You crawl into bed, exhausted, and lie there staring at the ceiling… the walls… the underside of your pillow… but can’t fall asleep for anything.
The pattern continues until about 4:00 or 5:00 AM when you finally doze off—only to be woken by the alarm.
Or, maybe you fall asleep fast… only to wake up in the wee hours, unable to drift off again. You’re fully awake but know that fatigue will set in as soon as the day really starts.
Although sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our overall health, it’s often one of the most difficult to achieve.
Racing thoughts, stress, worry, tension, and other factors can all stop you from getting the sleep you need.
The good news is: there are things you can do (tonight even!) to optimize your ability to rest, recharge, and tackle tomorrow with energy. I like to call it “bedtime hygiene.”
The following are some of my favorite tips for promoting a better quality of sleep.
You’ll be surprised how many do’s — and don’ts — you’ve been ignoring for years!
Watch your Habits
“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” — Vince Lombardi
Go to bed and wake up the same time every day, even on weekends.
A tough one, but if your schedule allows for it, you will train your circadian rhythm to adjust to your schedule, not the other way around.
Make your bed every morning.
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” — Admiral William McRaven
Once again, mom was right. Making your bed actually helps you rest. In addition to keeping your sleep space neat and calming, this habit will encourage your brain to associate turning down the covers with calming down your body for sleep.
Keep a sleep diary.
A sleep diary helps you keep track of the following elements and track any obvious patterns that develop or that you could modify to improve your sleep. There are apps now that do a lot of this for you. Your sleep diary should contain statements about:
- Bedtime and time you get up
- Awakenings and why you woke up
- Time in bed vs. time sleeping
- Did you fall asleep or take a nap during the day?
- Any special events that may have changed your sleep patterns
- Any exposure to drugs or medication
There are also sleep questionnaires (Epworth and Stanford Sleepiness Scale) available to help you classify your sleep if you are interested.
Cultivate Your Space
“Be intentional about the spaces you create…” — Theo Epstein
You may have heard the adage that the bedroom should only be used for two things: sleep and sex/procreation. Well — it is true. Get rid of computers, TVs, and other distractions. Choose calming and warm colors for your walls, blankets, etc.
Continue to cultivate a safe sleep space with these tips:
Keep your room clean and decluttered.
A neat/clean sleeping environment/room is essential to your ability to fall asleep. Health professionals don’t all agree on exactly why this is, but it does seem to hold true.
Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable.
Your mattress should be changed/replaced every 5–8 years, possibly more often if you are older than 40. Your favorite pillow, slobber stains and all, needs to be replaced every 2 years at max. In the interim, keep your mattress and pillows clean, using hot water for pillows and mattress covers, and then running them through the dryer on high heat to kill dust mites at least every few weeks, if not more often. For your mattress, use baking soda to suck up moisture and vacuum it off after it has sat for a day. Do this at least once a quarter.
Soundproof your sleeping room.
Your brain still hears sounds when you’re sleeping. In fact, even if you don’t wake up, noises can shift your sleep pattern or stage. Think about the noises that are likely to disrupt your doze and do your best (find a way) to limit, if not completely remove them, while you are sleeping.
You will still wake up if the sound is relevant to you. For example, a mother of a newborn baby can sleep through her husband’s snoring, but the second that baby peeps…she is up! Getting a fan for some white noise is a great way to distract your brain from outside noises that could change your sleeping.
Make your room as dark as possible and start dimming your room lights as you prepare for bed.
Light and darkness have massive control over your circadian clock. If you have a bright, artificially-lit room, it will be tougher to get to sleep. As the sun sets, melatonin releases, telling the brain and body it is about time for bed. Bright light, especially artificial light, stops this. Make sure you have low-wattage incandescent lights in your room.
If you are one who gets up at night to pee, make sure you have little night lights to prevent you from turning on a bright overhead. Get dark shades for the windows and order them two sizes larger than you may need, so they stop light from sneaking around corners and waking you up.
Keep your room cool at night.
According to the experts, an ideal room temperature for sleep is 65 degrees.
A room that is too hot disrupts the natural cooling mechanism that prepares you for sleep. Some studies suggest that certain forms of insomnia are dysregulation of body temperature — when you don’t cool down as you should at night and it keeps you awake.
Make your sleeping area smell good.
Smells, good and bad, can affect or influence your dreams and help you doze off every night. For example, lavender has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate and get you into a relaxed state for sleep. If your husband ate Taco Bell before bed, his smell alone may change your ability to sleep and, at the very least, give you nightmares. Make sure your sleeping area smells good.
Watch Out for These Rest Wreckers!
“I generally avoid temptation… unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West
You can be doing everything else right, but if you don’t avoid these habits, your sleep may still be sabotaged.
Do not eat or drink before bed. (But if you do, make it the correct food.)
Never drink alcohol before bed. You may think you sleep better, but with alcohol in your system, you never get into the important deep stages of sleep. If you do eat before bed, make it a light meal with good protein and clean carbs.
For weight loss, ideally, never eat anything less than a few hours before bed. But it’s true that carbohydrates increase insulin, which increases serotonin in the brain and may help you sleep better. Believe it or not, but a potato works well for sleep.
You must decide, however, what is more beneficial for your goals. Eating before bed to get better sleep, or not eating before bed to optimize anabolic and fat burning hormones?
Do not exercise before bed.
It might seem like a good idea to tire yourself out if sleep usually evades you. But, if your schedule allows it, get a few hours of rest before going to bed. Exercise gets all the stimulant hormones running and, in some people, they are slow to slow down.
Nap on a regular basis.
A 20-minute nap will increase alertness and concentration, and even improve your mood. A longer nap, though, and you may very well wake up during the wrong phase of your sleep cycle to feel groggy and tired.
Stop all handheld electronics when the sun goes down.
It might be the most difficult one on the list… but it’s one of the MOST helpful.
Handheld electronics emit a blue light in the 460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum; it stops your sleep hormone, melatonin, from being released. Your brain thinks it’s high noon.
Ideally, put your handheld electronics away a few hours before bed, and never read from one in bed.
Sleep is Critical to Good Health
You may have been told that losing some zz’s isn’t that big of a deal — but it’s actually an epidemic. Lack of rest is becoming one of the main reasons primary care doctors are consulted on a regular basis.
Putting these steps into practice takes some focus, but if you’re looking to get the most out of life, to achieve your health goals, or just to have enough energy to get through the day, they can be what makes or breaks your success.