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5 Things to Do (Not Take) for Better Sleep

It’s always new you this and new you that! These days, it seems like no one wants to admit that, for many, all January 3rd means is it’s the third day of the NYE hangover. 

While we hope you’re not one of the unfortunate ones still nursing the aches and battling the fatigue of a missed night of sleep — if you are, you’re not alone. 

For all the many benefits of deep sleep, there seem to be just as many benefits of throwing an entire night away. It’s fun, for example. 

But things don’t even have to be fun to convince us modern Americans to shirk our sleeping duties. In fact, people in the U.S. are continuously getting less and less sleep — hence the wide variety of knock-out snooze supplements and miracle sleep pills on the market. 

Truth is, we kind of suck at sleeping. And not just this time of year, either. Believe it or not, the perseverations on productivity, light pollution, constant noise, and endless stress we know to be hallmarks of the Industrial Age don’t lend themselves well to a restful night. 

So keep your eyes open, if you can, while you scroll through this blog. Chances are, you need these 5 wellness practices from Dr. Neal to recover from New Year’s and restore natural sleeping patterns. 

In This Article: 

1. Take a Hike

Put down your Merrells! That’s just an illustrative and kinda funny title for this first tip.

While exercise can help improve your quality of sleep (more on that below), what we really mean is get out of town. Hit the road. Pack up your sh*t and go camping. 

Seriously. One of the fastest and simplest ways to completely reset your circadian rhythm is to get out of the house and camp in nature for a few nights. Picture it: The morning sunlight hitting your skin when you unzip your tent, just as the sunset did when you tucked in for the night. This concentrated, consecutive exposure to the daily sun cycle works as a reset button for your body. 

Why? Well, when you’re out in nature following the predetermined rhythms of waking and sleeping, your brain gets a chance to actually figure out what time is bedtime. Instead of being tricked into living a perpetual noon by the blue, glowing light of the many screens in your face. 

Because it’s not really that we contemporary humans suck at sleeping. It’s that we built a world that is entirely antithetical to getting a good night’s sleep. 

And since we can’t eradicate global tensions or reduce noise/light pollution overnight, the next best bet is to escape, even if only for a few days. 

2. Ditch the Gadgets

But if you can’t get out of town, you can at least transform your home into a lush sanctuary for Luddites! 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that our next tip is to remove the technology from your bedroom, what with our previous rant on the digital age of flashing lights and traffic sounds and all. If you’re shuddering at the thought, though, we don’t blame you. 

Screentime — and all the glorious dopamine-spiking information it offers us on a never-ending tap — is super addictive. And like most things that hook our feeble human brains, it can be really detrimental to the habits we need to maintain for genuine well-being, like regular sleep. 

Mistimed exposure to blue lights from screens has not only been linked to increased anxiety (which can definitely keep you up at night) but also lowered sleep quality due to suppressed melatonin production.

So go and take the TV — and cell phone, laptop, tablet, smart watches, etc. — out of your bedroom. Right now. Or, if you must, enlist a good friend to come and pry them from your sweaty palms every evening.

This includes all the gadgets and gizmos that you bought under the pretense of purchasing a quick fix for sleep issues. Because, while tracking your sleep behavior throughout the night is interesting, these devices are nothing more than highly profitable band-aids to slap on the crater-sized wound left by our societal structure that prevents deep sleep.

3. Sayonara Synthetic Stars

And when we say take the devices out of your room, we don’t mean put your phone on silent and leave it face down on the dresser.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t count. The human brain is so susceptible to the EMF radiation emitted from cell phones that it registers the waves even without the typical visual or auditory cues of an incoming text. So yes, even those “quietly delivered” late-night messages from your sleepless friends are being picked up by your brain.

But let’s go back to light because its influence on sleep quality is pretty nuts.

Preindustrial humans lived without synthetic lights for millennia, save for a few gentle fires and soft candlelight at the end there. As our bodies evolved, they adapted to the light of nature — a la the sun and moon — quite keenly because it was integral to our survival in primitive times.

