Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pillow Talk

How do you sleep?

Do you get enough? Is the sleep you get good? Do you have to take sleep aids? Do you feel refreshed in the morning? Does your body feel good when you wake up?

These are all questions you should ask yourself in regards to your sleeping arrangements.

There's debate on how much sleep, varying by age, gender, lifestyle, and biochemistry. With the "how much" question, You literally have to experiment for a few weeks to see what works best for you.

As far as the quality goes, there are several things you can do to help you get a more sound snooze every night.

#1: Consistency is key. 

You have a few choices: Go to bed at the same time each night. Get the same number of hours each night. Wake up at the same time each morning. Whatever it is, be consistant.

Personally, I've found that it's difficult for me to guarantee that I go to bed at the same time each night due to schedule, travel, being able to fall asleep on command, etc. Getting the same number of hours each night also has proven difficult for me, as I feel like sometimes I need less, and sometimes I need more. What's worked the best for me is waking up at the same time each morning. No matter what I have going on (unless it's a rare super early schedule, like catching a 6am flight), no matter what day it is, I get up somewhere between 5:57am and 6:15am. If I sleep in, it's until 6:30. I find that as long as I stay within a 20 minute window of wake up time, my energy is pretty consistent throughout each day, without the help of any stimulants (ie, caffeine/sugar). I've adjusted my nighttime routine to help my morning routine (when I eat/drink, what I eat/drink, lighting, work, movement/playtime) so that I can go to sleep when my brain and body need to rest. Sometimes I go to bed at midnight, sometimes I go to bed at 8:30pm. Usually, it's around 10:30-11pm, but it all depends on what I have going on that day and how I feel. I'd rather go to bed early to "catch up" on sleep than sleep in the following morning.

I also start my morning with a glass of water upon waking. Yes, right after I wake up, sometimes even before my eyes open, I get my reflexive stretch, roll to my night stand, and drink at least a few gulps of room-temperature water I have waiting for me every morning. This wake my insides up. My organs and muscles get the hydration they need (our bodies are made up of 75% water, and often people don't drink enough throughout the day, leading to brain fog, constipation, fatigue, and less-than optimal organ function).

I'll also do at least a few minutes of mindful movement. It gets the creaks out, warms up the joints, tells me where I might need to be more conscious of that day (especially because of my stega). This works well not only for the physically pristine, but also the chronically injured and everyone in between. If your morning movements are mindful and wide-ranged, every movement you make throughout the day will have a good, supportive base, feeding into proper movement, and preventing compensations, dysfunctions, and injuries. Think of it as a primer. Having an early wake up time each day also allows ample time to fit this in your morning routine without having to rush anything. If I am in a rush (for example, because of a 6am flight), I'll make sure that I get at least one minute in before I leave (everyone has ONE minute they can spare, no matter what), and then when I get to the airport, I'll get in a few more minutes before hopping on the plane. Or, if I'm in the car, I'll still do some movements while at a light (there are many things you can do while seated, including breathing drills, isometrics, and lots of neck/shoulder mobility!).

#2: Eliminate Distractions:

Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Pets/children, light from electronics, ambient light from neighbors/streets, sounds....although some people prefer white noise. Some people also like black out shades (there's debate with those, as having natural sunlight while waking up is also a really good thing for your circadian rhythm!). At the bare minimum, block out all the artificial light, especially those from your home electronics. I have my phone (which is also my alarm clock) in a completely different room, so when I do need to shut it off, I have to get up, make my way across the house (starts to turn my brain on), and it's much eaiser for me to stay up and get my day going, and less tempting to go back to bed.

Temperature/air flow is also important. Find your ideal balance (I like it a little on the colder side, because I like to snuggle in the blankets, with just a little air flow). Waking up periodically to find blankets or turn on/off the fan is no bueno.

#3: Mattress quality/type: 

You want a supportive mattress. Try before you buy. A mattress should support the contours of your body, not the salesperson's. Ideally, your mattress should allow you to have a neutral spine. Personally, I like a medium firmness and the ones with the individually pocketed coils. If you like it a little softer, you can also get one with a pillowtop. Again, try before you buy. You spend about a third of your life in bed, so make sure that time is well spent in a comfortable and proper position. You should wake up feeling refreshed, not achy.

Top: Too Soft       Middle: Too Hard      Bottom: Just right! Like Goldilocks :D

#4: Pillow types and accessory pillows

Like your mattress, your pillow should also allow you to have a neutral spine.

The type of pillow you have should match what type of sleeper you are. It's also advised to have extra pillows to support various parts of your body to allow your spine to stay in a relaxed/passive neutral position.

Side Sleeper: Something that contours so that the bottom is a bit raised to support your neck and shoulders, and the top is contoured so that there's a little dent for your head to go. Your shoulder/neck should not be scrunched together so that you feel like you're shrugging), and there should be no space between your neck/shoulder and the pillow. I like a contoured pillow with a space carved out for the shoulder for side sleepers.

Also, when you're on your side, the shape of your body and extremities mean you need some support between your legs and your arms, otherwise you have one hip and shoulder internally rotated (basically folded inwards) all night, potentially causing hip, low back, and shoulder issues. To remedy that, simply put a pillow between your knees and hug another pillow. A body pillow will also do the trick to hit 2 birds with one stone. And if you can find one of these gems, you'll probably never want to get out of bed:

Who needs a cuddle buddy when you have one of these?? 

Back Sleeper: Similar to the side sleeper pillow, but less height. You want that contour for your neck, and the little dent for your head. Make sure your head is not raised up too high, otherwise it's exacerbating the "text neck" position.

That one on the far left seems pretty weightless...but probably not ideal. 

I like the "D Core" pillows, or just a plain rolled up towel as a neck roll for back sleepers. Sleeping on your back is arguably the best position to sleep in for optimal body positioning.

I also recommend putting a pillow under your knees so support your lumbar spine and put your pelvis in a more neutral and relaxed position, especially if you have a bit more of a booty 

Stomach Sleeper: This is probably one of the worst positions to sleep in. Stomach sleepers often have neck and shoulder issues because their neck/head is in weird positions for extended periods of time. I highly recommend that if you are a stomach sleeper, to sleep train yourself into a side or back sleeper. But if you refuse to be a side or back sleeper, or you occasionally sleep on your stomach for whatever reason, I recommend having a "normal" pillow under your hips, as well as one vertical pillow under your torso to support your spine and give your head some room to be a little more neutrally positioned. If you need a pillow for your head, make it as thin and soft as possible so your neck is not in an awkwardly extended position all night.

If you can, this is a better way to "stomach sleep":

A body pillow also works well for this position. Make sure your hips and shoulders are supported.

Wild Sleeper: If you sleep in almost every conceivable position, I recommend having several pillows to support all of the positions. I like the "pillow box":

What my bed looks like whenever I travel. Extra pillows, please!!

The pillow box has the D-core pillow, and 3 other normal-sized pillows (one could also be a body pillow) so if you turn to either side or sleep on your back, you have something to hug and something to put under/between your knees. Sometimes I also like having that extra pillow on my back when I'm sleeping on my side, or a pillow cradling each arm if I'm sleeping on my back because I want to feel snuggled. Occasionally, I'll wake up and a pillow or two will be on the floor, but I'll usually have ended up with a pretty good sleep in the process.

Pillow Box Video

However you sleep, make sure your environment is ideal for being comfortable and uninterrupted. Sleep is an extremely important part of the recovery process for both your body and your brain, and for people like me, it's a complete reset button. Make the most of this third of your life!

Good night! ;)


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