A keystone habit is one that, when implemented, it makes other habits and routines easier to execute consistently. For example, when we eat more whole plant foods, we start to feel more energized, and perhaps we translate that energy into a desire to move our bodies and exercise more.
But what if you are too tired to exercise? What if you cannot stop yourself from reaching for comfort foods? You may want to consider getting better sleep.
Getting better sleep is, in part, a personal priority. It requires planning one’s day so that more hours do not need to be reclaimed by taking them away from sleep. Sleep should be a non-negotiable necessity.
Why is sleep so important? It is the time when we process the day’s events, create meaning, and commit them to long-term memory. And it is a time for rest and detoxification in various parts of the body. It is as critical to brain health as it is to overall health.
If you are prioritizing your sleep but still find it difficult to do so, here are some practical tips for improving your sleep and resetting your circadian rhythm (body clock).
DISCLAIMER: These tips are neither for diagnosis nor as treatment. This is not a substitute for individualized medical care. Not all tips may be suitable for you. I highly suggest you find a licensed naturopathic physician or functional medicine doctor to explore root causes and come up with an individualized treatment plan.
Tip #1 – Fix your light exposure.
Did you know that a good night’s sleep starts the morning before? Our body is sensitive to light exposure. During the daytime, our body expects blue light which we typically get from the sun. Sun exposure for 20 minutes in the morning can go a long way in synchronizing the body clock for the entire day. As the day progresses, we typically keep using our phones and other screens which also emit blue light. By the end of the day, our body expects blue light to fade with the sunset, but our devices continue to trick our bodies into thinking it is still daytime. Furthermore, melatonin (our stay-asleep hormone) is secreted in the evening in response to the lack of blue light. Exposure to blue light disrupts melatonin production, which can lead to a poor night’s sleep.
Takeaway: Try to get as much natural light as possible and minimize artificial blue light in the evening.
Here are some quick ways to do so:
- Use blue-blocking glasses in the evening
- Turn on blue light reduction features on your phone, tablet, and computer (e.g.: iOS “Night Shift” mode)
- Use blackout curtains in the bedroom to keep it as dark as possible
- Reduce the use of electronic devices after sunset
Tip #2 – Lower your bedroom temperature
Our body temperature drops at night to facilitate sleep. sleep.org suggests lowering the temperature of your bedroom to 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit / 15.5-19.4 Celsius. Consider that if you use a memory foam mattress, that can reflect body heat as well, leading to a warmer environment. If you share your bedroom with your spouse or partner, you may need to find a temperature that works well for both of you.
Tip #3 – Fix your food habits
Chronobiology research indicates that time-restricted feeding (that is to say, eating within as small a window during the day as possible) may have some positive effects for resetting your body clock. First, consider restricting your eating window to 12 hours. Gradually you can work that down to 8 hours, 6 hours, or 4 hours.
Also, do not eat within 3 hours of going to sleep. The end of the day is for winding down and resting. Digestion consumes up to 30% of the body’s daily energy usage. Eating before bedtime will only increase your energy demand and generate more body heat, which in itself can make sleeping more difficult.
And of course, feeding your body more whole plant foods is a great way to ensure general health and wellbeing!
Tip #4 – Create a nighttime routine
Getting your mind into sleep mode is as much about repetition as it is about your hormones. How can we expect our bodies to reset our circadian rhythm if we have no rhythm?
Create a short, repeatable wind-down routine at the end of the night. Maybe it involves reading fiction from a physical book. Or meditating. Or a cool bath. Anything that keeps you away from screens and allows your mind to slow down. This is your chance to have some fun and treat yourself!
Tip #5 – Create a morning routine
Remember how I said a good night’s sleep starts the morning before? It is not just about getting sunlight exposure in the morning. Leave your phone outside the bedroom so that you are not distracted first thing when you wake up. You want this to be your time to set your mind right for the entire day. Do not give up control of your day by letting the outside world into your head before you have even gotten the chance to settle in. In summary, do not sleep with your phone, and only look at it after you have completed your morning routine.
Here are some ideas for a morning routine:
- Meditation or prayer
- A short walk in the sun
- Make a green juice or smoothie
- Review your short and long-term goals
- Review your calendar and visualize how important appointments of the day will go
- Plan how you will implement healthy lifestyle habits that day
I designed a system to incorporate a few of these activities into a simple one-page journal. It has helped me and many in my community form a simple, repeatable, and powerful morning routine for unshakeable emotional health. It incorporates goal setting, planning, and visualizing your day (with a little brain hack for greater effectiveness!), calendar review, lifestyle habit tracking, and powerful end of day reflection. You can get the Dr. K Journal for free here.
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