Do you ever have trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep? Or maybe you fall asleep, stay asleep, but in the morning you don’t feel rested? You have probably heard the usual tips for getting good sleep: avoid caffeine, maintain the same sleep schedule throughout the week (even on weekends), make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and use your bed only for rest – not for watching television or catching up on office paperwork.
If you’ve tried all those suggestions and still need help, I have created some Dos and Don’ts for getting better sleep. And believe me – I know a thing or two about this! A night owl by nature, I have to regularly and diligently monitor and adjust my sleep habits because otherwise I will easily fall into a habit of staying up until 4 a.m. and waking up at noon!
Exercise – Besides all the other many reasons you know to exercise, it also helps you get good sleep. Exercise gets your heart rate up and burns calories, but for sleep purposes, it also adds an element of physical tiredness. Think of it as a “beneficial stressor” to your body. Your brain actually compensates for the physical stress of a good workout by increasing the amount of time you spend in deep sleep (also called Stage 4 sleep).
Just be sure to exercise earlier in the day and not right before bedtime, otherwise the adrenaline rush and increased body temperature could also interfere with your sleep!
Use the sunrise and sunset to help – If you can, go outside or stand in sunlight immediately after getting up in the morning. Your body interprets the sunlight as a signal that it is time to wake up. The sun can actually help tell your body’s internal clock to register that time of day as your time to wake up. When you do that, the clock will also set itself as “time to sleep” approximately 14 to 16 hours later.
You can use the sunset for a similar purpose. Although the sun probably sets at a time earlier than your bedtime, if you spend a few minutes outside as the sun is setting, it does help your body recognize that this is the time to wind down.
Use a relaxation technique – This isn’t a New Age trick you need to learn – you already know a few relaxation techniques. Counting sheep (really!) is one. The idea is that you want to occupy your mind with something relaxing and somewhat mundane, so that your mind can relax too.
Another technique you can use is deep breathing. Just do a long inhale, hold for a few counts, and then do a long exhale. You can do this quietly and focus on your breaths to clear your mind.
One technique I learned years ago that I still use today is a gradual relaxation from head to toe. You focus on each body part and consciously make the effort to relax it. Start with your head and relax it by allowing it to feel heavy on your pillow while also feeling it completely supported by your pillow. Next make your eyes feel heavy, then your mouth, then your neck. Going through each body part really creates a feeling of whole-body relaxation, and I’m usually long asleep before I even get to my shoulders!
Shower before bed – If you routinely shower in the morning, that can help wake you and it can be another signal to your body that this is its time to wake up. If you prefer evening showers, however, make it at least two hours before your bedtime. Warm showers or baths raise your body temperature, and your body temperature actually needs to be lowered in order to go to sleep. So if you raise your body temperature right before bedtime, it will take much longer for you to fall asleep.
Go straight from busy activity to lights out – Bedtime rituals help signal your body that it is time to sleep. It also puts you in a sleeping state of mind. For some people, a bedtime routine is as simple as walking around the house, turning off the lights, and checking on the kids. Other people need more elaborate bedtime rituals.
Personally, because I’m a night owl, I have a long wind down process that gradually goes from reading in bed to turning out the lights, to playing a mindless game on my phone with the brightness turned way down. I have to gradually make things calmer, quieter, and darker so that I can get to sleep. You might find a little soft music sets a calming tone, or maybe journaling helps you put some closure to the day. Try to find a routine that works for you – it can make all the difference.
Let your mind keep running – If you turn off the lights and find instead of winding down, your mind is spinning with thoughts of things you need to do, ideas for a work project, or errands you need to run, try making a To Do list before you turn in for the night. This might make it easier for you to disengage with your day and set aside all the other things that are going through your mind. Your nighttime routine will help with this too. The point is that you want to calm your brain and feel relaxed before you try to sleep.
Getting good sleep is important for your health. Although you might be accustomed to sleep deprivation, it really does impair your judgment and reaction time. Lack of sleep also affects you in more profound ways. It weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, and research also suggests that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates hunger – and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night.
If you have trouble falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep schedule, try some of the tips above. You may find you actually look forward to going to bed, instead of dreading the nightly tossing and turning that you might endure now. And, as always, if you have any sleep tips, please share them in the comments or share them on our facebook page!