Saturday, April 8, 2017

How to Get More Sleep (SPONSORED)

Hello, beautiful! One of my paramount goals lately has been to get more sleep. Whenever I'm stressed out with a million things on my to-do list, sleep is always the first thing to go - and lately, I've been feeling the negative effects of it.

If you're in college, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about: you start reading for a class, going out to dinner with your friends, heading to a meeting, making flashcards, reviewing for an exam - and next thing you know, it's already 2 AM. Then, when you wake up the next morning, you feel groggy, anxious and distracted all day long.

Sound familiar? If so, this post is for you, girl! I'll be sharing my tips and tricks for making sleep a priority, establishing a bedtime routine and, eventually, reaching our goal of getting a good night's sleep.

Making Sleep a Priority

The first step to getting more sleep in college is making sleep your number one priority. As simple as it sounds, this can truly be the hardest step to getting more sleep! The busier I am, the more likely I am to let sleep slip into the background as I focus on tackling my colossal to-do list. However, poor sleep can actually interfere with your health, your happiness and your productivity. For a bunch of other reasons that will motivate you to put on your comfiest PJs and crawl into bed early, check out the list I made below! (And check out this article from the National Institute of Health, where I derived all of these fun facts and statistics.)

Sleep is when your body heals. 

Though much of why we need sleep remains a mystery to scientists, we do know that sleep has tremendous benefits on your physical health because of its role in the healing process. During sleep, your body repairs damage to the heart and blood vessels - meaning without sleep, your body will recover from injury and everyday wear-and-tear much more slowly than usual.

Sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Studies of teenagers have shown that with each hour of sleep you lose, the odds of becoming obese increase. Not only does sleep reduce the risk of obesity, but it also helps regulate the hormones controlling your appetite, ghrelin and leptin. It also plays a role in maintaining your blood sugar levels. In other words, when you get less sleep, your blood sugar might spike, increasing your risk for weight gain and diabetes. 

Sleep affects your mood and mental health. 

That's right, folks: sleep deprivation could be a factor in the college mental health crisis! Because sleep affects your ability to make decisions, focus on tasks, cope with change and control your behavior, sleep deprivation might cause your mental health to suffer. With consistent sleep deprivation, you could start having mood swings, make riskier decisions and become depressed or even suicidal. 

Sleep improves learning and memory.

As students, sleep is an important factor in solidifying what we've learned throughout the day. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep enhances your learning and problem solving skills and helps you pay attention, make decisions and think creatively. So, if you want to pass that exam or ace your GPA this semester, a couple extra hours of sleep might benefit you more than an all-night study session.

Sleep makes you more productive.

Though it might feel great when you're crushing your to-do list at 3 AM, people who don't sleep enough are actually much less productive than people who do. If you're sleep deprived, you might take longer to finish your work, whether due to procrastination, distraction or even just fatigue. Your reaction time and accuracy might also suffer, as people who don't sleep have been shown to act more slowly and make more mistakes.

Sleep could save your life. 

And I'm not exaggerating! You might have already heard about the dangers of sleep deprivation after learning about media mogul Ariana Huffington's collapse at work. Unsurprisingly, there's many more risks to skipping out on a good night's sleep. For example, you might fall into microsleep (short periods of sleep occurring when you would normally be awake) without even knowing it, or endanger other drivers on the fact, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving drunk! 

Establishing a Bedtime Routine

Now that you know why it's important to sleep, you might be feeling a little daunted by the task. Setting aside the to-do list and shutting out the lights when you still have a million things to get done can be a scary feeling. Plus, the anxiety of a million tasks running through your mind can leave you laying awake late at night, thwarting your good intentions of getting a good night's sleep. Thankfully, I've discovered some tried-and-true strategies for improving the quality and quantity of my sleep at night, and I've found that one of the most important ways to improve your sleep is to establish a healthy bedtime routine. So, if you want to get better sleep but don't know where to start, here are some positive habits to incorporate into your nighttime routine! 

Go to bed at the same time every night.

As I mentioned, an essential component of a good night's sleep is a healthy routine - and one of the most important parts of any bedtime routine is consistency. If you've ever slept in too long on the weekends, you know that breaking from your routine can leave you feeling sleepy, sluggish and overall unwell. Going to bed (and waking up) at the same time morning and night can help train your body to know when it's bedtime and automatically start craving sleep. 

So, how much sleep does the average college student actually need to feel refreshed and awake? Most students need 7-9 hours a night, according to researchers at Stanford University. So, be sure to plan ahead for this requirement so you won't end up sleep deprived (like 80% of Stanford undergraduates!). 

