Sleep is necessary for your health and well-being. It impacts important things such as our susceptibility to disease, job performance and safety while driving. Yet many of us engage in behaviors at bedtime, that reduce both the quality and quantity of our sleep.
In this post we’ll review simple steps, that you can take, to get your best night's sleep, night after night.
One of the first barriers to good sleep is not having a consistent bedtime. A reliable bedtime may not be an option for shift workers such as healthcare professionals or food service workers, etc. But, for those whose jobs and schedules have routine hours, there is a benefit to setting a specific bedtime and sticking to it.
To determine your bedtime, first ask: what time do I need to (or want to) wake up each morning on work days? Now count backwards enough hours to allow yourself adequate rest. Most adults age 24-64 need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep. Younger people need more sleep; older adults need less.
Maintaining this fundamental good sleep habit on weekends or days off, will help you get consistently good rest.
If you find it difficult to settle down for your bedtime, one of the most important things you can do is to avoid blue frequency light, starting at least one hour before settling in for the night. This means setting a time to put away smartphones and televisions each night and making peace with your fear of missing out (FOMO).
According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Cells in our retinas monitor light levels and other changes in our environment in the evening, sending this information to our brains. As our eyes detect dimmer conditions, our brains prepare our bodies for sleep by secreting the sleep hormone melatonin and lowering our body temperatures. Morning light on our retinas triggers changes in our bodies that prepare us to be alert and awake."
Unfortunately, it seems that televisions, computer monitors, video games, tablets and smartphones, may emit frequencies of light similar to morning light, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms and sleep.
Another way to signal to our bodies and brains that it’s time to rest can be lowering the thermostat - drops in body temperature can trigger the desire to sleep, as the brain uses both light levels and temperature to decide when it’s time to rest.
Physically relaxing and de-stressing mentally are just as important to healthy rest as dimming the lights and dropping the temperature.
Mindfulness and/or meditation activities, one hour before bedtime, is a great time to enjoy these stress reducers: Mindful breathing, reciting mantras and even very light yoga are all good options.
Other options are preparing a warm bath, herbal tea or other caffeine-free drink - all of these activities can help us de-stress. Adult coloring books have also become popular recently, as a simple way to unwind. Things like the above-mentioned, occupy just enough of our minds to cut down on any stressful internal dialogues we may be running.
If you find yourself anxious without your smartphone and other devices to occupy your mind, consider listening to soothing music.
And if you still find your mind abuzz, try writing in a journal to help lay these loose ends to rest for the night. Mentally, the hardest things to let go of are the things we can’t control and the endless contingencies we can’t prepare for. Sometimes the best way to let go of them is to set aside a little time to deal with them fully, to commit them to paper, or to just give yourself a specified amount of time, and then shift your attention elsewhere. When you’ve heard them out, seek to distract yourself with pleasant, low-impact activities like those mentioned above.
If you can:
These steps should go a long way to helping you get more sleep each night.