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10 ways to get to better sleep: 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge

In 2017, I resolved get more sleep – at least seven hours a night. I want you to join me on this journey with the NOLA.com 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge, centered on the principles of Arianna Huffington’s best seller “The Sleep Revolution (April 5, 2016, Penguin Random House).

The challenge officially kicks off Monday (Jan. 9) and continues through Feb. 6, with the primary goal of ensuring that each of us gets at least seven hours of sleep a night.

What better way to start the challenge then by learning how to seamlessly move from our active life to our sleeping life.

“The most important piece of advice is to create a period of transition to sleep, because that's really what's missing from most people’s lives,”. Huffington said. “We tend to be on our phones, texting, emailing and then we turn off the lights –. Put phones down by our beds. Think of the transition we've for young children –. We don’t just drop them in bed –. We sing them a lullaby, give them a bath, put them in their pj’s.”

This transition time is equally important for adults, she said, including her non-negotiable advice to charge our devices outside of our bedrooms.

“Sleeping with our phone by our bed means we have our whole day life right next to us, with all of its challenges, right next to you,” she said. “We need to have a definitive line between our day lives and our nights, so we can really recharge.”

Other steps to transition ourselves from hustle-bustle days to restful nights include a warm bath – or at least washing our face with warm water. Try using lavender oil or lavender-infused bath salts, face wash, and lotions – the scent of lavender has been shown to enhance relaxation and sleep quality. Relaxing music or reading a book (a real book, Huffington said, not an e-reader or an e-book) can help with the transition.

Huffington also suggested making a gratitude list as part of our bedtime routine, a practice that she’s borrowed from her daughter. “It focuses our minds on the blessings in life – large and small – rather than the running list of unresolved problems.”

Taking steps to improve our sleep may seem like a lot of work, but the results are absolutely worth it. In addition to benefits like clearer thinking, less fluid retention, and improvement in skin and under-eye circles, “one of the first improvements is higher energy levels,” Huffington said. “And then, after a week, you should notice lower levels of stress and anxiety. Sleep, after all, is about recharging, which gives us more energy, focus and ability to deal with stress, all of which require resources that need to replenished every night.” 

After two weeks, it’s quite possible you may no longer need an alarm. And after three weeks, you’ll likely notice that you’ve shed a few pounds, relatively effortlessly.

Here are 10 fundamentals for a better night’s sleep, focusing on our bedrooms, lifestyle improvements, and our transition time from daytime to sleep.

BEDROOM:  Create a sleep sanctuary

Unplug. Separate from electronics. Not only do they stimulate our brain, making it easier to procrastinate sleep, the blue glow inhibits our body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

As a rule, put away all electronics at least 30 minutes before you turn off the lights. And simply switching the setting to “sleep mode” is not enough – Huffington insists that smartphones must be kept out of the bedroom while we sleep. “It’s not just the bright screens that are the problem,” she said. “It’s also what’s on them.  Our entire lives are on these devices.”

Make it dark. Light suppresses our production of melatonin, so it’s important to take measures – even before we get into bed – to turn down the lights and make our environment calming, quiet and dark.  Use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom. Invest in good shades or black-out curtains.  Consider sleeping with an eye mask. Cover any tiny lights with opaque tape. “Keeping it dark” also includes nixing the digital alarm clock, iPad, iPhone or laptop – all of which of course are all sleeping on a charger in another room.

Keep it cool. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal sleeping temperature. Temps above 75 or below 54 degrees can disrupt our sleep.

Declutter. Create a peaceful, serene environment: Make the bed in the morning. Clear clothes and work from the room. Declutter your nightstand, and add relaxing elements of a meaningful photograph, a candle, and a pretty lamp with low light.

LIFESTYLE – Changes to daily routine

Exercise – but time your workouts right. There’s a direct correlation between exercise and sleep. Exercise reduces stress, which naturally helps with sleep, but if we exercise too close to bedtime, it can make it harder to fall asleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends leaving at least three hours between exercise and bedtime – but physical activity is so beneficial to our overall health, we realize that we sometimes need to just fit it in whenever possible.

Ease up on caffeine. Caffeine can linger in our system for six to eight hours or more, so that afternoon pick-me-up can be causing us problems when it’s bedtime. While the exact best timing is different for each of us, our “caffeine cutoff” time should begin well before evening.

Rethink alcohol. Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but it makes it harder to stay asleep. It interferes with the deep, high-quality sleep that our bodies need. This doesn’t mean that you have to skip alcohol altogether, but limit it to one or two drinks and try to have it at least two hours before bedtime.

Eat your way to better sleep. As Huffington puts it, “eat right, sleep tight. Eat wrong, up all night long.” Large meals and spicy foods can interfere with sleep. But going to bed hungry can also make it harder to fall asleep. If it’s been a while since dinner, a light protein-rich snack may be beneficial. My favorites include casein-rich cottage cheese with fresh berries, or a scoop of casein protein powder in unsweetened almond milk. The slow-digesting casein helps to curb hunger pangs through the night, and the steady release of amino acids can also help to repair and build muscle tissue while we sleep.

Herbal sleep remedies. Supplementing with 160 mg valerian extract plus 80 mg lemon balm, two to three times daily, may improve quality and quantity of sleep. Passionflower – as supplement or tea – may improve symptoms of anxiety; one cup of passionflower tea before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality.

And Thrive Global’s website, Thriveglobal.com, provides practical, doable sleep tips and strategies that you can immediately incorporate into you daily life – here. And there are also many products that can help you enhance your sleep life, which you can find here

TAKING THE SLEEP CHALLENGE?

If you’re joining us in the 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge, consider reading “The Sleep Revolution.”. I’ve found it educational and motivational.

Keep tabs on your progress, if you decide to take 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge. Start a sleep journal, tracking the number of hours of sleep you get each night and a few metrics pre-challenge and throughout the 28 days, starting Jan. 9. Note your:

  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Resting heart rate

Each should be measured at the same time of day on a daily or weekly basis.

You also can ask your physician to measure fasting glucose, insulin. Cortisol levels (key markers of our blood sugar and stress levels) both pre- and post-challenge. 

Subjective measures are important as well, Huffington said. Note your mood upon waking up, how long it takes to fall asleep each night. Energy levels throughout the day. 

Let us know if you take the Sleep Revolution Challenge. I’ll be offering weekly tips and encouragement on social media –. @mollykimballrd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram –. Using the hashtag #SleepRevolutionNOLA. 

Use the #SleepRevolutionNOLA hashtag yourself, if you’d like to share your experiences on social media. Also feel free to email me at eatingright@nola.com to let me know you accept the challenge. Feel free to touch base throughout the Challenge to let me know how you're doing. 

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Molly Kimball is a registered dietitian in New Orleans. She can be reached at eatingright@nola.com. Comment and read more atNOLA.com/eat-drink. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/mollykimballrd and Twitter: twitter.com/mollykimballrd.

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