Ever heard that phrase, “I slept like a baby!” and think… “Yes, I did sleep like a baby. Up until 2 am, then off and on until 5 am!” Difficulty with sleep is a very common problem. It can be caused by stress, worry, pain, age, and life changes. Insomnia can also be indicative of physical and mental health issues as well.
The trouble is, that when we get less sleep, we do not function like we need to during the day. It affects our ability to concentrate, make decisions, and even function! If we don’t manage our sleep well, it could affect our work, our relationships (think irritability…) and make us more prone to accidents.
Everybody has different sleep needs. I know that I need more sleep than my husband. We are made that way, but don’t convince yourself that with enough training you can get by on less sleep. That is a myth. Typically adults need about 8 hours of sleep a night.
Developing a healthy sleep routine takes practice, work, and time. If you fudge things here and there, it will affect your sleep cycle. Also, remember that if it doesn’t work right away, keep trying. This is similar to develop healthy muscles–you may not see a difference immediately, but the groundwork is being set for better health.
Here are several tips to getting a good night’s rest.:
1. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day. A schedule is very important to getting a good night’s rest. Even on the weekends, stick to your schedule. This will help when Monday morning comes. If you can’t go to sleep one night, make yourself get up and the same time the next morning. Sleeping in only rewards your body for “staying out late”.
2. Develop a sleep schedule. 30-60 minutes before bedtime, start winding down. Then do things in the same order. For example: 1. Get in pajamas; 2. Get a small snack; 3. Brush teeth/wash face; 4. Prayers; 5. Bedtime! Doing these things in exactly the same order every night will teach your body to start preparing for bed. It will help your body recognize the signs that sleep is in the near future.
3. Eliminate media 30-60 minutes before bed. Now, I can already hear the complaints: “But Elizabeth, I have to watch the news before I go to bed!” Don’t worry, I have heard it before. But TV does not relax us, it actually stimulates us. If you truly want to work on a sleep schedule, start eliminating media. That includes all digital devices at bedtime. No TV, no computer, no Kindle, no phone. If there is a show that you must watch, record it for the next day, or watch it online later. The news is actually one of the worst things to watch in the evening as most of the stories are negative and, sometimes, sensationalized. If you like the sound in the background to help you relax, replace TV with music or a calming cd.
4. Eat a snack. A small snack before bedtime (in the 30-60 minutes of preparation) can be helpful. Pick something small that is a combination of protein and carbs: for example — peanut butter toast, or crackers and cheese. Carbohydrates have been found to increase serotonin levels in the body, which creates a feeling of peace and calm.
5. Make the bed for sleep. Many people will work, read or do projects on their bed. If you do this regularly, then your body will also start to think of those things as you get ready for bed. Move your projects elsewhere and keep the bed a place for sleep alone.
6. Create a calming environment in your room. Look around your room. How do you feel? Are you worried about that project in the corner, or those bills sitting on the dresser? Do you feel stressed out about the laundry laying on the floor? If your bedroom isn’t calming, make it so. Put the bills in the office. Close the laundry in the closet. Put out a pretty candle or hang a calming picture. All of these things will influence you as you try to sleep. If you like a certain scent, use that at bedtime. Pick some music to listen to as you prepare for bed that calms you.
7. Say no to naps! If you like naps, eliminate them. Naps can decrease the brain’s sleep drive, making it more difficult to sleep at night. If you must take a nap, keep it to 20 minutes at max (and if you learn how to do that, please tell me because I have not figured out how to power-nap!)
8. Eliminate caffeine. If you like caffeine, that may be part of the problem. Eliminate caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
9. Exercise. Exercise has been proven to help with sleep. Just make sure that you are not exercising too close to bedtime. Exercise at least 3-4 hours prior to bedtime for a good night’s rest.
10. If you are in bed and can’t sleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring! Reading a complicated book or doing a boring household chore will teach your body that not sleeping isn’t fun. When we get up and get on the computer, or watch a favorite TV show, we are rewarding our body for not sleeping. Pick something dull and boring to do. Once your body starts relaxing and you feel tired, go back to bed.
Try these things and start preparing for a better night’s rest. Remember, it often takes time to train your body for sleep. Keep a consistent routine, and don’t give up! With a little training and consistent work, you can develop healthier sleep habits.
I will do another post shortly on deep breathing, muscle relaxation and visualization. These will be Part 2 of the sleep routine post!