Project Best Life | Start with Sleep: A Foundation for Better Sleep

Soda Kuczkowski knows how to sleep. 

The founder of the START WITH SLEEP, LLC, a comprehensive consultation and retail business for all things sleep-related, has educated on the science and benefits of sleep health for more than 17 years, and credits “good sleep” for her ability to maintain a near-constant workload, young motherhood, and a personal life. “I tell people that sleep is a catalyst for both your personal and professional goals, absolutely,” Kuczkowski said.

Our modern era has introduced lifestyle patterns that have broken us away from natural circadian rhythms, with workdays that start before the sun comes up and end long after it’s left the sky, eyes permeated by a constant glowing blue light that emanates from all corners of our lives – in front of us while we work and relax, from our hands while we accomplish everyday tasks. 

However, we have the tools to fight these breaks in the natural world, to retrain ourselves in achieving good sleep every day. This component of health and wellness can often take back seat to other pressing things we need to attend to while awake, but without it, all of those important things suffer. 

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what healthy sleep looks like,” Kuczkowski explained. There’s a statistic that says that 80 percent of the population doesn’t even understand what a healthy lifestyle looks like, and I think that sleep is the cornerstone for that…we don’t really think about sleep as a foundation for health, but it affects our physical, our mental, and our emotional well-being – our overall well-being. So, most certainly it is.”

Good sleep supports good habits, as well. “If we don’t sleep well, we are more likely to become depressed, we’re more likely to engage in behaviors like using drugs and alcohol, right? Because people use alcohol as a nightcap, or they might start using over-the-counter medications, they might start abusing these types of things that become less effective and they really don’t account for restorative sleep,” she said. 

Kuczkowski’s work is couched in getting to the why of an individual’s sleep disorder, which can arise from myriad origins. “There’s an investigative process. When I look at sleep, I say there are five different areas we’re looking at – medical, hormonal, nutritional, stress, and environmental. Environmental is actually the strongest one. The most sleep disturbances come from the environment around us,” she said.

The easiest and quickest way to take steps towards better sleep health is light regulation, she explains. “And it’s absolutely free.” 

To begin seeing the benefits of regulation, Kuczkowski suggests letting your eyes take in about 10 minutes of natural light as the sun rises. “Get that light into the retina of the eye – that sends a signal to our brain: all systems go. It kickstarts us for the day,” she said.

Then, between noon and 2 p.m., take a break and get into natural light for another 10 minutes.

“We have 50 hormones that start and stop numerous functions inside of our bodies – these little clocks that are operating. Light is the strongest influence on our circadian rhythm. Without enough light in the morning we don’t produce a hormone called serotonin, which are happy chemicals that stabilize our mood. We need that as a precursor to melatonin. People think that melatonin is something that you run to the store and buy when you can’t sleep, but we can actually boost it in our system by getting enough blue light from the sun in the morning and at that noon hour,” she explained.

And how do we break free from those ubiquitous artificial blue lights that surround us all day and night? Since turning off all tech at 5 p.m. isn’t an option, we can at least take steps to decrease its damage. 

Blue blocker glasses with red or amber tint can help cut down on this environmental blue light. Grab a pair to catch up on your favorite show without inadvertently binging until 1 a.m., she suggests. “I do that,” she says. “If I watch TV after 8 p.m., those go right on my face. I talk about sleep every day, but I’m with you – I’m up at midnight and I’m like, ‘What happened? I missed my bedtime!’ We need those tools to support us so we can meet those goals and get into bed on time.”

Swapping out a few light bulbs is another relatively inexpensive way to start achieving better sleep now. Kuczkowski suggests using amber lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallway, so even if you have to get up in the night, the lighting promotes a healthy sleep pattern and assists in falling back asleep quickly, she said. Glancing at a phone or an alarm clock that’s emitting blue light will start the brain back into awake mode.

If you follow these light regulation principles for three days, you can reset your entire system, she says. “There’s a study that came out of Toronto that showed that if you were to just pay attention to that light regulation – getting enough during the day, and limiting it at night, that it improves sleep quality by 83 percent.”

Although Kuczkowski’s in the business of sleep, she notes that good sleep is for all. “At the end of the day, I’m not trying to sell you anything,” she said. “Sleep is a natural process, and it’s a necessity – it’s not a luxury, the investment has to be in the habits you create to promote it. The tools used should be to support our behaviors in creating healthier habits.”

Quick Tips for Better Sleep

Take in 10 minutes of natural light in the morning and between 12 and 2 p.m.

Use amber lens blue blocker glasses when viewing screens after 8 p.m. The clear do not help to promote a healthy sleep pattern.

Switch standard household light bulbs out for amber lights in bedroom, bathroom, and hallway.

This series is sponsored by Project Best Life. Buffalo Rising and Project Best Life have teamed up to produce a series on wellness inspiration and advice to direct readers to the people, places, and experiences in Buffalo and beyond that will help them fulfill their health, nutrition, and wellness goals. For more information on how you can live your best life, subscribe to the Project Best Life newsletter.

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