This is the fourth of a 12-part series titled “Baby Steps.” On the first of each month, I’ll post 1 tiny step toward better health that you can take every day for that month – practically without trying. Soon, that tiny step will be part of your daily routine, and you won’t even remember you never did it before. The next month, add the next baby step. By the end of 2016, you’ll have accumulated 12 new healthy habits, and you’ll notice a difference – not day to day, perhaps, but definitely between any before and after photos you might take and any journal entries you might make. Check in during each month with a comment below and/or on Facebook – I’d love to hear about your progress!
What? It’s April already?!? If you’ve been taking baby steps with me all along, that means that by now, you should already be in the habit of starting your day with lemon water, pausing to breathe, and eating your greens daily. How’s that going?
This month’s baby step is to put all your screens- tv, phone, iPad, computer – to sleep at least 30-60 minutes before you go there yourself. (And if you’re a parent, make sure that your kids are doing the same.)
Sleep is a vital “primary food” – something in addition to what we put in our mouths that nourishes us (or, in its absence, harms us). With good quality sleep in sufficient amounts, we are more clear-headed, more even-tempered, and more able to concentrate.
That may not be news to you, but did you know that your body’s immune systems is most active while you sleep? If you’re shorting yourself of quality sleep, you’re getting in the way of letting your immune system do its work – it’s like hiring a night-time cleaning crew, then working late and getting in their way! As a result, you may actually notice you get sick more often and you may even notice that you are aging faster than your friends who get more sleep.
And have you ever tracked your food cravings with respect to your sleep schedule? Do it for a few days or weeks, and you may find that when you sleep more, you have fewer cravings (especially for sugar/other carbs and caffeine. Yes – sleep can even affect your weight!
What can you do, particularly if you have trouble falling asleep at night? You can improve your “sleep hygiene” – yes, that’s a real word! One vital part of improving your sleep hygiene is allowing your body to return as much as possible to its natural rhythm of “be awake when it’s light, go to sleep when it’s dark.” We took a step away from this when we introduced electric lights into our world, and it turns out the the “blue light” emitted by screens is even more detrimental to our sleep schedules.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Living in our 24/7 society, there is a loss of the evening reduction in light that has traditionally cued our brains to ‘wind down’ for sleep.”
We’ll have some more tips about sleep hygiene in the Baby Steps series, but for now, find a way to wind down for bed without watching tv, surfing the internet, checking your social media or otherwise staring at a screen. Maybe take up reading at bedtime, spend time relaxing and connecting with others in your household in person, develop a routine of tidying up, putting away dishes, making your to-do list or packing the belongings you’ll need for tomorrow.