Insomnia affects between 10-30% of the population and millions of people struggle with sleep disorders. Yet we all need better sleep and more rest. It is just a fact of the human experience that when we don’t sleep well, we don’t function at our optimum level. It is so important to be intentional in regard to your bedtime routine so that you are maximizing the possibility of restful nights and helping your body find the relaxation that it so craves at the end of a busy day. So, what are some things that you can do to establish better sleep patterns and increase your productivity as a result?
1. Make your Bedroom a Sleep Oasis
Create an atmosphere that induces sleep by reserving this room for relaxing activities only. Don’t use your bedroom as your office or craft room. Keep the decor simple and pleasant, not busy or overwhelming. Make it a priority to keep this space neat and orderly so that you can feel calm, without the disarray of laundry or paperwork calling out to you. Try to make your bed each day and keep it crisp clean, fresh sheets on it so that it is inviting to crawl into at night. A stale bedroom is not comfortable, so consider opening a window for some fresh air. Adjust the temperature of the room, as well, so that it is neither stifling hot, nor so cold that you can’t relax in comfort.
2. Use Black-Out Curtains and Create a Dark Room
If you live in the city, it is important to block out the lights from the outside world and blackout curtains are great for this. Having a dark room is so important to restful sleep. Soft moonlight may be the exception to this, but definitely look around your bedroom for obnoxious lights on various electronics. Use a piece of black tape to cover blinking lights and only install night lights that are motion activated so that you can see your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
3. Consider the Sound of Quietness vs. White Noise
If you live in a quiet area and don’t have household or neighborhood noise at bedtime, you are in luck! If all you can hear are crickets chirping and birds singing, then you have it made. However, if you are like many of us who need to sleep when the world around us is still awake, consider the use of white noise to block out sounds that will prevent restful sleep. I prefer the use of a fan for this, but there are other options as well, including “white noise” machines that can play nature sounds, instrumental music, or even static noise.
4. Back off the Caffeine
Many people enjoy their morning cup of coffee, but it’s important to not overdo this fix if you are struggling to have better sleep. Keep your caffeine intake to a reasonable level and partake earlier in the day. If you need a warm drink before bed, consider using herbal tea or a hot apple cider, instead of coffee or chocolate. This small change could make a world of difference for you.
5. Don’t go to Bed Hungry
I am not suggesting that it is best to eat a big meal right before bedtime, because that is probably one of the worst things you can do! However, there is nothing quite so distracting at bedtime as a growling stomach that just won’t quieten down. If you eat your last meal of the day about 3 hours before bed, you will likely hit the sweet spot between too full and too hungry, but if you go too far past that, you may need a small snack an hour or so before laying down to help alleviate any hunger pangs. Always opt for a healthy treat that will stabilize your blood sugar for the (hopefully) long night ahead until is time to awake and “break your fast” the next morning.
6. Meditate in the Evening and Before Bedtime
If you are struggling to get a restful night, consider the possibility that you may need to clear your mind of all the troubles of life and stresses of the day. Find time in your evening to meditate so that you can let go of any racing thoughts or worries. This will help put you in the right frame of mind for a relaxing night of sleep. If you have any residual anger or pain, let your mind heal through the strategic use of meditation. Bring yourself into a state of relaxation that guides your mind away from a bodily experience and into a spiritual one.
7. Self-Massage is Your Friend
Self-massage isn’t getting the recognition it deserves in health & wellbeing circles. Self-massage is in many ways superior to ordinary massages, and a self-massage session 30 minutes prior to bedtime can do wonders to relax the body for optimal sleep. During the day, when we’re going about doing our daily chores (work, school, hobbies, etc), it is inevitable that we gather tensions and knots both physically and psychologically. Self-massage combined with a short meditation session, can do wonders to relax and relieve these tensions and knots while simultaneously rejuvenating and priming you for an amazing night of sleep.
8. Create a Wind-Down Routine
Humans are creatures of habit and if we establish patterns that are unhealthy, than they tend to stick with us, creating a cycle that is hard to break. Instead, figure out an evening routine that will help your body prepare for a good night’s sleep. If you train your mind to expect a certain outcome than you will have better success overall. If necessary, write down your bedtime schedule until you learn it. Start it at the same time every evening. Go through all the motions of getting ready for bed in a certain order for 20 days straight, after which it will come more naturally. Consider using a light exercise routine early in the evening, it could be yoga or even something as simple as a brisk walk. And perhaps a warm, relaxing bath to help you wind-down. Whatever you do, keep it consistent & try to accomplish it all before the hours of 9-12 pm, depending on your individual schedule.
9. Support Natural Melatonin Production
It is important that you allow your body the time it needs to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. This means that you need to turn off all electronics and screens at least 30 minutes to an hour before you expect to fall asleep. The blue light that emits from the screens is very counterproductive to the natural production of melatonin. Don’t use electronics as a way to fall asleep, because of this! In fact, any light at all is disruptive to a body preparing to sleep, so start preparing your dark, quiet space in plenty of time so that you will give your body the best space possible to prepare for nighttime.
10. Reset your Circadian Rhythm
Have you ever heard that it takes approximately 7 minutes to fall asleep? Of course, this is only true if you have prepared your body and your sleep space to be at the optimal level of relaxation. But, I have found this to be a great test of how well I’ve done at focusing on creating an atmosphere of relaxation, both internally and externally. If I find that I can lie still in a quiet, dark room for 7 minutes or less, fall asleep, and wake refreshed in the morning after 7-8 hours, then I know my sleep cycle is where I need it to be. Otherwise, I find the need to reset my circadian rhythm so that I can achieve this kind of peaceful sleep. A bit radical, but the thing that works for me is to go camping. This forces me to go to sleep when it gets dark and awake with the morning sun. There is nothing quite like this cycle to get me back on track!
Hopefully some of these suggestions will help you as you seek to find better sleep and more restful nights!