Chances are, you could use more sleep.
We all could.
In fact, while I was researching this topic for my book, Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home Mind and Soul, I discovered that 53 percent of adult women regularly don’t allow themselves to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, the average amount of sleep for American adults as a whole is only 6.8 hours per night.
Lack of sleep and chronic exhaustion, like excess stress, is related to a whole host of problems, ranging from poor work performance and driving accidents to relationship issues and mood disorders like excessive anger or depression. It also contributes to health risks, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Chronic sleep loss has even been linked to early death. Yikes.
Luckily there are several simple sleep routines and practices we can turn into habits to ensure we’re waking up bright-eyed and ready to face the world. Even if you aren’t a morning person, waking up earlier can help you get more done and getting better sleep makes it a heck of a lot easier.
As an aside, I am a huge fan of the Sleep Cycle App for tracking my sleep. Not only does it make a wonderful, gentle alarm clock, waking me when I am in my lightest sleep cycle, it also rates my sleep quality, which inspires me to get better sleep. I encourage you to check it out and begin using it as you put some of the following ideas into practice!
Stick to a Schedule
Just as you set your alarm to get up in the morning, try setting a regular bedtime. It sounds silly, but we do it with our kids all the time. We know the importance of getting a full night’s sleep—plus we’ve all seen the aftermath of a too-late bedtime. It’s time to apply those parenting skills to your own sleep practices and learn to tell yourself to “Go to bed!”
Make it the same time every night, even on weekends. Aim for something realistic you can hold to. If you’re guilty of burning the midnight oil on a regular basis, consider scaling back in 10-15 minute increments until you’re hitting your goal bedtime regularly.
Keep Your Room Cool…But Not Freezing
Optimal sleep temperature can vary for everyone. Sleep experts say it’s on the cool side, but not so cold you have to pile on the blankets (or you get that dreaded, sweaty/freezing pattern—a total sleep killer). Somewhere around 65 degrees seems about right for most people.
If you’re a flamingo and your spouse is a polar bear, it can be a challenge to find a compromise. Use a breathable comforter made with natural materials and try keeping your feet covered with socks or an extra blanket, which can help your body stay warmer.
Put Down the Electronics Before Bed
This is a tough one, especially for those of us who do some Pinterest browsing before bed or read books on our phone or e-reader. Studies show the light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt our circadian rhythm or natural biological sleep patterns. Try to turn off your electronics for a good half-hour before you attempt sleep. You’ll get a better, more restful sleep.
Watch out for hidden sleep interrupters—digital clocks, lights on televisions, and lights from your phone. Even these small amounts of electronic light can send our brain the signal it’s time to be up and awake.
Avoid Stimulants—Caffeine, Exercise
Personally, I can’t have caffeine after mid-afternoon or I’ll wake up mid-sleep with my mind racing. Each person’s tolerance is different. That said, energy drinks, caffeine and even getting your body geared up with exercise interfere with restfulness. Smokers are especially susceptible to sleep disruption due to nicotine (as if you needed one more reason to quit).
Try to avoid anything that makes you feel stimulated and awake for a few hours before bed. Ease into sleepy time.
Avoid Heavy, Spicy Foods and Alcohol
A nice glass of wine can help you wind down in the evening and relax before you hit the hay. Two or three glasses? You won’t be getting quality or restful sleep. Same thing goes for heavy, spicy or greasy foods.
Every woman who’s been pregnant knows the horrible woes of heartburn at night. It’s awful and impossible to sleep. Heavy, rich foods can have the same effect, which often worsens when you lie down. Avoid the whole issue by steering clear of a pre-bed trip to the freezer for ice cream or a snack of chips and pepper jack cheese.
Make a Bedtime Ritual
Just like creating a morning routine helps you get your day off to the right start, creating a nighttime routine helps you have a great night. Every night before bed, do similar things—this might be doing a sweep around the house to make sure things are turned off and put away, and locking the doors. Wash your face, brush your teeth, and put your clothes out for tomorrow. Turn down your bed, put lotion on your hands…
It’s about doing the same thing each night. Routine helps signal our brain that we’re about to do something familiar. It slows down our mind and creates a pattern. Your body will know when you’ve “put the day away” and it’s time to go to sleep.
Get a Humidifier
If you live in an arid climate, you may want to invest in a humidifier. Your skin will feel moisturized when you wake up, you’ll breathe easier, and you’ll be less likely to snore because the mucus membranes in your nose and throat won’t dry out overnight. Temperature is also easier to regulate in a properly humid room.
Use White Noise
It’s important to have a quiet room to sleep in. Anyone who has ever stayed at an airport hotel knows noise can be absolutely brutal when it comes to disrupting sleep. Using a white noise machine (or an air purifier, fan, humidifier or other soft noise maker) can create a soothing buzz, helping ease you to sleep. (Plus it masks any other distracting noises.)
White noise shouldn’t sound like a wind tunnel or be distracting. I’ve heard hysterical “sleep sound apps” where it sounds like an entire jungle has just invaded your bedroom. If you don’t find birds or running water particularly relaxing, it might not be the right route for you. (If you do use an app, be sure you place your phone somewhere to hide the light so you aren’t disrupted.)
It sounds a little hokey at first—and believe me—I used to be skeptical, but using essential oils before bed can help soothe, relax and calm. Just like smelling a yummy sugar cookie candle makes you hungry, smelling calming lavender oil (or a calming blend) can help evoke feelings of peace and relaxation.
My husband, who’s very grounded and analytical, was skeptical at first as well, but he now sleeps with a few bottles of essential oil right by the bed. Try defusing lavender,chamomile, and a blend called Peace & Calming for a soothing night’s sleep.
