Sleep: one of life’s many mysteries. So close, yet often just out of reach. If you are a student, career man or woman, parent, or over eighteen, you know sleep can seem like Halley’s comet; rare but amazing when it comes. So, if you’re not getting good rest or any at all, check out the following tips on how to take back the night and optimize your sleep life!
1. Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Practice a consistent sleep routine that will prepare your body for deep, uninterrupted rest. Schedule 30-60 minutes of quiet time to wind down. There are numerous things you can do to relax at the end of the night, so try the activities below or create a detailed pre-sleep ritual that includes multiple practices that will work in tandem to relax you.
• Meditation is a wonderful way to quiet your mind at the end of the night, so spend time focusing on relieving your body of daily stress with deep breaths and calming thoughts.
• Reading: catching up with a good book is another way to focus on winding down. Plan to read a certain amount of chapters or pages to stay on track with your schedule.
• Hot Tea before bed is one of the best things you can do to prepare for deep sleep. Make sure to drink caffeine-free tea, preferably teas with chamomile as the main agent or my personal favorite, Rooibos Red Tea.
• Bubble baths are the ultimate relaxation practice before bed. Take the opportunity to turn your bathroom into a spa for an hour with a fantastic bath complete with candles, bath salts, low music and dim lighting.
• T.V.: 30 minutes in the evening before bed can aid in the relaxation process, as long as you are viewing programs that don’t require intense concentration. HGTV, The Food Network—no Chopped!—and TV Land are great networks to turn to before bed because they feature low intensity shows.
2. Shh… it’s time to go to bed. A concrete, consistent sleep schedule is integral to getting good rest. It is important to know your body and how many hours it takes to function at its best. That may be ten, eight or even six, but make sure you allow enough time for your body to fall asleep and fully rest during those hours. Sticking to a concrete schedule will regulate your sleep pattern so that your body and mind will become accustomed to slowing down at certain times.
When beginning your new sleep schedule, choose a sleep and wake up time that you can stick with. Going to bed at 10:30 P.M. instead of 1 A.M. will not happen overnight, so try adjusting slowly in fifteen minute increments. Do this every night until it becomes second nature to fall asleep at your ideal bedtime. Dimming the lights in the evenings before bed will physically train your body to know that resting time is here, so avoid bright overhead lights, computer screens, tablets, and cell phones.
3. Create a healthy sleep space. Make your sleep space an environment that fosters excellent rest. Eliminate all demanding activities and devices that will take you outside of your sleep space and relaxation time. A dark, cool room around 65 degrees is best, as your body temperature drops when drowsy and reaches its lowest point around 5 A.M., then slowly elevates towards early morning. If the air in your sleep space is too hot or too cold, it can upset your body’s natural temperature shift and cause restlessness.
Make your bed! We all hate doing this, but studies show that people associate a well-made bed with getting a good night’s rest. A bed with clean neat sheets and bedding presents an inviting, comfortable atmosphere; so make sure to tidy up a bit before you head out. A well-made bed is only as good as its bedding; bed surfaces affect your sleep as much as room temperature. Extra firm, board like mattresses are not conducive to good rest, a comfortable and supportive mattress is best. Make sure to replace lumpy pillows that have lost their shape and choose sheets and pajamas that are made with breathable fabrics to regulate body temperature.
4. Get organized! If you are often stressed during the day, find ways to manage it to improve your sleep life. Don’t be held back by things you should have taken care of earlier or things you need to do the next day. I suggest downloading a daily planner app that will sync with your personal calendar, so you can have instant reminders of the things you need to do and scheduled time to do them. You want to make sure you have time to work on what you need to get done, so you don’t have to worry about it at night. Try writing down your worries and concerns earlier in the day and either attend to them or schedule time the next day to attend to them. This way, when you go to bed, you won’t have any lingering stresses.
5. Eat well and exercise your way to the best sleep of your life. Support and encourage general wellness throughout the day, like healthy eating and exercise. It’s proven that you will sleep deeper and longer if you are active during the day. This doesn’t mean you have to be in excellent shape, but lighter exercise like yoga or walks after dinner will aid in optimizing your sleep life.
What you eat before bed and during the day is equally important. If hungry before bed, eat light snacks like cereal or whole wheat crackers. Light carbohydrates are best because they contain tryptophan, which aids in a biological process that can lead to elevated melatonin, which regulates sleep cycles. Of course, avoid fatty, heavy meals as well as spicy foods and caffeine that can be upsetting to the stomach.