Subsequently, even the smallest pinpricks of light in your bedroom can have negative effects on your sleep and overall wellness. This is especially important for menstruating people to understand, as menstruation cycles are somewhat linked to lunar phases. Or at least we think they were before we messed everything up with false stars.

While your modern eyes see the battery of light of your smoke detector, your primal brain sees a small, green moon in the distance. As a result, nightlights wreak havoc on hormone levels (for men and women), causing a cascade of symptoms related to endocrine imbalance. Women who work the night shift, for example, have a higher risk for breast and ovarian carcinoma.

4. Clean Up Your Act

So your bedroom should be like a gen z’s outlook on the future: dark. But not only that, it should be clean, too. And pretty cold.

Clinical research (and experiential evidence — ask your mom) has shown that a disorganized, uncomfortable space creates stress in the brain that can impede deep sleep. Pair your messy room with a cold-blooded housemate who keeps the thermostat at a balmy 80 degrees year-round, and you’ve got a recipe for a really crappy night’s sleep.

The optimal space for sleeping is one that feels clean, cozy, and cool — think about 60-70 degrees.

And if you want to throw a one-two punch at your insomnia, adopt a consistent bedtime routine that establishes your clean, cozy, and cool space. That might look like a short, calming yoga flow after cleaning up your piles of half-dirty laundry or like a warm bath followed by light reading. Do what works for you.

Spending 10-15 minutes in this ritual each night can help offset some of the stress and light exposure of the day, and you’d be surprised how quickly your brain becomes accustomed to it. Recent research has even shown bedtime routines to have positive effects on children, ranging from earlier sleep times and reduced awakenings to longer sleep duration.

5. Fix Your Days, Fix Your Nights

If you think about it, the whole day is kind of just one long bedtime ritual, each moment bringing us closer and closer to the bliss of being under the blankets.

Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but the restful folks in the back would give a cheer at that if they’d heard it over their own snores. Because they, and modern clinical science, know that how you spend your day affects how you spend your nights.

Translation: If you’re not hitting the recommended targets for the lifestyle factors that influence wellness, it’s likely your sleep will be impacted, too. These factors, as seasoned readers will know well by now, are not sexy, but they are important.

They are diet, exercise, stress management, and environmental changes.

We’ve already beaten the environmental changes point to a pulp (remember all the adjustments you’re making to your bedroom per tips 1, 2, and 3?), so it’s time to take a deeper look at the others, optimizing each section as we go to improve sleep.

Diet’s Role on Sleep

We hate to say it, but we can’t deny the science — what you eat does, indeed, mess with your sleep. Not only that but the relationship between your diet and sleep is maintained via a two-way street.

High nutrient intake is linked to better sleep and higher consumption of processed foods is linked to worse sleep. Poor sleep is, in turn, linked to lowered nutrient absorption, too. So if you thought you could out-sleep your nutritionally bankrupt diet or out-eat your sleepless lifestyle, think again.

The Impact of Stress on Sleep

Despite how much our dualistic culture would like you to believe so, the mental stress you feel isn’t just all in your head. Emotional and external stress infiltrates the body, flipping on survival switches that aren’t really that helpful when the stress is your boss and not a wild animal chasing you.

By activating the HPA (or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, perceived stress creates a tangible, physiological effect on the body. Because when the HPA axis is dysregulated by stress, our sleeping and waking cycles go haywire.

Exercise and Sleep Connection

Did you know that people who get 30 minutes of physical activity tend to sleep an average of 15 minutes longer than those who don’t? It might seem like a minor payoff, but the fact this interaction between sleep and exercise has been captured by a clinical study is pretty neat.

Especially when you see the other studies that corroborate the findings — like this metareview on how regular exercise improves both sleep quality and duration. And no, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get the sleep-enhancing benefits of regular movement!

Hit the Hay, Holistic Health Seeker

As with all things whole-body health, your journey toward optimal sleep hygiene and quality will be unique to you. Take what works from these tips, and leave what doesn’t.

But if you need a veritable Sand Man to guide you towards dreamier pastures with personalized, direct advice for holistic wellness, give us a ring. As long as it’s before bedtime (EST), our Counterside Consults will be free and open, which means our holistic health experts are just a phone call away.


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