The Question: ‘How are you?’. The Answer: ‘Tired’. The Problem: All too common. Whether it’s walking through a crowd or sitting in a coffee shop, I hear too many conversations starting just that way. People are sleep deprived! Makes me wonder if Mr. Sandman is on vacation…so how does one start to improve sleep?
Tip 1: Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime
Caffeine is a tricky thing. Some associate caffeine only with coffee or energy drinks. It’s also in soda, tea, and chocolate. When we suggest ‘no caffeine for 4-6 hours’ it means all of the above items. Now for why…the effects of caffeine (the alertness) peaks 2 hours after consumption and then starts declining after that. To be safe, stay clear of caffeine well before bed. Perhaps try substituting your post-dinner java with an herbal tea or warm milk.
Tip 2: Avoid alcohol at least 2 hours before bedtime
I know some of you are thinking ‘But that glass of wine helps me fall asleep’. It may help you get to sleep, once you are there it tampers with your quality of sleep. During sleep we go through different sleep phases. Alcohol disrupts the phase process and keeps us out of the area that would leave us waking up feeling replenished and alert. No wonder people are sleepy after a night of partying!
Tip 3: Avoid smoking at least 2 hours before bedtime
Believe it or not, nicotine (the active ingredient in cigarettes) is a stimulant. This means nicotine activates your system and prevents you from feeling tired. As a substitute, try practicing some breathing exercises or stepping outside for some fresh air.
Tip 4: Keep exercise more than 2 hours before bedtime
Working out and exercising gets the blood pulsing through your body. Engaging in these activities within 2 hours of bedtime may not give enough time for the body to cool down before lights out. If you can, keep exercise earlier in the day.
Tip 5: Follow the same routine
We are creatures of habit. If we do the same routine enough times, our body will pick up signals and follow along. A night time routine may look like the following: 2 hours before bed stop any highly mentally engaging activity such as studying or working, turn lights down so everything is dim, have a light snack if hungry, prep things for the next day (such as lunch, outfit, to-do list, etc.). 1 hour before bed wash face and brush teeth (random fact: brushing teeth can increase energy levels by 30%!), put on some PJ’s, settle in for a light hearted book or show. Other things to keep note of includes keeping your room cool and dark. Try to hit the feathers around the same time every night and get up around the same time every morning. Doing so will help re-set our body clock. Keep in mind, these things take time. Repetition is key when trying to form new habits and routines.
Tip 6: Avoid taking naps
Napping is dangerous when you have night time sleeping problems. Of course you are going to be tired during the day if you have had a poor night’s sleep. Fight through! By bedtime you will be super sleepy and on a fast track to Slumberland.
Tip 7: Avoid being hungry or eating heavily before going to bed
Creature comforts. If we are not comfortable, or our physical needs are not being met, it becomes very difficult to do anything else until they are met. If we are hungry, our tummies will send signals to our brains yelling ‘pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!’. On the flip side, if we eat a large amount, our brain is pre-occupied with over-seeing digestion and ignores sleeping signals. If you are hungry, have a light snack. Save the full-meal-deal for breakfast.
Tip 8: Get up if you do not fall asleep within half an hour
No point in lying there wishing you were sleeping and counting down the minutes until you need to be up. Get up and get out of the bed. Go into a separate room and do something relaxing with dim light. Perhaps this means flipping through a magazine or a paper. Try to stay clear of highly engaging activities such as social networking, video games, studying, work tasks, etc. Once you feel your head bobbing and your eyes long blinking, get back in bed.
Tip 9: Make your bed comfortable and only use for sleeping
Back to the creatures of habit statement, we will pair activities and behaviors with environments. If we use our beds for work, studying, games, social networking, etc. our brains will be ready for that when we are in that environment. If we only use beds for sleeping, our brain will know it’s time for sleep and we will fall asleep faster.
Tip 10: Keep worries out of bed
Feeling stressed about tomorrow’s tasks? A conversation that went sour earlier? Is Negative Nancy bombarding you while you are lying in bed? Time to sit up, potentially get out of bed, and write down everything you are thinking about. Your brain will know it’s somewhere safe and you will not have to worry about it. Keep a note book bedside so when Nancy visits, you are ready.
There you are folks! 10 tips to help you get better sleep. Sleep Tight.
~Brooke Lewis, MA, RCC~