As an Ennegram type 3 (The Achiever), I’m constantly looking for the most productive way to utilize my day. Just recently I took a “Vision Day” of sorts to map out the remainder of the year, and to determine what lifestyle choices I’d like to hone-in on over the next 9 months. A good friend of mine reminded me that it takes approximately 3 weeks to build a new habit, and 1 week to break one. With this in mind, I decided to create month-by-month “Habit Building” schedule. I intend to spend the first week of the month critically assessing a particular aspect of my lifestyle, and then spend the following 3 weeks integrating healthier + more sustainable everyday actions toward building a habit.
Ironically enough, the topic that felt of utmost importance to creating a sustainable habit-building foundation, is not that which initially screamed “productivity.” Although most of us start the year attempting to build habits around what we eat, how much we exercise, or how much literature we read; I thought it particularly important to first address the quality of an easily-overlooked daily practice – sleep!
The National Sleep Foundation describes sleep hygiene as a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Why is this important? Sleep is sleep, right? And given how readily accessible caffeine is, why should it matter if the sleep I get each night is ‘quality’ sleep?
As it turns out, getting a good night’s rest is beneficial for more than just preventing that post-lunch, afternoon slump. Apart from quality sleep supporting healthy brain functioning and all-around physical well-being, it also promotes one’s mental and emotional health. It seems that it would be to our benefit then, to tackle the ever-escaping good night’s rest before integrating additional healthy habits into our daily lives.
That being said, I’ve spent the last week observing my personal sleep habits and patterns through keeping a sleep diary.
Needless to say, I have some obvious issues maintaining consistent, quality sleep. As a means to start changing that, I’ve compiled a few daily actions I’ll be practicing over the next 3 weeks to build healthier sleep hygiene. In case you’re also hoping to shift your own sleeping habits, I thought I’d share what I’ll be trying in the next 21 days.
- Keeping a consistent sleeping schedule: Personally, my ideal “wake-up” time that I’m working to normalize, is 6am. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 26-64 years old (aka, likely everyone reading this post) need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. You can visit their website to see what is recommended for other age groups. This means I need to aim to go to sleep between 9-11pm.
- Regular Exercise: Being a “certified yoga teacher” doesn’t mean I’m immune to exercise droughts. If I’m real, I’ve been in one for at least the last 2 months. Part of my 6am wake-up goal is the capacity it will create for me to re-integrate a daily yoga practice into my mornings. Although it’s said that some of us should avoid intense exercise close to bed-time, integrating regular movement at other points during the day is said to increase the quality and duration of sleep.
- Reducing Blue–Light Exposure prior to bedtime: Blue light itself isn’t necessarily bad for us; as it boosts attention, reaction times, and mood – the sun itself naturally produces high levels of it. And though there’s still quite a bit of research being done regarding the holistic impact of blue light exposure, one thing that’s surely agreed upon is the impact of blue light in suppressing melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone your body naturally produces that lets it know that it’s time to go to sleep. While light in general decreases the body’s melatonin production; blue light does so at an exponentially larger level. Aside from decreased screen time and dimming my living space, I’ve also partnered with Baxter Blue — an Australian-based glasses company that donates a pair of glasses to someone in need through each purchase through their “Pair for a Pair” pledge with @restoringvision. I’ll be trying out a pair of their non-prescription glasses that filter blue light known to cause digital eye strain, to test out the impact decreased exposure to blue light has on my quality of sleep.
- Reducing Alcohol & Caffeine Consumption: Up to this point I’ve really taken advantage of hearing that a glass of red wine daily can help decrease heart disease…so you can only imagine how disappointed I was in doing further research, and finding that although alcohol does help healthier people fall asleep quicker, and sleep deeper for the first half of the night… it actually reduces REM sleep for the second half of the night, significantly. For more obvious reasons, caffeine being a stimulant can delay the timing of your body’s readiness for sleep. I’m looking to replace my evening glass of wine with herbal tea, and to have my morning coffee and/or black tea before lunchtime.
- Prioritizing Thoughts + Activities that Reduce Stress: Be it yoga, meditation/prayer, reading, or sorting through my thoughts via journaling – partaking it stress-reducing activities on a daily basis can improve the quality of one’s sleep drastically. There’s an unfortunate cycle in that lack of sleep leads your body to boost its levels of stress hormones, which in-turn causes hyper-arousal, making sleep even more difficult to enter into – let alone stay in. I’m hoping to fight this downward spiral by engaging in intentionally stress-reducing thoughts and activities particularly close to bed-time. This may mean no email-checking past 6pm, or scrolling through my IG feed less…but those things will surely still be there the next day, after a good night’s rest!
There’s still quite a bit of research to be done on the topic of sleep itself, but I’m hoping that practicing these simple things on a daily basis will help build long-term habits that promote good sleep hygiene. In an effort to create a strong foundation to integrate further lifestyle habits, I’m excited to begin by first investing in the health of my body and mind that’s generated before my day even begins. For me, investing in sleep hygiene is the vital first step in my personal journey toward a holistic health that addresses my body, my mind, and my soul. I look forward to sharing about its impact in the months, and years to come.
If investing in sleep hygiene is something you’re personally interested in, here are a few websites that were helpful for me in my own research on the topic:
I also recently read an interesting article on The Good Trade on the topic of dreams, and how keeping a Dream Journal can contribute healthy sleep hygiene, increased self-awareness, and all around mental health and wellness. The author links additional resources at the end of her piece.
Happy reading, and happy sleeping friends!