Sometimes it feels as if there just aren’t enough hours in the day and it can be easy to burn the candle at both ends. Whether you’re working hard or playing hard, if you’re not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night, you could be putting yourself at risk of some fairly serious health consequences including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, it’s important to implement strategies to try to increase the quality of your sleep. Try these five tips for winding down at night and wake up refreshed.
You’re no doubt in a committed relationship with your smartphone but it’s important you go your separate ways at bedtime. If you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed before you go to sleep, the blue light from your screen sends confusing signals to your brain, suppressing melatonin production, keeping you alert when you should be winding down. If you’re wakeful during the night, it’s all too tempting to pick it up if it’s within reach and that’s going to keep you awake for longer. Keep it out of the bedroom to give yourself the best chance of quality sleep. If you think you need your phone, I guarantee whatever function it serves, there is another way to get the same result. If you use it as an alarm, buy an old-school alarm clock, and if you like to listen to guided meditations, perhaps invest in an iPod.
Your body and brain responds to routine so try to keep your sleep and waking times as consistent as possible even on the weekends! If you know what time you normally need to be up in the morning, work backwards and make sure you’re in bed at least eight hours before that. Then count back another hour and mark that as the start of your evening bedtime routine.
If you want to avoid lying in bed staring at the ceiling, it helps to begin the winding down process an hour or so before you actually climb into bed. Think about how you might help a baby or young child get to sleep and treat yourself to the same kind of soothing self-care. A warm drink or a bath or shower helps your body relax. Dimming the lights sends messages to your brain that it’s time for sleep. You might breathe in some essential oils (lavender is good), turn off the TV and read a book, write in a gratitude journal or do some deep breathing or meditation. These things will all induce the relaxation response signifying to your body that it’s time to rest. The more you incorporate these rituals, the more your brain will associate them with sleep.
Avoid drinking coffee or other energy type drinks for at least six hours before bed. Alcohol is also a no-go if you have sleep problems. You may think having a nightcap helps you fall asleep but unfortunately the effect is temporary. As it’s processed by your body alcohol actually stimulates your brain and causes you to be more wakeful during the night. Stick with relaxing herbal tea, warm milk or plain water before bed.
Exercise promotes good sleep (and good sleep improves the quality of your exercise) so maintaining a physical exercise routine will enhance your quality of sleep. Just be sure to avoid any kind of caffeine or pre-workout that’s going to stimulate your body and brain if you’re doing your exercise in the late afternoon or evening. Some people have trouble falling asleep immediately after a workout because exercise raises your heart rate and your core body temperature. If that applies to you, make sure you do your workout early, but don’t skip it completely because working out at any time of the day is a proven sleep aid.