It is easy to take some things for granted like sleeping for example, however for many, sound sleep is something elusive. For those that suffer with insomnia or other sleep disorders, It seems like the more people try to fall asleep the harder it can be. Given that we generally sleep close to a third of our lives the quality of our sleep is important. Sleep has a profound effect on our energy level, the effectiveness of our immune system, mood, cognitive function, memory, weight management, stress level and therefore affects our overall quality of life.
Some people sleep like babies without any issues falling or staying asleep. Others however struggle with one or both of those, or worse yet, are engaging in habits they may not realize that actually make falling or staying asleep unnecessarily more difficult.
If you are someone who knowingly skimps on sleep in an effort to expand your awake/ productive hours, hopefully you will be convinced that sleep is not the thing to sacrifice in the interest of trying to get more done, as tempting as that is.
If you are looking for consistently better sleep, read on. Here’s some do’s and don’ts when it comes to bagging those zzzz’s.
Here’s what is on the Do Not List.
Do not let your bedtime be random and all over the board. Bodies need consistency in both bedtime routines and time to bed. Establishing the same bedtime helps train your body and brain when sleep is coming and helps maintain a good circadian rhythm.
Do not consume alcohol before bed. As tempting as it is to have a nightcap or two, it is a myth that alcohol will help you sleep better. While it may help some of the time to fall asleep, once the effects of alcohol wear off most people will wake up in the middle of the night. Additionally alcohol interferes with REM sleep and can also worsen snoring and other nocturnal breathing issues. Many drinkers find they wake up many times a night. Abstain from alcohol within a few hours of bedtime.
Do not eat a big meal late at night. Eating late at night or eating a really big meal interferes with the ability to get a good nights sleep and can make you prone to indigestion/ heartburn which can disrupt your sleep. Additionally, if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, it’s also best to eat more during breakfast or lunch and taper down your food intake as the night wears on.
Do not exercise within 2 or 3 hours of bedtime. While exercise is so vital to our health and wellbeing it is also stimulating. If you work out too close to bedtime you will make it more difficult to train your brain that it is time to wind down and move into relaxation mode.
Nix the tobacco. Cravings for nicotine can actually wake people up during the night. Tobacco is harmful on so many levels, and sleep disturbances are just one. When you quit smoking your sleep may be disturbed temporarily, however those that have kicked the habit report great overall improvements in the quality of their sleep. If you do use, don’t smoke or chew within a couple of hours before bed.
Do not be on screens within an hour of bedtime. The blue light from screens, whether a computer, i pad, cell phone etc. trains our brain to be awake at a time we want to help our brain wind down. Blue light suppresses the brain’s production of sleep inducing melatonin. Additionally, don’t stimulate your brain late at night with bright lights, action packed TV shows, videos, or games.
Instead, Do this!
Make time to move your body daily. People who engage in some form of fitness, whether walking, jogging, yoga, lifting weights, swimming etc. enjoy in general much better quality of sleep and deeper sleep. Exercise is truly the only proven ( non toxic) way to improve the quality of your sleep. Better sleep is only one of the many benefits that exercising on a regular basis affords.
Eat healthy and strategically. Make breakfast and/ or lunch your bigger meals, and then enjoy a small dinner and eat a small protein snack within 60-90 minutes of bed. This will keep you from feeling hungry which can interfere with falling asleep. Be sure to eat protein throughout the day and keep your diet as clean as possible.
Hydrate throughout the day. By drinking water all throughout the day you stay well hydrated. You will want to ensure that you are not dehydrated before bed and guzzling water late at night which could make you more likely to wake up during the night.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Taking sixty minutes to intentionally wind down can make a big difference in getting a good night’s sleep. Slow down and prepare your body and brain for sleep by lowering lights. Engage in relaxing activities like a hot bath or shower, sip on some chamomile tea, listen to soft music or read, try prayer or meditation- any and all of these can be conducive to a good nights sleep.
Journal or write your next day to do list before bed. Writing down your thoughts, and /or your task list prior to bed, frees up your brain space, rather than keeping you up as you try to remember all that you need to do the next day. Research tells us that this is one of the most effective ways to fall asleep.
Establish same time to bed/ same wake up time. Get into bed same time nightly and wake up by setting an alarm at the same time each morning. This helps to establish and maintain circadian cycles. Do this even on weekends.
Keep naps short if you nap at all. Some people do not need naps and others benefit greatly from them. What matters most is keeping them short no longer than 30-40 minutes in order to have them not interfere with sleeping at night.
Ensure you invest in a comfortable bed, keep your bedroom dark, and lower the temperature as most people sleep best in a cooler room. Equally important is not to have any “hot topic” conversations with your spouse, partner or roommate within a couple hours before bedtime. Save those important conversations during daytime hours so a challenging conversation won’t keep you up at night.
Good sleep is crucial to our overall health and wellbeing. If you suffer from insomnia, or waking up in the night, consider utilizing these tips to renew your commitment to quality sleep. Your body, brain, energy, mood, etc. will benefit.