Why Do We Need Better Sleep?
I love sleeping in, napping, “resting my eyes” while my daughter sings the same song to me for the 32nd time, and any other form of physical rest. But sleep is much more than a favorite pastime. Studies have found that getting adequate sleep can help to improve your memory and creativity, reduce stress and depression, maintain a healthy weight, increase athletic performance, and curb inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, premature aging, and more. Sad news – studies have also found that sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t make up for missing sleep through the week. So how the heck can we get more and better sleep? I’m glad you asked.
How to Get Better Sleep
- Evaluate your sleep environment. People generally enjoy better sleep in places that are cool, dark, and quiet. Try turning the thermostat a few degrees cooler or using a bedside fan. Close the bedroom door and block light from windows. Hearing any background sounds? Recurring noise can disrupt your sleep, whether from traffic, a spouse’s snoring, or those super annoying cicadas that just. Keep. Coming. Back. Consider earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine (or app) to help block distracting background noise. My brother runs the bathroom vent fan next door to his kids’ bedroom to block noise from the street. Get creative!
- Teach your brain that bedrooms are for sleeping. Reserve your bedroom for sleeping, not watching tv, surfing the internet, or working. Once your mind associates your bedroom with sleep, it will become easier and easier to fall and stay asleep when you climb into bed.
- Move your phone away from your bedside. I know, I know, this one is so hard! But studies have shown that both the blue light from your screen and your wifi signal are disruptive to sleep patterns. Add that to the fact that I’m a neurotic “badge clearer”, and must check and clear phone notifications as soon as I see them, and I may lay in bed for an hour before I actually fall asleep. To solve this issue, I started turning my phone to Do Not Disturb mode while sleeping, to keep all texts and notifications from waking me up. It will also block calls unless the caller is super persistent (Hi, mom!) and calls twice in a row.
- Stick to the same sleep schedule, even on weekends. Your body likes routines! And the longer you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, the more easily your body will fall asleep when that time of day rolls around. Regular sleep schedule not possible? Try a sleep cycle website or app (available for Android or iOS)! These sites suggest multiple bed or wake times based on 90-minute sleep cycles. The idea is to have your alarm going off in-between sleep cycles, when you’re in a much lighter sleep, to make waking up that much easier.
- Watch what you eat and drink. Obviously having caffeine too late in the day can keep you from falling asleep. But did you know that caffeine is hiding in chocolate, and in some pain relievers and weight loss supplements? Experts suggest avoiding caffeine and nicotine (another stimulant) past noon if you want a good night’s sleep. While alcohol can initially make you feel sleepy, making it a tempting sleep aid, it will actually cause you to wake up more often throughout the night. You’ll also want to avoid heavy or big meals within an hour or two of bedtime. They can overload your digestive system and make for more restless sleep.
- Exercise. Completing just 20-30 minutes of light exercise several times a week can lead to higher quality sleep. The key is to finish any more vigorous exercise (if that’s your style) 3 to 4 hours before going to bed to avoid a late-night energy rush. Check out How to Find a Workout You Can Stick With for some tips on finding your soulmate…of exercise routines.
- Keep naps early in the day and under 20-30 minutes. Napping for longer or later in the day feels nothing short of heavenly as it’s happening. But it can make it more challenging to fall asleep later that night.
- Manage stress. Try to avoid holding sensitive conversations, making difficult decisions, or discussing a stressful day at work within 2-3 hours of bedtime. It’s challenging to “turn off” your brain and stress responses when you’re laying in bed with nothing else to do but think about those things. Experts suggest slowing down and focusing on more relaxing activities an hour before bed. Long-term, chronic stress can also keep you up at night. Check out How to Reduce Stress – 6 Practical Ways to Deal with Your Most Stressful Moments for some practical steps to reduce stress permanently.
- See a doctor. If you’ve tried all or most of these techniques and are still struggling to sleep, it might be time to ask your doctor about it. You may have an underlying medical issue causing your lack of quality sleep.
Wrap It Up
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” It’s such a popular saying and way of thinking, pushing sleep to the bottom of our list of priorities. But sleep (a) benefits you physically and mentally, and (b) makes you feel awesome!
So how can we get more and better sleep? First, evaluate your sleep environment, teach your brain that bedrooms are for sleeping, put your phone away, and establish a regular sleep schedule. Next, watch what you eat and drink close to bedtime, exercise, keep naps short and early, and manage stress. Finally, be sure to see your doctor if you’re still having trouble sleeping.
Give yourself the gift of sleep! I promise you won’t regret it!
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