#MAKEITHAPPENDr. Shelby Harris, board-certified sleep specialist
Dr. Harris first began investigating sleep as a research assistant at Brown University Medical School treating patients in early recovery from alcohol abuse. She found that treating sleep issues significantly lowered rates of relapse, which led her to ask: why aren’t we focusing more on sleep as an unlock to overall health?
Here, she shares her top tips for maximizing your Zzzs.
1. That we all need 8 hours every night. There’s a range between 6-9 hours that is ideal for most people, but some people need more and some need less.
Women tend to need more sleep than men and sleep deeper than men. That being said, women tend to have higher rates of insomnia (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, etc.) due to a vast array of things, such as hormonal changes, anxiety, depression and stress.
First, know that our bodies are not designed to traverse the globe in a span of just a few hours. That’s why jet lag happens, and we must be kind to ourselves when traveling.
My top three tips for travelers are...
1. I’m a huge fan of the Timeshifter app. You plug in your flights, and it gives you a personalized plan to navigate the jet lag. They tell you when to get light, when to avoid light, when to sleep, when not sleep, as well as how to appropriately dose melatonin should you want to use.
2. Avoid things that can be dehydrating while you travel. Although it might be lovely to have that mid-flight glass or two of wine, it can make jet lag significantly worse. Same goes for more coffee than you usually have. Make sure to hydrate with plenty of water on the plane.
3. Bring anything that you can on the plane (or wherever you’re going) that reminds you of your home environment. That might look like a compact white noise machine, a blanket, your bed pillow if space allows, or even a scent that you use at home. Anything to give you a sense of home will improve the quality of your sleep.
I go to bed around 9:30pm and get up at 5:30am, pushing it to 10pm-6am on the weekends.
I use my old-school Sony dream machine digital alarm clock that I’ve had since high school. My kids use the Hatch Restore alarm clocks and we all love them.
What is your bedtime routine?
I go upstairs at around 8:30pm to wash my face (I’m a big fan of a good nighttime skincare routine), brush teeth and get changed into PJs. Then I do some restorative yoga or stretching. Afterwards, I get in bed and read for 10-15 minutes in dim light. Then lights out. Simple and effective.
Find something that keeps your spine in alignment when you’re lying down. This depends on multiple factors—the position you sleep in, the firmness of the mattress and the type of the mattress.
Staying in bed and trying to force sleep to happen is just a recipe for disaster. Instead, if approximately 20-30 minutes has passed (don’t look at the clock, just guesstimate) and sleep is just not happening, get out of bed and go into another area that’s dimly lit. Find something to do to pass the time in dim light (ideally no screens), and return to bed only when you’re sleepy again. I’m not immune to a bad night’s sleep and when I have trouble sleeping I get up, go sit in my office chair and read magazines.
Keeping a consistent bed and waketime is really important to help set your body’s clock (aka the circadian rhythm). If you do this as often as possible, it can make a real difference.
Also, getting bright light when you wake up – natural sunlight or with a dawn simulator—can be help set your body clock as well. Limit caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime. Limiting alcohol, heavy meals and liquids within 3 hours of bed is also useful. Movement during the day is very helpful. And make sure that you create a buffer to wind down (without a screen!) for at least 30 minutes (ideally 60 minutes) before bed.
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