Let Fido and Fluffy Have Their Own Bed
This is a tough one for many of us, especially if we’ve created a precedent of letting pets snooze in our bed. I’m not saying you should kick your little friends out of the bedroom completely, but consider getting them a nice heated bed right by yours or a comfy pillow on the floor….just consider it. (However, if your cat likes to step on your head at 3am, you should really consider leaving him outside the bedroom!)
For allergy sufferers especially, having pets in the bedroom can be tough. Once habits are set in, it’s hard to undo, but it can alleviate nighttime breathing issues and make for a much more comfortable sleep.
Make Your Bed “Sleep Only”
Beds are meant for sleeping, not hanging out, doing work, watching television, bringing the kids in for Saturday morning cartoons, or building a fort. I know those things can be a lot of fun, but again, it’s about tricking your brain into thinking, “This is where I sleep.”
Making your bed comfortable, clean and inviting can really help as well. So can committing to making your bed every morning—helping you avoid the desire to crawl back in. There’s nothing quite as comforting as a turning back a perfectly made bed and crawling in. It turns it into a routine or ritual, like we talked about in number 6.
Limit Your Daytime Naps
I’m not a big napper, but I have friends who swear by an afternoon nap. If you are a fan of catching a few winks mid-afternoon, limit yourself to 20 minutes and nap somewhere other than your bedroom.
Once you finish napping, get up and resume your normal activity. One of the biggest drawbacks of napping at random is slowing down your momentum through the day. If you have a nap routine, make it a practice to get right up afterward and continue with your daytime activities.
Studies show that regular exercise can gradually improve your sleep patterns. It’s a slow process and sometimes sleep (or lack of) effects exercise performance more than exercise performance directly effects sleep. That said, after months of regular exercise, study participants showed improved sleep patterns as well. Think of it as a way to keep your body functioning properly in all faculties. Sleep, exercise and nutrition go hand in hand with being healthy. Are we all perfectly healthy all the time? No, of course not, but getting regular exercise helps get you into a healthy pattern.
Write It Out
Allow yourself to write out your feelings before bed or for a little while before you retire for the evening. If something’s really bothering you or weighing on your mind, journaling can help you expel it or at least put it on the table where you can revisit it with more clarity tomorrow (as opposed to endlessly ruminating on it at 2am). It can also be a good time to write down positive accomplishments and practice gratitude. This positive mind frame gets you to a great place mentally and emotionally to end the day.
If you’re having real sleep problems, keeping a “sleep journal” can also help. While it’s not the same as writing out your feelings, tracking your patterns and roadblocks can help you examine them and detect anything regularly interfering with sleep. You may want to write down things you ate, the temperature of your room, if you did your nighttime routine, and your mood. After a while you might get some clues to why your sleep hasn’t been up to snuff.
Schedule Time to Stress
It may sound a little silly, but sometimes when we play patterns over and over in our head, one of the best ways to cope is to promise ourselves we can revisit the issue and “stress out” as much as we want at a specified time. There are very few problems that can be solved in the middle of the night. Instead of thinking of ways to deal with them, pencil something in on your calendar (or promise yourself to spend your morning commute or lunchbreak tomorrow) to work out the nuances and examine all sides of your problem. Say, “I’m going to put this to bed tonight, so I can sleep, but I will worry about it tomorrow.”
Often by the time you’re ready to visit the problem at the scheduled time, it will have passed or it won’t seem nearly as dire as it does at bedtime.
Avoid Too Much Water Before Bed
Sometimes a soothing cup of herbal tea can become part of our nighttime ritual and help us feel ready for bed. Drinking a glass of water or keeping water on the nightstand can also help us feel hydrated and avoid that “Oh my gosh, I’m parched” feeling in the middle of the night. Needless to say, it’s a no brainer: if you drink too much water before bed, you’re going to have to get up in the night. Try to limit liquids for an hour or two before you hit the hay, especially if you find yourself regularly running to the bathroom in a dire state in the middle of the night.
Meditate or Pray Before Bed
Just like journaling about things you’re grateful for can help you get into a positive mindset, taking a few moments before bed to pray and connect with God can help bring about peace. Read a few verses of scripture that help put you in a positive frame or give you comfort. Take a few moments to do some deep breathing or try some meditation to help you decompress and enter a state of reverence and rest. Reflect on the grace of God and the wonderful blessings you experience each day. Take time to appreciate all He has given us and you’ll feel calm the moment your head hits the pillow.
When You Can’t Sleep
Get up! It sounds a little bit counterintuitive to get out of bed in the middle of the night, but if you’ve been lying there for more than 20 minutes, it might be time to get up and take care of what’s bothering you, lest your body start to associate bed with a state of wakefulness and worry. Get up, go into another room and do a quiet activity to clear your mind. Try reading something interesting, but not such a page-turner you can’t put it down or try doing something like Sudoku—repetitive numbers and patterns. The idea is to get your mind off what’s troubling you (which can sometimes just be the fact you can’t sleep) and reset.
Avoid bright light, electronics and activities that “ramp you up.” Instead, keep the lights low and do the activity for a short time until you feel a little sleepier and are ready to give it another go.
If you still can’t sleep or if insomnia is a reoccurring pattern, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Conditions like sleep apnea can also make sleep feel interrupted and leave you tired the next day. If you use a Fitbit or fitness tracker and it reflects a lot of tossing and turning or if your spouse complains you’re a chronic snorer, tooth grinder or a very restless sleeper, a doctor can help determine the underlying cause. Many medications can affect sleep patterns, as can allergies, asthma and other issues.
Practice good sleep hygiene and you’ll be forgetting all about counting sheep and sawing logs in no time!
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