In my last post, If You (Don’t) Snooze, You Lose, I wrote about how important it is to get good sleep and to get enough of it. This week I’m presenting tips to help facilitate that sleep. I’m no expert, and I struggle with sleep like most people do, but I’ve been experimenting with these suggestions and I think they’re helping. I hope they’ll help you, too.
1) First and foremost: make sleep a priority
Set a sleep schedule and stick to it—every day of the week. Decide on a bedtime based on the time you have to be awake for work or school; allow for at least eight hours of sleep. Keeping the same bedtime and wake time every day (yes, even on weekends!) is crucial to getting your internal clock to function properly.
2) Be active
Regular physical exercise improves sleep. If you aren’t already in the habit of working out, now is the time to start. Even a short walk each day should improve the quality of your sleep. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately; experts say it can take a few weeks for exercise’s sleep benefit to kick in.
3) Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re overweight, dropping some pounds will help you sleep better. And here’s a bonus: once you’re sleeping better you’ll find it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
4) Quit caffeine early in the day
The caffeine in coffee, tea, sodas and chocolate can stay in your system for 12 hours or more, so plan your daily “last call” for caffeine accordingly.
5) Address stress
Be proactive about reducing the stress in your life so it will be less likely to cause sleepless nights. For example: if money worries keep you up at night, make a budget and stick to it; get financial advice from an expert if you need to. Then, when the nighttime worries come, you can firmly say, “I’m already working on that. I’m going to sleep now.” Another idea is to keep a notebook on your bedside table. When persistent thoughts keep you from sleeping, jot them down and tell yourself, “I will deal with this in the morning.”
6) Pay attention to the way lighting affects sleep
The body produces a natural hormone called melatonin in response to darkness. Melatonin helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Exposing yourself to plenty of natural sunlight or bright artificial lighting during the day will keep your melatonin levels low, allowing you to be alert and active. Using dimmer lighting as bedtime approaches will raise your melatonin levels, enabling you to sleep. It’s a good idea to avoid using electronic devices like TVs, computers and cell phones for an hour or so before you plan to sleep, as the light they emit mimics sunlight and can reduce melatonin levels.
7) Eat light at night
Most people experience better sleep when they eat a light dinner and don’t eat again until breakfast. If you decide to snack before bed, choose wisely. Sweet snacks, including fruit, can cause a spike in blood sugar that may interrupt sleep. High-protein, low sugar snacks, such as a handful of nuts or some cottage cheese, are a better option.
8) Limit liquids at night
- Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is a classic sleep-interrupter. Avoid this by hydrating yourself well earlier in the day, then stop drinking liquids 3 hours before bedtime.
- Alcoholic beverages may make you nod off, but they’re likely to interrupt your sleep later on. If you’re planning to have a drink, it’s best to have it before or with dinner.
This last hour of the day should be spent winding down and preparing for sleep. Avoid anything stressful as you approach bedtime, such as paying bills, arguing, watching news, etc. Develop a bedtime relaxation routine that works for you. Your routine may include taking a leisurely bath, reading a good book or listening to peaceful music.
10) Prepare a soothing sleep environment
- If possible, eliminate anything work-related or stress-inducing from your bedroom. Experts recommend removing TVs and computers from the bedroom.
- Darken the room. Remove or cover any source of light (even the digital display on an alarm clock can hinder sleep), or use an eye mask. If you read in bed, use a small bedside lamp rather than bright overhead lights.
- Studies show that most people sleep better with consistent ambient noise than with total silence. White noise helps muffle other sounds that can interrupt sleep. A fan, air purifier, white noise machine or cell phone app are all ways to introduce restful noise into your sleep environment.
- Making the bedroom slightly cool makes most people sleep better: this can be achieved by adjusting the thermostat, using a fan, using lighter-weight covers or opening a window.
11) If you can’t sleep, get up
Instead of tossing and turning, get out of bed and do something restful, like reading a book or working on a quiet hobby until you feel drowsy. If you miss sleep during the night, force yourself to get up on time anyway: this will help to reset your inner clock and make you more likely to sleep better the next night.
12) Say no to the snooze alarm
Hitting the snooze alarm repeatedly wastes precious sleep time because it keeps you from entering the deep restorative sleep that your body and brain need. It is better to set the alarm for the time you actually have to get out of bed.
A few final thoughts . . .
When I was in my twenties I went through a period of time when I was waking up every night in a cold sweat—in mysterious terror. A friend suggested I eat a little protein at night instead of my usual cookie. What a difference that one simple change made for me; I instantly began sleeping through the night again.
I hope one or two of the simple changes I've presented will make a difference for you. But if you try them and still can’t get a good night's sleep, consider a visit with a sleep specialist. The thing that’s keeping you from restful sleep and better health may be easier to treat than you’ve imagined.
Tom Rath, Eat Move Sleep, Missionday, 2013
Photo by Nomao Saeki via Unsplash.com