Do you sleep like a baby every night? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you’re in good company. Studies show that 62% of Americans have some trouble sleeping every week and up to 40 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder. And while doctors and sleep specialists still debate whether 8 hours of shut-eye is the optimal amount, countless millions of people don’t even come close to that much restful, uninterrupted sleep every night.
Here are some tips and techniques to help you sleep better and wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning.
1. Pay attention to your sleep patterns.
Your body and mind adhere to natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness called the circadian rhythm. This internal clock could vary based on many small factors, like seasons, the amount of exercise you get, noise as you try to sleep, and light. So it’s important to pay attention to what works for you and helps you feel the best rested so you can replicate those conditions. Keep a sleep journal for a few weeks, recording what you did during the day and especially at night before sleep, the duration and quality of your sleep, and how you felt when you woke up.
2. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time.
Most people’s bed times fluctuate wildly based on their activity level, what they have planned for the next day, and if they’re up late having a good time on the weekend. But the best way to sleep well is to establish a consistent bedtime and stick to it. If you want to make changes, then do so gradually.
You should also try to stick to the same wake up time every morning. If you are getting plenty of sleep then you won’t even need an alarm – your body will wake up naturally.
3. Create a calming routine for bedtime.
Most people who don’t sleep well have a hectic or active nighttime routine and then expect to fall asleep easily once they lay down. But your body needs to unwind and get in a relaxed state, which triggers your circadian rhythms. About an hour before bed time, try reading a book in soft light, taking a hot bath or shower, listening to relaxing music, deep breathing, or stretching or light yoga.
4. Take a nap during the day…but only a short one.
Naps during the middle of the day are great to help you feel refreshed and energize your brain, and making up for lost sleep the night before, but make sure you don’t nap for longer then 30 minutes. More than that and you could end up groggy the rest of the day and unable to sleep that night.
5. What you eat and drink really affects your sleep.
You probably want to eat smaller meals at night because heavy meals with fatty or rich foods take more work to digest, which will interfere with your sleep. For that same reason, stay away from acidic or spicy foods in the evening, too.
If you’re still hungry and need a snack before bedtime, eat something light that combines tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, which will calm the brain and allow you to sleep easier. Those could include:
Half a turkey sandwich,
A small bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal,
Granola with low-fat milk or yogurt,
If you have trouble sleeping stay away from alcohol – it might help you doze off faster but it will wake you up and reduce your sleep quality. Most people also love their coffee, especially I they don’t sleep well (sense a vicious cycle?) but caffeine can impact your sleep patterns even 12 hours after drinking it!
6. How to fight off after-dinner fatigue.
One of the crucial times for people who don’t sleep well is right after dinner, when they feel drowsy and start becoming sedentary. But by winding down too early in the evening, they actually disrupt their later sleep pattern. So if you’re feeling like melting into the couch in front of the TV after dinner, get up and do some light activity or something fun that gives you energy instead. Even an after-dinner walk can boost your energy levels and help you feel much more relaxed later on.
7. Get some sunlight.
Melatonin is the hormone that’s controlled by your exposure to light and in turn regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When it’s dark in the evening (or winter) your body secretes more melatonin to make you sleepy, and it produces less during sunny times. Unfortunately, modern life disrupts a lot of peoples’ melatonin levels. Sitting in an office all day under artificial light is one of the biggest conditions that mess with your melatonin levels, and the same can be said od staring at backlit screens – television, computers, and smart phones – so often.
So make sure you roll down the windows and open the sun roof, eat lunch outside, take breaks outdoors, and go for a walk when there’s still light.
8. Regular exercise will really help you sleep better.
People sleep way better if they are consistently active and get exercise. You don’t have to spend countless hours at the gym – even 30 minutes of movement and walking a day helps your ability to get a good night’s rest.
9. Turn off those electronics!
Consider all of your technology the enemy when it comes to sleeping well, so turn off your television at least two hours before you go to bed and minimize time on smart phones, iPads, and your computer. Reading on a Kindle if you want to read eBooks, which isn’t backlit. All of this technology is probably the single biggest detractor from good sleep for our modern society.
You should also use dimmers on lights in the bedroom and close curtains to make sure the bedroom stays dark. When you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, use a flashlight or have a glow night-light so you don’t have to flip the switch and flood the room with light.
10. Keep your bedroom cool and only use your bed for sleep.
A bedroom that’s cool and has good ventilation is most conducive to a good night sleep, so set the thermostat to around 65 degrees and keep a fan or humidifier going. (The ‘white’ noise those create also helps many people sleep.)
Use your bed only for sleep instead of watching TV, reading, or eating there, and soon, your body and mind will be trained to doze off easily once you hit the bed.
11. Calm your mind.
Too often, our thoughts consume us, and especially at night it’s hard to turn off stress, concern, anger, and even positive excitement, inhibiting sleep. There are several ways to cope with this. First, practice relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and mediation before you go to bed every night. You can also write out your To Do list for the next day so those tasks won’t be on your mind. If a thought or feeling keeps you awake on a consistent basis, write it down on a pad you keep on your bed stand, then revisit it in the morning so you can address it with clarity and positivity.
12. What to do if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep.
Some insomniacs have trouble going to sleep, while others doze off fine but then wake up and can’t get back to sleep. If you are the latter (I know I am!) then try to stay out of your head when you wake up. Visualize a beautiful place that makes you feel calm and feel the sensation of rest. Don’t worry about falling asleep – just focus on feeling relaxed and your breathing. If you still can’t fall asleep after 15 minutes or so don’t fight it – get up (without turning on bright lights) and do a non-stimulating activity, like reading a book, listening to music, or watering plants. If something is worrying you then write it down so your mind will feel with confidence that it doesn’t need to hang on. Then lie back down and try it again.
Warning: If trouble sleeping persists, it may be something more.
Most of us can greatly increase the quality of our sleep with these strategies, but if you’re still struggling with sleep, it’s impacting your health, job, or relationships, or you feel depressed or anxious, visit a doctor. You might have a condition like sleep apnea, which is easily treated, or a sleep specialist may recommend gentle prescription medication just to help you get in a better pattern of sleep.