour before you plan on sleeping.
Your sleep should be sacred so create a cherished routine for yourself. By taking your time to wind down each night, you’ll be able to sleep soundly. You deserve a restful night’s sleep and it’s essential for a long happy and healthy life. The key to success is keeping your ritual consistent and making it a part of who you are.