I love sleep. My family makes fun of me because I am the earliest to bed each night. But the joke’s on them because I am always the most well-rested!
One out of three Americans report that they don’t get enough sleep each night.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of 8 hours of Zzz’s per night for adults, and even more for kids and teens. But Americans often fall short. Lack of sleep (defined by sleep scientist Matthew Walker), less than 6 hours, can have serious consequences. It’s associated with problems in concentration, memory, immune system functioning, reaction-time, emotional control, and decision-making.
If you find that you can’t fall asleep, or wake up in the middle of the night, some simple adjustments could really help to improve your quality of sleep, effectively improving your quality of life.
What to do if you can’t sleep:
Those blue lights aren’t special:
They can kill your sleep! Activity right before bedtime should be conducted away from bright lights emitted by screens (the blue lights from computer, tablet and phone screens simulates daylight, which causes the body to produce less melatonin -a sleep hormone). Treat these lights as a health hazard! Most devices have a timer setting to turn off the blue lights automatically in the evening.
Turn off Media:
Speaking of devices, 24-hour news cycles, social media, email, and pinging phones all create stress and stimulate the brain in ways we don’t even realize. Additionally, people often reflect upon the last thing they were engaged in as they start falling asleep. Tuning in to negative or stressful subject matter can lead to rumination at bedtime. Turn off your phone and screens at least an hour before bedtime and give yourself time to unwind before going to sleep.
Go to bed around the same time (even on the weekends):
And wake up around the same time as well. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock. Your body produces hormones that signal when it’s time to go to sleep. By keeping to a schedule, you can use these signals effectively.
Create a bedtime routine:
Most of us have a routine to get going in the morning. A coffee and newspaper, the gym and a shower, breakfast and cartoons: these all signal to you that it’s time to transition into your day. A bedtime routine may include a bath or shower, reading, listening to music, drinking tea, cuddling, meditating, writing in your journal, or anything else that allows you to slow down and relax.
Regular physical exercise is shown to improve both sleep quantity and quality. It also provides the benefit of increasing feelings of alertness during the day: Make sure to finish exercising at least 3 hours before bedtime because exercise can leave you initially feeling invigorated.
Create an environment conducive to sleep:
Your bedroom should be a comfortable temperature – between 60 and 67 degrees. Find a bed and bedding that is comfortable and meets your sleep needs. Make sure that it’s free of any noises or lights that make it difficult to fall asleep. This may include a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring or movement. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Slow Down Racing Thoughts:
If you find that your mind starts racing the minute your head hits the pillow, there are several things you can do (Learn More about Obsessive Thoughts) Keep a notebook handy next to your bed to write down any “next morning to do’s” that you are afraid you will forget. You can also use the notebook to take note of persistent worries or thoughts you have. Look for patterns to determine if there are things you need to do to address your concerns or to determine if you need more support in managing them. A deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visual imagery practice can also help people fall asleep. To get started, I like the free app, breethe. The narrator walks you through breathing and relaxation techniques to build your skill in slowing your thoughts down.
Keep caffeine intake to no more than 400mg (about 4 cups of coffee) and don’t drink it after 2:00 pm. Kids should get no more than 100mg of caffeine. Although some people think that they are “immune” to the effects of caffeine, (they can fall asleep), it also impacts the depth of sleep and limits REM sleep cycles. Consider reducing your caffeine intake and notice the effect it has on your sleep.
Avoid heavy meals before bedtime:
Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. Sugar can act as a stimulant. If you can, avoid eating large meals or sugary treats for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re hungry.
Rethink that 3rd glass of wine:
One or two glasses of alcohol do not appear to affect sleep, but more than that could backfire. Like caffeine, alcohol affects REM sleep, the deep sleep that allows you to wake up feeling rested. Not to mention the extra bathroom breaks needed when you drink too much liquid before bedtime!