If you want to start going to bed (or waking up) earlier, but don't want to end up laying wide awake at night, making the change in 30 minute increments over the course of a couple days can help. And, for the smoothest transition possible, be sure that when you say you're going to go to bed at a certain time, you actually DO it! 

Eat a light snack (& drink herbal tea!)

Obviously, what or how much you choose to eat before bedtime is a personal decision unique to all of us. Some people can't fall asleep when they've just eaten; I can't sleep when I'm even the slightest bit hungry. But if you do choose to snack before bedtime, you should at least be aware of how eating before bedtime can affect your digestion.

Ideally, you should grab your bedtime snack a couple of hours before bedtime, as lying down too soon after eating can cause acid reflux and/or indigestion. You might also have heard that unhealthy cravings for simple sugars and white carbs can hint at underlying exhaustion. So, should you choose to snack, know the risks your food choices pose to your sleep and your overall health.

That being said, bedtime snacks are NOT bad! Certain foods like almonds, yogurt, cherries, grapes and dark chocolate all contain chemicals known to help you get a good night's sleep. Pair your healthy midnight snack with a soothing cup of caffeine-free herbal tea for a great way to wind down and destress before bed. 

Relax with a beauty ritual.

As a beauty blogger, it should come as little surprise that beauty rituals are an essential component of my bedtime routine. When I haven't taken the time to take care of my skin, teeth and hair before bed, I feel gross and therefore less comfortable as I'm falling asleep at night.

Lately, I've adopted a three-step beauty routine at night: gel cleanser, alcohol-free toner and dry skin moisturizer. On nights when I need an extra boost of pampering, I might also add in a relaxing face mask.

For the past few weeks, I've been using Philosophy's Purity cleanser to wash my face, a product I cannot possibly rave more about! (For the full description, check out my March favorites post here.) Then I follow up with the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herb and Rosewater to tone my skin, and top it off with Pond's Dry Skin Cream. (If I'm feeling ambitious and want to throw on a face mask, the mask will usually go on before this step, after I've washed my skin.)

Recently, I was generously asked to try the VIICode Oxygen Eye Mask for dark circles and share my results on the blog. The VIICode eye mask is an overnight treatment that can be worn for up to eight hours to reduce the appearance of dark circles, which sets it apart from other sheet masks.

I wanted to include the mask in this post on sleep for two reasons: first of all, its cool, gel-like consistency really relaxed my eyes, making it the perfect overnight ritual for a good night's sleep. Secondly, I found it was extremely effective in reducing my dark circles, making it the perfect treatment to address many college students' history of poor sleep.

As you can see from the above photo, the VIICode eye mask is simple to use. Much like sheet masks, the gels come on a little strip. Then, you can simply peel them off and stick them on your under-eye area to relieve dark circles! For the best results, use them 2-3 times a week, up to three boxes for a full course of treatment.

Practice deep breathing exercises.

Another way I like to wind down before sleep is taking the time to breathe deeply before bedtime. So many college students I know are so busy that we rush from one thing to the next without slowing down to take it all in. However, failing to be mindful throughout the day can lead to stress, overwhelm and even anxiety, making it much harder to fall asleep at the end of a long day. 

Like many of you I'm sure, I'm not the type of person who can just sit down and meditate - I need a little guidance to help me through it. The best way I've found to encourage myself to meditate is to use an app that offers guided meditations or breathing exercises. I'm fairly certain I've tried just about every meditation app on the market. After all of that research, here's a list of my all-time favorites: 
  • Pacifica. Pacifica offers some guided meditations, but lately I've been gravitating toward their breathing exercises. They last about a minute each and are just the right length for inserting mindfulness into your busiest days (you can even set the length of your breaths!).
  • Meditation Studio. If you joined my 2017 Whole Body Reset this year, you're already super familiar with Meditation Studio! For just $3.99, you'll get access to dozens of guided meditations befitting any mood, situation or length imaginable.
  • Stop, Breathe & Think. Stop, Breathe & Think is incredible! Every day, you receive a notification asking you to check in - then, the app recommends a meditation for you based on your mood. This app requires a premium membership to access most of the meditations; however, I think it's totally worth it.
  • Anxiety Release. This app errs more toward hypnosis than meditation - it uses the EMDR method to relax you with bilateral stimulation of your brain. While it's not free (because EMDR is a copyrighted method), this app is recommended by my therapist, and is one of the most effective ways out there to relax almost instantly. 

