This one is all about sleep — improving your sleep and creating a better sleep environment, to get more quality sleep every single night! Oh, and it’s long, so buckle up.
When you know a thing or two about health and fitness, it sometimes means that people come out of everywhere asking for your advice. I often get Facebook messages from distant friends asking me how they can lose weight; or emails from readers asking me how they can slim down their mid-section before their vacation or what type of workouts they should be doing to tone up and so much more.
I totally respect it when someone knows to ask for help, but there’s one thing that is common among every conversation I have like this … before I ask these folks about their diet and exercise routines, I ask about their sleep. And they are often taken aback. Why? Because sleep is JUST as important as how you’re moving and what you’re putting into your body. And if you get better sleep, you could see your workouts improve, your energy improve, your waist-line slim down, your hormones regulate and so much more. On the flip side, if your sleep is not good, you will have a lot of trouble losing weight and progressing your fitness, as well as being a generally happy and energetic person.
Also, as a side note, I definitely think that improving my sleep over a year ago was part of what helped me to increase my fertility, fix my hormones, find balance and ultimately get pregnant, which you can read more about in my book, “Fit and Fertile.”
Today, we’re going to talk about how you can give yourself a fighting chance when it comes to improving your sleep every single night. And the first thing you have to do is make a commitment to sleep, because you will have to make some changes to see some change …
How to create a better sleep environment
Step 1: Cool down your bedroom each night.
Game changer here. Get your room very cold. The ideal sleeping temperature is somewhere between 62 and 68 degrees, which means the air conditioner needs to be on every single night. I like to go upstairs to our room and turn the air down to 64 a little while before we plan to go to bed. It’s awesome to then enter the bed when the room is crisp. Scientifically speaking, the body goes through thermoregulation at night, so the cooler we can get the room, the more we can support that natural drop in temperature our body is already planning to do. I know it may cost a bit more from a utility perspective, but your sleep is worth it. You can turn the air off as soon as you wake up well rested.
Step 2: Get your bedroom as dark as you can.
Black-out shades on the windows. Removing all night-lights. Covering the little red TV light. Whatever you can do to get it very dark — do it. For a long time, I left a hallway light on before going to bed when Dave was up later than me, and I noticed that this action stopped me from getting deep sleep right off the bat. That’s because lights can seep not only into your eyes, but also into any part of your skin that is exposed to affect you. So you should have your whole body covered with light blankets and the room as dark as possible. Dave and I both wear the same cushy and cheap little slumber masks we found at Target, and they also help us to maintain great shut-eye. I’ve been wanting black-out shades in our room for forever, but that just hasn’t worked out in our current residence. But if you have the chance, seek black-out!
Step 3: Use comfortable, current and maintained bedding.
If your mattress is 10-years-old and slumping in the middle, like ours was just a few weeks ago, you may be at a disadvantage. An old mattress and old bedding could definitely mess with your body temperature (if you are falling into the mattress, you’re more likely to get hot). And it could also affect your alignment and spinal position, as well as expose you to all sorts of toxins accumulated over the years.
Recently, Dave and I were super excited to receive a complimentary delivery from the Saatva company of a brand new mattress and foundation. We heard about the American company from a friend, and I was intrigued with the organic cotton coverings and eco-friendly practices of the brand. I let the Saatva people know about my passion for good sleep, and they were kind enough to give us our pieces on the house. We selected the Luxury Firm mattress, which is the brand’s best-seller and flagship model — not too firm and not too soft — sort’ve like the Goldilocks of mattresses. And it has been SUCH a great thing for our sleep and a major improvement from our old mattress, we had had since living in Orlando. In fact, the mattress that made the trip with us from Orlando to San Francisco just about five years ago was actually mine before I even met Dave. Wow.
Needless to say, it was old. And Dave had been having some back pain from a golfing incident a while back, and that was definitely messing with his sleep too. But now that we have a new quality firmer mattress, his back issues have improved. And as a very pregnant gal, I was totally struggling to roll over in bed from one side to the other on our old mattress, and I feel like it’s much easier on our new mattress because of the inner springs. So many good changes!
