Sleep, Nature's Miracle Drug
Do you want the answer to healing literally anything?
It's natural, everyone loves it, and it's fo' free! It's called SLEEP, my dudes.
Suffering from digestive problems? Hormones kicking you in the balls; metaphorically or physically speaking? Can't seem to gain muscle or lose fat despite diligent diet and exercise? Still dating douchebag-y dudes/chicks?
All of these things can be fixed by addressing your sleep quality! Even that last one. Think about it: a series of truly restful nights will improve your shitty judgment and have you waking up next to that person saying "what the fuck was I thinking?!" and "I can't believe I agreed with him when he said The Expendables was a cinematic triumph!".
All jokes aside, sleep is truly the most powerful tool when it comes to keeping our body functioning properly. In fact, the first thing that most mental health specialists (the non-drug pushers anyway) recommend for their patients suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses is sleep. Many therapists even go as far as stating that mental illnesses often stem from lack of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep. And that's just the mental toll of sleep deprivation! The physical toll is just as brutal.
Now, obviously most of us want quality sleep and absolutely hate the anxiety that comes with not being able to fall asleep. No one's having a good time being a cranky asshole with low energy every day; so how do we fix it?!
Here is my list of do's and do-not's for optimizing your sleep!
Drink alcohol before bed. If you're really struggling with insomnia, it would be a good idea to remove booze from your life altogether; at least for a few weeks or until your sleep starts to improve. A less extreme alternative to eliminating alcohol completely would be minimizing your intake to one or two drinks in a day and avoiding drinking 3 hours before you go to bed. This gives your body time to metabolize the booze before you try to sleep.
Glue yourself to your phone, computer, or television at night. Our screens project blue light, which is great for first thing in the morning; especially when the sun is our blue light source. Blue light wakes our brains up in the morning and helps keep us awake throughout the day. That's not super awesome when we're trying to wind down for the night. Basically, when you stare at a screen at 9 pm, your brain is being triggered by the blue light, thereby making it think that the party is still going and sleep doesn't need to happen anytime soon.
Eat a heavy meal right before bed. As a kid, I was always so confused by how adamant my parents were about eating before 7 pm. Like, meat and potatoes are still meat and potatoes at 8 pm, Mom, gahhhhh. But, Mom was right. Eating a heavy meal forces your digestive system to start firing on all cylinders which requires a lot of energy that your body is now having to produce. Increased energy is not something you want right before bed. Now, a light snack can actually facilitate a peaceful night's sleep and prevent hunger throughout the night. It's not too much work for your digestive system and specific foods can actually help you doze off. I'll have a list of sleepy-time friendly snacks in my DO list below.
Treat your bed like your office, kitchen, or movie-watching zone. When your brain associates your bed with the activities that you do when you're awake, like eating or working on your laptop, it makes it difficult for it to associate your bed with sleep. The only exception here is sexy times. So, no laptops or televisions in the room but going to pound town is still A-okay.
Do not fixate on negative shit! Nighttime should be your time of day to reflect on the positives and take a moment to acknowledge everything you're grateful for. It is not the time for you to argue with a spouse, cyberstalk an ex, read a stressful work email, or get into a social media debate with someone about the latest shit-show of current events. Evenings need to be peaceful so you can condition your brain to chill the fuck out for the whole night.
Read a book, take a bath, and make some hot sleepy time tea. It doesn't have to specifically be those three things, but find a routine that you can consistently do every night that will help you wind down.
Keep your home clean. Whether you're a clean freak or a slob, the brain has a terrible time trying to shut down when there's a mess that needs to be dealt with. Knowing that the mess is taken care of and you won't be waking up to it is super nourishing for the psyche which in turn encourages restful sleep.
Take it easy on the caffeine throughout the day. Many people have an incredibly slow caffeine metabolsim (I swear it's a real thing) meaning that even a cup of coffee at noon could still be stimulating your brain by late evening. Whether or not you're one of those slow metabolizers, try to keep it to 1-2 cups of coffee, or whatever your caffeine of choice is, and drink it before noon.
Eat a small snack with quality fats to keep you satiated throughout the night and encourage release of saratonin, melatonin, and other chemicals associated with a good night's rest. Example: almond butter on toast, raw cheese and some almonds, hummus and cucumber, greek yogurt with some berries, half of an avocado and a whey protein shake; any healthy fat paired with a light carb and protein. Keep your portions small so you don't create a ton of work for your digestive system right before bed.
Wear blue blocking glasses at night. If we're being honest with ourselves, most of us are straight up NOT going to be avoiding screens at night. Sure, I could read a book and I'll do that some nights; but most nights, I'm going to be winding down watching TikToks, LOL-ing at Instagram memes, and flirt texting some dude I'm currently crushing on. Wearing the glasses at night is just a far more realistic goal than eliminating technology before bed altogether.
Support your digestive system. The gut-brain connection is so strong that when one suffers, the other suffers. It's a viscious cycle of: you get stressed out, that causes inflammation in the gut, which causes anxiety, which causes more digestive distress, which leads to insomnia or other mental conditions, and it just goes on and freakin' on! Attack the inflammation at the source; your gut. Eat quality, non-processed foods, take a probiotic, consume less booze, and drink plenty of water.
There are supplements that help facilitate sleep. But all in all, you have to change your habits if you want your sleep quality back. Focus on the DOs and DO NOTs above and watch the magic happen.
This is a biggy: I know it's hard to accept especially with summer here and all the fun lake/pool parties we have ahead of us, but ditching alcohol is the fastest way to start getting the sleep you need. If you were to choose one thing to focus on in this list, focus on dodging the alcohol for a while. It has the most impact on your sleep out of everything else.
Follow the tips above and rest easy, my friends.