Self-care looks different to everyone; the foods that make me feel energized or the affirmations that click for me will look very different from what works for you. However, the one key piece of self-care that looks the same for everyone? Getting high-quality (and enough) hours of Zzzs. While Hot Girl Walks were the wellness trend of 2022, 2023 is focusing on the critical factor of health most of us are missing out on: sleep.
While we know sleep is crucial to our health, many people are not getting enough. According to the CDC, more than a third of adults are sleeping less than the recommended hours (at least seven per day). Additionally, women are more likely to suffer from lack of sleep than men (women are 40% more likely to have insomnia, according to The Sleep Foundation), but on average, need more sleep due to factors like changing hormones (our bodies are doing a lot on a regular basis, OK!?). The good news? Improving your sleep-care could be the health-changing step you are missing in your current wellness routine. Read on to learn more about sleep-care and how to implement it into your routine.
What is sleep-care?
If you think that self-care is all about fancy bubble baths, luxurious face masks, and expensive health foods, think again. The World Health Organization defines self-care as “The ability to promote health, prevent disease, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” In other words, while health care is a doctor helping your body be healthy, self-care is the way you help your body be healthy. And one of the most important but often overlooked ways to do that is through sleep. “Sleep is important to help prevent cardiovascular problems, improve mood, increase learning and memory, and prevent weight gain,” explained Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University.
Sleep has an impact on all aspects of our health. Therefore, sleep-care is the practice of creating routines around sleep that provide mental and physical benefits. Sleep-care also addresses that sleep requires more care than just turning off Netflix at night and setting the alarm in the morning. Our daily habits, doctor’s visits, and the way we spend our mornings and evenings should take into account how to improve sleep quality. Wondering how to do that?
Tips for implementing a sleep-care routine
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
The best way to implement a sleep-care routine is to create a routine that works for you. Everyone is different, and depending on whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, you’ll want to create a realistic sleep routine. Base this on your needs, daily schedule, and preferences. For example, if you typically stay up late and don’t have to wake up for work until 9 a.m., don’t force yourself into a 7 a.m. wake-up time just because it sounds healthier.
What matters most is going to bed and waking up at a consistent time so your body knows when it should be awake and when it should be sleeping. Instead, wake up at 8:30 a.m. (or 8:59 a.m.—we won’t judge) and ensure you’re asleep by 1 a.m. (or about 7-9 hours before you wake up, depending on your needs). Then, stick to that schedule every day. Also, get to know the length of time your body needs to sleep. While some people feel great after exactly seven hours, others feel groggy if they don’t get a full nine. Get to know what your body needs and set up a schedule accordingly.
2. Unwind from your day
Once you have a set bedtime, the next step is to create a nighttime routine that allows you to fully let the day go. You cannot expect to come home from work, eat dinner, work out, clean the house, and then be asleep the moment your head hits the pillow just because you decided your bedtime was 9 p.m. Most of us need time to decompress from the day and to enter a relaxed state before the body and mind are ready for a restful night’s sleep.
A few things you can do to unwind from your day are journaling, meditating, yoga stretches, pampering yourself with a skincare routine, drinking chamomile tea, taking some CBD, or reading a soothing book (save the thrillers for daytime). Find what relaxes you at the end of the day, and give your mind enough time to relax and wind down. These rituals will eventually signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
3. Create a relaxing environment
Your home can either help you relax or cause you more stress. A pile of dirty laundry on the chair or dishes in the sink might make you feel anxious about the next day and cause difficulty sleeping. On the flip side, a relaxing environment can actually help you feel calm. A few ideas to create a relaxing environment include lighting candles, diffusing essential oils, adjusting the temperature, trying blackout curtains, dimming your lights, and removing screens at least 30 minutes before your bedtime. For more recommendations on creating a relaxing environment, click here to shop our favorite products that will help make your home more relaxing. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. Anything you can do to create an environment that makes you feel safe and calm can make a huge difference in your sleep-care.
4. Limit caffeine and naps
Because sleep-care is not just about making changes at nighttime, be aware of habits throughout the day that might cause you to lose precious sleep. For example, that 2 p.m. cup of coffee or post-work nap might confuse your body when it comes to a sleep schedule. While having one cup of coffee or tea in the morning can help some people get through the day, you may want to ditch the afternoon cup.
When it comes to caffeine, every body reacts differently, so figure out when to get your last cup in before it affects your sleep. (For a general rule of thumb, some experts suggest no later than 2-3 p.m.) Alternatively, you can play around with the difference between coffee and matcha when it comes to your sleep quality. And while an afternoon nap may be enticing (especially without that second cup of joe), taking naps can throw off your sleep later. If you really need a nap, The Sleep Foundation suggests keeping it to a maximum of 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
5. Be consistent
While you are finding a routine that works for you, adjust your “ideal” routine with what is most realistic. No one is going to be perfect 100% of the time, but your goal should be to strive for a realistic, healthy routine that you can follow regularly and stick to more often than not. When your sleep schedule, nighttime routine, and daily habits are consistent, this lets your internal clock know when you should be going to sleep and waking up. Everyone relaxes and takes care of themselves in their own way, and every body has different needs. So whatever you do to unwind, create a relaxing environment, and get a full night of rest, just be consistent.
6. Make sleep a regular conversation with your doctor
While self-care is about how you care for yourself, part of caring for yourself is building and communicating with a team that will help keep you as healthy as possible. While your doctor visits might (and should) cover symptoms, diet, and exercise, make sure that sleep is part of the conversation too. Let your doctor know if you’re having trouble sleeping, if you’re waking up exhausted, or if your work-life balance feels off and you’re not getting enough recovery time. Sleep is a critcially important factor in health, and lack of sleep is a good indicator that your routines or health might need some adjustments.