The moral of this story is: When in doubt, upgrade your bedding. In addition to the new mattress and foundation, I also went ahead and ordered us a new organic down light-weight comforter, pillows, organic sheets and more, just to refresh the whole deal. It’s been well worth it to us to invest in these parts of our bed (outside of the complimentary mattress and foundation we received, of course), because we spend a good portion of our lives sleeping. And now that our comfort has improved, we have a true sleep sanctuary.
Step 4: Add plants or a salt lamp to your bedroom.
Natural air purifiers! These are two things that I haven’t yet done, but all the wellness experts claim that they work, so they are worth throwing in there. The Himalayan salt lamp collects dust and particles in the air to keep the air more pure, potentially reducing allergic reactions, and so do the plants. Cleaner air = cleaner sleep environment. Seems like it makes sense, right? Plants are great things to have allover your house, but particularly in your sleep sanctuary to support the removal of toxins in the air. Some plant varietals that are suggested for your bedroom include aloe vera, peace lily, snake plant and spider plant and more.
And with Himalayan salt lamps, there will be a light glow when they are on — so I would probably recommend having the light on during the day, and turning it off just before bed, hoping that it completes some of its work during daylight hours. Once again, there aren’t a lot of studies on this, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. Sometimes in the name of good health, we need to experiment! I’ll keep you updated if I end up adding either one of these elements to my room.
Step 5: Turn off your phone 30 minutes before bed.
Turn the phone off sooner! And to take it a step further, try using a REAL alarm clock instead of your phone. It’s not a good idea to have your phone within arm’s distance of your bed, because you may be tempted to check it from bed. It’s also not a good idea to be watching TV or staring at your phone right before bed, which can confuse your hormones, with the bright lights entering your eyes. To make this change over a year ago, I started out by using the harmful light blocker “Night Shift” on my iPhone around 9 p.m., (which you can find on the main utilities when you swipe up). But now, I go as far as turning my phone on airplane mode at least 30 minutes before bed, so I’m not checking it at all, and it’s basically off. It truly helps get you into a deeper sleep right off the bat, when you don’t have any technology disrupting your natural rhythms.
Step 6: Use your bed for sleeping, and don’t sleep anywhere else.
If you want to really look forward to getting in your bed at night, use that comfortable spot just for sleeping. Don’t use it for doing your nails. Don’t use it for checking your emails or working on the computer or taking conference calls. And don’t use it for playing video games or even … gasp … watching TV. The real way to create a sleep sanctuary is to dedicate your comfortable bed and dark room to nothing but super deliciously quality sleep, and don’t go to sleep anywhere else until you arrive to your inviting bed each night. Dave and I haven’t had a TV in our room for years, and while that first happened because of a small apartment and a move, it’s stuck with us. I do think it’s okay to read a real-life paper book with a reading lamp at night in bed without too much disturbance (turning the light off before you go to sleep, of course), but that’s it. Save the bed for sleeping, people!
A few other variables that can affect your sleep
- WORK SCHEDULE: Of course, if you are doing shift work at night, you are going to have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. Our bodies are hard-wired to go to bed when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. But if your job has you working in the ER or a factory overnight, you are definitely going to have to work extra hard to get quality shut-eye. That may mean giving yourself extra time to fall asleep, totally blacking out your room with some serious hardware and also putting a do-not-disturb sign on your front door, so you can get uninterrupted sleep when your time comes. While shift work is a part of life, if you can at all avoid it, it’s definitely better for your natural sleep cycle to work during the day. If that’s not in the cards for you, pay extra attention to how you create your sleep sanctuary and go easy on the caffeine.
