What if I told you that a single habit played a major role in your mood, stress, energy, weight, immune function, hormone regulation, metabolism, memory, learning and risk for chronic disease? I don’t know what you would say, but I would say, “wow, that sounds kinda interesting, perhaps you could elaborate on what this little magical habit is and how I can make it part of my life!” Because I love you all so dearly and know the suspense is killing you (unless you read the title of this article or last weeks blog…), I will let you in on that magical habit: Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep a Night (or whatever number has you waking up rested and refreshed)! Find sleep recommendations for various age groups here.
I realize this is easier said than done, so today is all about exploring ways to help you reach your sleep sweet spot. After consulting numerous sources on “how to get the best sleep” and taking into account what I have learned from my clients and my own sleeping experience, I have compiled a best’s best list. I sincerely hope these tips help you to sleep like a blissed out baby, I’m talking arms in touchdown mode status…
Tips for Getting to Touchdown Mode
Best of Naked Eating:
- Kick phones and other electronics with screens out of the bedroom & try to refrain from using them 2 hours before bed:
- Take a deep breath and bear with me here. Research has shown that even small electronic devices emit enough light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. No bueno! If you are one that finds yourself scrolling through social media feeds, the Chive, Reddit, etc. at 11pm you might ask how productive that habit is for you; unless it leaves you getting an uh-mazing sleep this is another reason to ditch the phone at night.
- I realize many of you may use your phone as an alarm clock, but if it is too tempting to have it on your nightstand then go ahead and splurge on a new alarm clock to symbolize your new commitment to getting a good night’s sleep!
- Go to bed feeling calm and positive:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Every night while you are in bed write down or think of 3 things that you are grateful for. I try to involve my husband in this occasionally and it is a nice way to connect. Disclaimer: don’t feel like this has to be a time consuming deep thoughts activity with Jack Handey. One of your gratitudes could be that you felt fabulous in your sweet new socks!
- Prayers and devotions
- Take a bath
- This is my husbands favorite and he could put pretty much anyone to sleep with his reading material. I’m not kidding, he would read about congress to Helen when she was in my belly, snooze fest! It’s not my fault if she’s boring 😉
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Don’t stress out if you aren’t falling asleep:
- Try to remind yourself that even if you aren’t sleeping you are still getting rest. Taking the pressure off falling asleep is sometimes just what you need.
- One trick that I find helpful when my brain seems to be wondering in every which direction is trying to picture a white, blank piece of paper. Every time my mind wanders away from the blank paper, I gently stop my thoughts and bring my focus back to the blank piece of paper.
- Lose the snooze and set your alarm to tell you when to go to bed.
- Use your alarm to help you know when to go bed to get the right amount of quality sleep. Don’t use the snooze button to potentially interrupt those final minutes of REM sleep! Set your alarm in the morning for the last possible minute you need to be out of bed.
- Get as much natural light exposure as possible.
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning; the closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. Skip the sunglasses! The light on your face will help you wake up and feel more alert.
- Spend more time outside during daylight. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- If necessary, use a light therapy box. A light therapy box simulates sunshine and can be especially useful during short winter days when there’s limited daylight.
- Avoid Caffeine [4-6 hours before bed], Alcohol [3 hours before bedtime], Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
- Caffeinated products decrease a person’s quality of sleep. As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
- Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
- Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
- A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep? To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after ten years.)
- Also, if a pet regularly wakes you during the night, you may want to consider keeping it out of your bedroom.
- It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
- Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
- Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep.
- Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.
- Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
- Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.
- And if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music [this can also be done at the beginning of the night if you can’t fall asleep and it has been 20 minutes]. And keep the lights dim; bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed.
- Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
- Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep.
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.
- Nap Early—Or Not at All
- Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.
- Lighten Up on Evening Meals
- Eating a pepperoni pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night, snack on foods that (in your experience) won’t disturb your sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates.
- Balance Fluid Intake
- Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
- Exercise Daily and Early [3 hours before bed]
- Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed.
- Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it’s done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep.
- [These gentle exercises are ok and can even be relaxing before bed: gentle yoga, deep breathing or stretching.]
- Follow Through
- Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. That said, not all sleep problems are so easily treated and could signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical sleep problem. If your sleep difficulties don’t improve through good sleep hygiene, you may want to consult your physician or a sleep specialist. Learn more at When to Seek Treatment.
Coach’s Corner: Journal time! If you are currently working on a wellness goal(s), reflect on how it is going and what you are noticing (benefits, challenges, etc.). Moving forward, what goal(s) will best serve you? Maybe it’s practicing consistency, making changes or dropping some/all goals.
If you are motivated to improve your sleep this week, here is some food for thought:
- After reading the tips for getting a better sleep, what tip stuck out to you most?
- As you envision yourself working towards that that tip, what do you see yourself doing?
- What preparation steps might be required, what thoughts will support your success?
- How might you incorporate someone else in your goal or gain support from someone with your goal?
Sweet Dreams, Chris
Sources for today’s post:
- Benefits of Sleep- Harvard
- Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep- Harvard
- Sleep Like a Baby- Zen Habits
- The Sleep/Weight Loss Connection- Psychology Today
- Tips For a Good Night’s Sleep- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- How to Sleep Better- Help Guide