I wake to a ding. It’s 3:04 am.
With blurry eyes I open my phone. It’s an article on WP.
So, here I am in the middle of the night, with tired, burning eyes and I am reading an article on my phone about SLEEP.
No doubt, I need better sleep.
And I’m not alone.
How did you sleep last night?
Does the alarm clock always ring too early?
Many people struggle with sleep. Some have a tough time going to sleep, for others it is difficult to stay asleep. Getting good quality sleep is definitely not easy for everyone.
Some people get up tired and go to bed tired, just to start their routine all over the next day. They are often not even aware that they are lacking sleep because for them, feeling tired is absolutely normal.
Feeling tired all the time?
We all know that sleep is important. We need it to stay healthy and productive. It is vital for our body to rest so it can heal and repair itself.
But just the knowledge alone does not help us sleep better.
What can we do to improve the quality of sleep?
Four areas we will examine:
- Lifestyle – Exercise, Food, Drink, Stimulants
- Circadian Rhythm
- Sleep Schedule – Routine and Relaxation
- Sleep Environment
Exercise, food, drink, and stimulants affect the quantity and quality of sleep.
Our healthy, or not so healthy lifestyle choices influence our over-all wellbeing and therefore the quality of our sleep. Some things to keep in mind specifically concerning sleep:
- Have a regular exercise routine during daytime hours. Being active during the day, exhausting yourself leads to better sleep at night. Being active and outside during daylight hours also helps with production of melatonin, which aids sleep naturally.
- Avoid heavy, fatty, or spicy foods too close to bedtime. Indigestion and the feeling of heaviness hinders peaceful sleep.
- Avoid known stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and too much alcohol too close to bedtime.
- Stop drinking and eating a couple of hours before your bedtime. If not, it may cause you to get up during the night.
We are designed to respond to natural light and darkness. Light = Awake, Dark = Sleep. It sounds so simple, but most of us don’t think about it. In times past, before electricity, people got up when the sun came up and went to sleep shortly after the sun went down. Why? It was expensive to light rooms, the lighting was poor, people were exhausted and without light there wasn’t much to do.
We, on the other hand, keep ourselves up for hours after the sun goes down. We stay active during the evening and even at night as if it were still daytime because we can. We have electricity. Lights are bright indoors. We can watch tv, play video games, get on the computer. We can stay awake way into the night. Staying up past dark is quite normal for us.
But our body responds better to a more natural rhythm.
Daytime = light = awake = active.
Night = dark = sleeping = resting.
- Allow exposure to sunlight during the day. It signals your body that it is time to be awake and move. Sunlight also helps with the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep at night.
- Keeping lights low in the evening gives your mind time to adjust and prepare mentally for sleep.
- Having a dark bedroom signals your brain that it is time to sleep.
- Establish a light=active / dark=sleep routine. It will strengthen your circadian rhythm and aid a healthy sleep pattern.
Sleep Schedule – Routine and Relaxation
Your body likes routines. Once established, you become used to doing the same thing. A bedtime routine signals your brain that sleep is near. Your body responds to the known signals, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
Signal relaxation & calmness to your brain. Avoid agitation.
- Avoid arguments, mentally disturbing discussions, and things that may aggravate you, especially before bedtime. For me personally, watching the news right before bed is not calming and may keep me thinking about what I heard long after the television is off.
- Avoid things close to bedtime that may raise your adrenaline, like violent video games, horror movies.
- Have a regular bed-time and wake-time. Get up and go to sleep at the same time every day, seven days a week. – Yes, even on the weekend.
- Limit daytime naps to 20-30 minutes.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Lower the lights. Take a warm bath. Surround yourself with calming scents. Listen to soothing sounds. Read something relaxing, using a real book (not electronic).
- Take a healing bath, perhaps with epsom salt and soothing lavender essential oil. It relaxes and aids sleep.
Your Sleep Environment
Your bedroom should be designed for sleep. When you walk into your sleep environment, the signals to your brain should invite you to relax and make you feel it is a place of soothing calmness, a place of comfort, relaxation, and sleep. Keep things that make you think about work out of the bedroom.
- Avoid clutter. Keep your furniture as clear as possible. Simplistic is ideal.
- Keep your desk out of the bedroom, if possible. A desk reminds us of “work.”
- Avoid electronics and the lights they give off. Keep electronics in another room if possible. Light and noise from the computer, tablet, cell phone, kindle, television, and digital alarm clock disrupts sleep.
- Keep the television out of the bedroom if possible, or at least turn it off.
- Avoid loud noise. Instead listen to soft, soothing sounds. Recordings of a babbling brook, gentle rain, or other soft nature sounds aid in relaxation and sleep.
- Use low lighting in the bedroom. Calm and soothing.
- Use a fan if it helps you. The humming sound and movement of air is soothing to many.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and good pillows. A comfortable bed aids you to get sound sleep.
- Keep the temperature in the bedroom cool. 60-67°F is ideal for sleep.
- Diffusing calming lavender in the bedroom before bedtime may help relax you.
- Use lavender scents when washing sheets.
- Not everyone has the space to have an area just for sleeping. But try to divide and designate. Separate your sleep area from the other living spaces as much possible.
- In a studio apartment, you could use a privacy screen to separate your sleep space from the rest.
- If your desk is in your bedroom and you can’t change that, turn all electronics off at night so they do not give off light or sounds. Store everything that may make you think of working (paperwork, bills, calendars, reminders) out of sight in drawers or baskets that are put away.
- Keep the bedroom dark, avoid bright light. Establish your bedroom as a sleep space. Room-darkening, heavy curtains not only block out the light, but also muffle sounds coming from the outside.
- Keep things quiet. Silence or gentle sounds lead to better, more restful sleep.
- One of the biggest culprits to losing sleep: Your cell phone. Turn it off, turn it on airplane mode, or at least silence it during the night. It helps if you can keep it in another room during the night so you’re not tempted to peek.
- Iphone user? There is a neat little thing I found on my iPhone that helps with a routine and better sleep:
- On your iPhone: Find your clock and open it. Choose the icon at the bottom called ‘bedtime.’ A new screen will open. Activate ‘bedtime’ at the top with the slider, then set your bedtime. Most people benefit from 8 hours of sleep but you can choose how long you wish to sleep. Set the time on the dial for when you have to get up and then slide the bedtime to reflect the hours you wish to sleep or the time you wish to go to bed.
- The neat thing is, you will get a reminder when it is almost bedtime. That is when I begin my relaxing-before-bed-routine. I turn off the tv and other electronics. I lower the lights, take a soothing bath, turn the diffuser on in the bedroom and listen to soothing sounds.
- At your set bedtime your phone will automatically go into ‘Do not not disturb mode’ until it is time to wake up. It will wake you with gentle sounds that slowly but gradually become louder. Brilliant!
When I wrote the article 3 am – wide awake, I promised to do three things.
- Create a list of what can we can do to get better sleep
- Take steps – one day at a time to get better sleep.
Next in this series: The steps I took toward better sleep. Did they work?