Sleep Challenge – Week 3: Reducing Stress with a Nighttime Routine


How did you sleep last week, Challengers?

It was a busy & beautiful Spring weekend in the Abell household. Sleep happened, but it is easy to see how quickly we can get away from our goal. Keeping track of my hours of sleep per night has been a helpful tool as I make choices that effect my total hours of sleep per night. Do I have an after dinner drink? Do I choose not to get off the couch when the Orioles are loosing in the bottom of the eighth? Do I miss out on an extra 30 minutes of sleep in order to make time to exercise first thing before a busy day.

This week I want to focus on what happens between our ears (and maybe in our heart or gut ) that influences the amount and quality of our sleep.

Ever skip sleep to cram for a test or big project at work? Well, researchers at Harvard University discovered what your mother has long known: well-rested you is better than tired you. Hilariously, drunk participants out-preformed those who simply pulled an all-nighter. (Please don’t share that with my teens!) Science tells us stress hormone levels in men & women increase with sleep deprivation, even if we are not stressed in the first place! Cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline are stress hormones which send chemical messages to our body telling us how to react. Elevated levels can keep us from sleeping & loosing weight and set us up for disease.

Before I stress you out about being stressed, let’s focus on reducing stress and increasing sleep. Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Yeah, yeah – I know this one is simple and you already know it. But are you doing it?

Here are 6 healthy habits to add to your pre-bedtime routine:
1. NO screens in the bedroom. The light from electronics messes with the hormones that control your feeling sleepy or alert. Watch TV in the family room and put away those devices at least one hour before bed.
2. Perform the same activities each night before bed. We have always said to our kids, “It’s time to wash up!” So we brush & floss, wash our faces, stretch, and read a book or magazine each night.
3. Breathe. A good friend made this her “word of the year” and even engraved it on a bracelet as a reminder. Take a few deep breaths each night to unwind the day.
4. Only use your bed for sleep. Well…or sex…but don’t like clip your toenails or do your taxes in there.
5. Go to bed/wake at the same time. It’s not called a routine because it’s random!
6. Meditate/Pray/Practice Mindfulness. Any of these practices not only reduce stress, there is exciting research on how mindfulness, in particular, changes our brain for the better.

I hope these tips are helpful to you for reducing stress and establishing or adding to your bedtime routine. I know they might seem rudimentary, but they work well together and can help YOU be your healthiest, most well-rested, high-functioning, butt-kicking self.

Next week we will round out our Sleep Challenge by focusing on nutrition. Yahoo!
What tips can you share for maintaining healthy sleep hygiene?