We all know that sleep is one of the pillars of total-body health. When your sleep cycle is disrupted, it can be extremely debilitating, and affect your ability to show up for yourself and the people around you. Cracking the code to sleep is something a lot of us struggle with, so we compiled a list of small, realistic steps you can take to rejuvenate your sleep cycle.
This isn’t “the secret to sleep.” Here at Tracy Anderson Method, we’re always guided by the principle of balance. When it comes to movement, it’s not about one magic move that’ll transform your body—it’s about showing up consistently, making small changes every day, and finding a routine that feels right for you. This idea guides us when it comes to sleep as well: incorporating a few of these steps into your everyday life will lead to a healthier relationship to sleep, and establish a routine that is sustainable.
1. Get Outside
The term “circadian rhythm” is thrown around a lot, and it’s easy to forget what exactly the term is about. The circadian rhythm is our bodies’ natural clock, but it’s also important to think about it as the regulatory process that optimizes our bodies for different times of the day. In this process, our brain receives signals to release certain hormones, change our body temperature, and regulate our metabolism throughout a 24-hour period. So, being awake during daylight, getting outside, and absorbing sunlight is essential to keep our bodies alert and energized during the day, and disposed to restorative sleep in the evening.
There is extensive and ongoing research around the link between exercise and sleep, and how regular exercise mitigates the risks of disordered sleep, including but not limited to cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, and diabetes. There are some studies that demonstrate a link between increased movement and more REM sleep, sleep continuity, and sleep efficiency. Tracy recommends moving every day, even if it’s light exercise, to keep your body functioning properly.
3. Avoid Sleep Inhibitors
In a balanced lifestyle, there is space for indulgence. But high consumption of caffeine and alcohol (especially later in the day) can wreak havoc with your sleep cycle. If you need to restore your sleep cycle, try limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol for a while. If your morning coffee is non-negotiable, try saving the java for morning hours. Caffeine stays in your blood 6 to 8 hours after you consume it, so no coffee after 12 p.m. is a good benchmark.
4. Don’t Eat Too Late
Eating late in the day has undesirable effects on your sleep hormones, many studies have found. When your body has to work to digest food late at night, it can’t perform the recovery processes it should during sleep. It can also provoke acid reflux, which can interrupt sleep. The key is to eat early enough to not go to bed hungry, but to leave enough time for your body to fully digest. Most sources suggest halting eating three hours before bedtime.
5. Keep A Sleep Journal
If your sleep cycle is erratic and you don’t know why, try keeping a sleep journal. Notice any changes in your lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress) and how you’re sleeping (trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, morning drowsiness). You’ll start being able to see the links between the variables of your lifestyle and the quality of sleep you’re getting, and then address those factors.
6. Put Work Away
Blue light late at night messes with your circadian rhythm and keeps you alert. Put away your computer and phone a couple of hours before you sleep for the best night’s rest. If that’s not possible, make sure there are aspects of your bedtime routine that are sacred. That could be making your bedroom a no-screen zone, or doing a long nighttime skin routine that keeps you off your phone right before sleeping. Also, the stress of work can keep your heart rate elevated, which can inhibit sleep.
7. Practice Breathwork
If you’re struggling to relax your body, breathwork is one of the most effective tools to slow our heart rates, relax our muscles, and ease us into a state ideal for sleep. In The Reinvention Issue of Tracy Anderson Magazine, Jasmine Marie, the founder of the non-profit Black Girls Breathing, dives into the efficacy of breathwork, and the techniques we can learn to harness the power of our breath to soothe our bodies and prime them for sleep.
8. Ditch Catch-Ups
In today’s busy world, it’s easy to fall into the habit of losing sleep. Maybe it’s a crazy busy week at work or you have a lot of social commitments, and you say to yourself, “I’ll catch up on sleep next week.” The bad news is that sleep doesn’t work that way. Sleep, like overall health, is not something you can neglect and then fix. It’s something you have to consistently maintain to the best of your ability. That being said, it’s about balance. There are always times we’ll lose sleep, but try to space out your short nights to maintain a sleep schedule as best as you can.
9. No Naps
There are times when a nap is necessary, and a short burst of sleep can be extremely restorative. However, as a rule of thumb, it’s better to have enough sleep at night to not need a nap during the day. Most of us have heard of REM sleep, but there are actually four stages of sleep and we go through many times throughout the night. If we do not grant ourselves the time to complete these cycles, we can’t reap the benefits of sleep including memory retention, learning processes, and physical performance. So, avoid naps to sleep better at night. If you absolutely need a nap, try to fit it in before 3 p.m. so you’ll still be able to fall asleep at night.
When you can’t sleep, the most important thing is to accept it. That may sound weird, but the stress of insomnia or other sleep problems can do even more damage to your system. Instead of trying to fight your sleep problem, make peace with it. If you can’t sleep, get up. Try a gentle activity like reading or yoga to occupy yourself without energizing your body too much. In many cases, when we accept the struggle and are kind to ourselves, we gift our bodies the time and space to stop, relax, and restore.