An informal survey among veterinary professionals, starting with this author, reveals most of us suffer from a chronic lack of sleep. Rest assured (no pun intended), getting a good night’s rest consistently is doable.
Set up your sleep environment for success. To sleep well, you need to ensure you have created ideal conditions. There a few simple things you can do that could profoundly affect not only your ability to fall asleep, but also improve the quality of your slumber.
Start by lowering the temperature. The ideal sleeping temperature is between 60 F and 67 F. Try a cooling pillow or mattress topper, and remember to keep your feet elevated. Doing so increases circulation to the brain, which, in turn, increases sleep duration. Try wearing socks or placing a hot water bottle at your feet. Warming your feet increases blood flow, which sends a signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
You can also make small changes to your bedroom. Start by removing screens and tech devices. Don’t tempt yourself with late-night binge-watching of the latest Netflix series in bed. Your bedroom is for resting, not for catching up on your favorite program.
The experts also recommend little to no light in your bedroom when you sleep. Hanging blackout curtains will take care of that, and get rid of your LED alarm clock, too. If you use your phone to wake you, make sure to place it face down to dim the light from any notifications that may pop up automatically.
Take time every evening to prepare yourself and your family for the next day. It will help you feel ready for morning.
Simple habits such as choosing outfits, making lunches, and making a to-do list can help streamline the morning. This leaves you feeling prepared for the day, rather than dreading the chaotic start.
If you have a few spare minutes, tidy up your bedroom/house. It’s much nicer to wake up to a clean, well organized space than a cluttered mess, which could derail your morning mood. For example, make it a regular family chore after dinner, so the burden doesn’t always fall on one person. Create a new ritual. Crank out the music. Gamify it.
Once you’ve checked things off your list, it’s time to wind down for the day.
Review your day and find the positive—write three things you are thankful for in a gratitude journal. Dwell on the successes, no matter how small.
In a world full of so much negativity, it can be hard to see the small fortunes we have. Maybe you extracted a broken tooth, or saved a life, or helped out a client. Think about all the people, opportunities, and other things in your life for which you are grateful. This will keep you balanced and aware of all the good things and nice people who surround you. Hopefully, it also inspires you to do something for someone else they will be grateful for having received.
Get stuff out of your head. You took the time to bask in your positive moments. Now you need to be sure you shed all the negative things that happened during your day. The last thing you need when you’re trying to fall asleep is to have a mind reeling with the day’s what-ifs, should-haves, conflicts, angry moments, and disappointments. Not only that, but take a moment to do a mind dump. Get all your cluttered thoughts, current projects, and ongoing list of to-dos on paper. You will wind down and get organized at the same time. Bringing work home is a bad habit. Try to change that behavior because it’s not good for anyone. Learn about closure techniques to help let go of difficult conversations or experiences. As important as it is to focus on the positive, it is just as important to unload the negative.
As the saying goes, “Leave work at work, and leave home at home.”
Feed your soul. You spend a good amount of time taking care of family, friends, teammates, clients, and patients. Remember to take care of yourself.
Do something you enjoy and helps you relax. Preferably, that’s not watching mindless TV shows or negative news. Maybe it’s reading a book, listening to music, playing an instrument, painting, journaling, or taking a bubble bath.
If you don’t have time to do that, take one-tenth of a second to spray your pillow with lavender.
All sleep specialists agree screens—and their blue light—are not good for us. Blue light blocks melatonin, the sleep hormone. It messes with your ability to fall asleep, increases alertness, and confuses your circadian rhythm. Melatonin has powerful antioxidant effects. It purges the body of oxidative stress and free radicals, which are thought to induce several diseases.
This is the reason why it is so important to limit screen time, especially a few hours before going to sleep.
If all else fails, you could get a little help from various supplements when routine and good habits just aren’t enough. Here are a few:
- Melatonin is essential for sleep because it tells the body it’s time for rest. Melatonin supplements are available in natural and synthetic forms. Beware of the natural form, as it is made from animals’ pineal gland, which lives in the brain. Prefer the synthetic form, and be very aware of the dose you are taking. Many over-the-counter dosages are much higher than necessary and should not be used long-term.
- Valerian root is a supplement derived from… wait for it… the root of the valerian plant. Aside from helping with sleep, it has been touted for having multiple positive effects.
- Glycine is an amino acid that can elevate serotonin levels, improve symptoms of insomnia, and promote better sleep quality. It can be found naturally in many of the foods we eat (meat, fish, and legumes) or in over-the-counter supplements.
- Tart cherry juice is naturally rich in melatonin, so it is reported to help falling asleep.
Of course, nothing in this article constitutes a medical recommendation. Consult your physician before starting any supplements or prescription sleep agent.
And then there’s all the obvious advice we’ve heard, yet don’t always follow. Here are seven more tips:
- Avoid caffeine a few hours before bedtime
- Don’t take a nap too late in the day
- Try to go to bed and wake up the same time every day
- Exercise, but not before bedtime
- Don’t eat a huge meal just before going to bed
- You spend 25 to 33 percent of your life on a mattress, so consider it a smart investment
- And the most important tip: Shut off your cell phone or at least put it in do-not-disturb or airplane mode
Like many things in life, having a good night’s sleep can be accomplished by following simple principles. Being rested benefits your body, your brain, and your soul, not to mention your family, team, clients, and patients.
AN IDEAL ROUTINE FOR LA-LA LAND
|Assuming that “T” is bedtime, here is how prepping for a good sleep could look:
T – Three hours: Finish daily chores and start getting ready for the next day
T – 2.5 hours: Do something that feeds your soul (see the fifth point in the main article). Clear your head. Decompress. Spend quality time with family
T – Two hours: Exercise. Place your phone in do-not-disturb or airplane mode
T – One hour: Drink cherry juice. Shut down all screens. Dim the lights. Prepare your sleep environment
T – 45 minutes: Take a warm bath
T – 15 minutes: Read a book. Listen to music. Meditate. Begin your nightly bedtime ritual. Climb in bed and drift off to dreamland…
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at DrPhilZeltzman.com. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance (vetfinancialsummit.com). Kat Christman, a certified veterinary technician in Effort, Pa., contributed to this article.