- PETS: I will not tell you to remove your pet from the bed. Our little Rudy the pup sleeps snuggled in between Dave and me every single night. I don’t think he bothers me at all. There are times that he wakes Dave up, but those instances are few and far between and are also cute at the same time. Some sleep experts say you should kick your pets out of your bed to totally avoid any disturbances. But clearly those people don’t have their very own Rudy, because nobody in the world could look at that snuggly pup and tell him to move. So do what you will with your pets! I like mine right next to me, even if he sometimes snores a little.
- BABIES: It’s so easy for me to talk about great sleep when I don’t have any kids, right? All that will change when Dave and I have a new baby in our home in a matter of weeks. And that’s an extenuating circumstance that is only temporary when it comes to sleep. We will do our best to get as good of sleep as we can, when we can, keeping all of the sleep environment rules in place, but knowing that the babe and his needs will come first for a while. And that’s okay. If you are in the throws of parenthood, don’t beat yourself up about your sleep. Just do the best you can!
- EXERCISE: Morning exercise is better for your overall sleep schedule than night exercise, if you can swing it. It’s science. It’s fact. You can read more in this post I wrote about what you should know about working out in the morning for a full explanation of why. When it doubt, work out with your natural rise in cortisol in the morning, rather than forcing another rise in cortisol in the evening with a workout, which could keep you up later than you want.
- SUPPLEMENTS/DRUGS: I know some people swear by melatonin, but this should only be a once-in-a-while fix. It should NOT be a daily thing. You don’t want to mess up your natural production of melatonin, which is one of the sleep hormones, by overusing it. You also don’t want to rely on sleeping pills or other forms of medication to get a good night’s sleep. Try going to bed drug- and supplement-free, even if it’s hard at first. You’ll thank yourself later once you are able to fall asleep freely without any assistance.
That’ll about do it for creating a better sleep environment. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to change everything at once. Choose one thing to work on and go from there. You may be incredibly pleased with the other things in your life that will improve as a result of more quality sleep.
For more information on sleep
- If you want to know a little bit more about improving your sleep, check out this one I wrote last year, five ways I’ve improved my sleep based on the book “Sleep Smarter.”
- And of course, I highly recommend Shawn Stevenson’s book, “Sleep Smarter,” which I’ve read once and may go back and read again one day for a refresher. Believe it or not, it’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds.
- There’s also some good information on the Tuck foundation site about sleep hygiene.
Details on our new Saatva mattress
I can’t thank the kind folks at Saatva enough for outfitting Dave and me with such fine new foundational bedding, just in time for our sleeping habits to truly change as we welcome our first little one in a few weeks. If you’ve read this post and realize that it may be time to upgrade your bed situation, here’s what you may want to know about Saatva …
- It’s a direct-to-consumer mattress company, which means the prices are much lower than the stores, because they are able to reduce the cost to you by removing the middleman retailer, and they also offer a complete satisfaction 120-day money-back guarantee with all mattress purchases.
- The products are made without formaldehyde, phthalates or Ozone depleters, meaning they are super eco-friendly and people-friendly.
- The mattress inner springs are made from recycled steel.
- While the entire mattress is not 100 percent organic, the mattress cover fabric is made from organic cotton and is hypo-allergenic. So you’re choosing better than a conventional product.
- The mattresses come in three comfort levels, including Plush Soft, Luxury Firm and Firm, so you can choose the right one for you based on your sleeping style, and Saatva also sells the corresponding foundation/boxsprings to fit all of the mattresses.
- The company produces mattresses at 19 factories around America, and if you like to choose American-made, then woohoo!
Happy sleeping, my friends! And would you do me a favor? If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with their sleep, send them the link to this post. Be a pal!Need to improve your sleep? Here's how to create a better sleep environment by @apstyle ... Click To Tweet
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. However, I did receive a complimentary mattress, foundation and delivery from Saatva. All thoughts, words and opinions are totally my own. Thank you to the great people at Saatva for supporting the sleeping habits of the A Lady Goes West family.
Questions of the day
What’s your number-one trouble with sleeping?
Do you know how old your mattress is?