In his new book, HUSH: A Book of Bedtime Contemplations, Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., recommends a fundamental shift in our thinking about sleep. Cultivating a sleep practice is like building a new habit, Naiman suggests, and naturally leads to the best quality of sleep. Overcoming some poor bedtime patterns will also support good overall health. Health experts say mothers underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep. So what is the perfect number of hours each night for optimal health? Each woman's sleep practice will be unique but the following ideas are a guide:
Go to bed earlier
"Going to bed a little earlier each night until we are able to awaken naturally helps break the reliance on alarms, which are jarring to the body and mind in the morning," says Naiman. It's as important to wake up gracefully as it is to have a peaceful night's sleep.
Clear your mind before going to sleep
"Our thoughts can seem so much louder, larger and more compelling against the backdrop of night," he adds. "Thinking is useful during the day and at work. But it's impossible to think your way to sleep." Clear your mind or write your thoughts on a piece of paper to help let them go. They will be there for you in the morning. Moms will always have a fresh set of concerns the next day.
Chill out before sleep
When the sun goes down our body temperature cools. Humans release heat energy throughout the night. Sleeping in a cool environment facilitates a better night's rest. Avoid overeating and drinking alcohol, which makes the body burn fuel and can contribute to sleep disturbances during the night, like sweating.
Have the last laugh
It turns out that laughter is an exceptional sleep tonic. Laughter calms the body, quiets the mind and soothes the spirit. Try watching a television comedy or reading something lighthearted. Or have a friendly tickle fight with your kids or husband. A good belly laugh loosens the grip of the day.
The bedroom is not an entertainment center
The modern bedroom has too many gadgets and electronics, in Naiman's opinion. "The bedroom should be a portal to sleep." Think of your bedroom as a quiet place for contemplation and meditation, with as few light-emitting gadgets as possible.
Though Dr. Naiman's approach to sleep may be modern, his advice speaks to everyone. Just like children have a bedtime ritual, women, and mothers especially, need a personal pre-sleep ritual that supports their comfort level and releases daily stress. Turn off electronics, turn on a fan, slather on some Olay moisturizer, read a funny tale and exchange stories with your spouse or children. Including these habits in your bedtime practice can add hours of revitalizing sleep to your night so you awaken fresh and ready for a new day. Better rest will improve your overall health.
"Gratitude is an exceptional sleep elixir," he says. "The next time you have trouble falling asleep, count your blessings instead of counting sheep."