Ditch the phone and carve out time for a little self-care.

Self-care is SO important to relieve stress as a busy college student! While the most essential types of self-care are basic - like eating, sleeping and personal hygiene - self-care can also include relaxing activities like coloring, journal-writing, painting your nails or any personal hobbies you might have.

On the other hand, one of the worst habits you can get into before bedtime is one that I'm sure is familiar to all of us: scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you name it until it's time to fall asleep! However, that sneaky blue light emanating from your phone can actually inhibit your circadian rhythms, tricking you into staying up later than you intend to. (That's probably why you've heard so many experts say to shut off your phone an hour before bedtime!)

Alternatively, setting aside just 15-30 minutes before bed for self-care can transform your evening - and your sleep pattern! So, replace scrolling through your phone before bed with filling in a coloring book, unwinding with a little yoga, writing in your journal or whatever it is you love to do. Your mind and body will surely thank you for the switch!

Getting a Good Night's Sleep

You can prioritize sleep all you want, you can establish the best bedtime routine in the world, but the only thing that will actually help you get a good night's sleep? SLEEPING! (Duh.) Obviously, prioritizing sleep and winding down before bed with a healthy routine help, but if you can't fall asleep or you sleep restlessly, not even the best intentions in the world will save you from feeling groggy the next day. On the one hand, it might seem like how quickly you fall asleep is out of your control; however, there's actually many ways you can improve the quality and quantity of sleep you get. Here are some of my personal favorite strategies for getting a good night's sleep!

Wind down with a hot shower.

If you've ever taken a warm bath or shower before bedtime, you know how relaxing this routine can be. However, what you might not know is there's actually scientific PROOF that taking a hot shower helps you sleep better at night! According to Lifehacker, when you get out of a toasty warm shower and step into a cold (or even just a normal temperature) room, the drop in body heat signals to your brain that it's time to rest. Is that *cool* or what?! (See what I did there?)

Get nice 'n' comfy.

As obvious as this seems, something as simple as putting on your comfiest clothes can help you get a better night's sleep! But, here's another fun fact you might not know: if you're the kind of person who likes to sleep in your sweats, you might not sleep as well as someone who changes into your PJs. I can't remember where I heard this, but supposedly changing into PJs helps signal to your brain that it's time to go to bed. So, think twice about falling into bed at 3 AM with your leggings on and put on your cutest pajamas instead!

Take some time to digest.

If you're anything like me, you need to eat a snack before bedtime - which is totally okay! On the other hand, planning your meals ahead of time is key to getting a good night's sleep. If you eat too close to bedtime, you might sleep poorly and wake up feeling bloated. Some experts suggest not eating two to three hours before bed, which seems a little extreme to me. Personally, I think as long as you wait about an hour to give your body time to digest, you're probably good to go! 

Roll on the aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy, such as using essential oils, has been getting a lot of attention lately - maybe because so many celebrities are jumping in on the trend. Personally, I'm a huge fan of essential oils, specifically for soothing anxiety and helping me relax. Plus, it's such an easy tip to incorporate into your own life! Bath and Body Works has a whole line of aromatherapy products, including a bunch targeted toward sleep. You can also try rolling on my favorite essential oil blend to relieve worrying before bedtime, or check out this adorable line of animal-shaped heating pads that exude the soothing scent of lavender. 

Set the mood with some relaxing sounds.

Ever noticed that certain sounds just calm you from head to toe? For me, it's the sound of rain. Whenever I'm anxious or stressed, whether I'm studying or trying to fall asleep or having a panic attack, the sound of rain pattering on the window calms me right down. So, I've gotten in the habit of listening to rain sounds whenever I can't fall asleep at night. In particular, the app Relax Melodies has completely transformed my sleep, especially when I am anxious as I am trying to fall asleep. This free app lets you select the sounds you want and adjust their volumes, so you can concoct your own special blend of relaxing melodies.

Actually go to bed on time! 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, going to bed on time is key. You have to be firm with yourself about getting enough sleep at night, especially when you are trying to adjust to an earlier bedtime. If you don't prioritize sleep and let going to bed fall to the side while you work on other things, you'll never reap the benefits that a good night's sleep can bring. As easy as it is to say "I'll go to bed in ten minutes," or "I'll go to bed when I finish this," ten minutes can quickly turn into sixty, and "when I finish this" So, when you say you're going to go to bed at a certain time, actually GO TO BED! 

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