What is often undervalued, desired by all and depressingly lacking in abundance? It’s sleep! Everyone needs it and everyone wants more of it, but sometimes there’s something in the way between you and a good night’s rest. Sometimes it’s an early morning flight, burning the midnight oil working on a project or leftover tension and stress from the day. Life has a way of getting between you and your much needed sleep.
Yes, you need it. Sleep is absolutely essential for basic physiological functions and then some. Sleep is necessary for musculoskeletal growth and repair, neurological and cognitive performance, immune system function and cellular repair. Getting enough sleep means enhanced memory performance, athletic performance, recovery from workouts, weight loss, energy, creativity and immunity along with lowered blood pressure, reduced stress levels and reduced inflammation.
Lack of sleep can cause several problems in the short term, and really ugly problems long term: from impaired cognitive function (slower reaction times, poor memory, lack of alertness) to higher blood pressure and it also puts you at greater risk for obesity and diabetes. A lack of sleep can even shrink your brain.
Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t come easily to all of us. I’ve always had a hard time getting to sleep, starting when I was in college letting my glowing computer hum all night, not being able to fall asleep despite hopping into bed at a reasonable time and cursing the alarm for having to wake up much too soon. Barring a sleep-related disorder, there are some things you can do to help you get to sleep easier and have a higher quality of sleep too. I’ve put together a brief list, most of which I have personally experimented with, of easy things everyone can do to get better sleep.
Fix Lighting Issues
This is probably the biggest and most common issue for everyone. We are constantly surrounded by unnatural light that disrupts sleeping patterns and ruins the quality of our sleep. Interestingly enough, studies suggest that blue light wakes us up, while red/rose light helps us get to sleep.
So, remove all sources of blue light – turn off televisions and computers and replace any blue lights in your bedroom with dimmer, rose-tinted lights. You can also cover windows and cover or turn clocks around to face the wall. In fact, I’ve had great success with just completely blacking out my room. Turn off or cover all sources of light in your room and try to avoid light for at least an hour before bed. The darkness/rose light helps your brain produce melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms.
Establish A Routine
Set a strict bedtime to ensure that you can get 7-9 hours of sleep. Depending on your current habits, this may take a while to implement and experimentation to prefect, but in the end is the only way to guarantee getting enough sleep. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time before bed to unwind and mentally prepare to sleep.
Have you ever laid down at night tired but couldn’t get to sleep because your mind was still reeling from the day and thinking about tomorrow? Stress hurts your ability to sleep, which just makes you more stressed, creating a vicious cycle. You can break it by setting time aside each day to work it out.
How best to relieve stress is going to vary from person to person and situation, but the best things that have worked for me are exercise, cutting off technology 1-2 hours pre-bed, pre-bed stretching, writing, and reading. I don’t always do all of these things, but I do most of them each day.
Disconnecting and writing were incredibly helpful for me to deal with worry and anxiety. Do you really need to read your email right before bed? You’ll risk just adding to the stress and whatever it is, it can wait for tomorrow. Writing whatever was in my head – from to-do lists to random wants to plot lines for books – also helped me to organize my thoughts and clear my mind so that by the time I hit the pillow I was completely empty.
Fix Your Diet
Unsurprisingly, if your diet is bad and your hormones are off you’ll have issues getting to sleep. Make sure you’re eating healthy, and not eating too much right before bed. If you need to eat before bed, try tossing back some nuts as they contain magnesium and tryptophan – both of which will help you get to sleep.
Avoid sweets and particularly chocolate before bed – as they can disrupt your system and chocolate contains caffeine. Speaking of which…
No Afternoon Caffeine
I suppose this goes along with diet, but I felt it important enough to get it its own bullet point. While some experimentation is in order to find your perfect times, I’ve found that having any coffee after around 3:00 p.m. effects my ability to get to sleep.
Avoid Alcohol Right Before Bed
It may be fun and relaxing and even put you to sleep faster, but alcohol before bed is a bad idea. It will ruin the quality of your sleep and you’ll probably be woken up overnight to use the bathroom. If you want to drink go ahead, but be responsible and don’t drink too much, and make sure you drink early enough to have some recovery time to get it out of your system before bed. Waking up with a hangover is no fun either.
Embrace the Siesta
There’s no such thing as too cool to nap. A good power nap midday not only will give you more energy and alertness though the rest of the day, but it shouldn’t affect your nighttime habits negatively. Naps improve productivity and reduce stress and risk of heart disease, so go ahead and indulge in a good 10-40 minute nap.
When I’ve been running low on sleep, I’ve found a good coffee nap does wonders to help me get through the day. What’s a coffee nap? Simple: drink some espresso or coffee relatively quickly and then go nap immediately after – before it has time to kick in. I set a timer on my phone so that it will vibrate after 15 to 20 minutes, then hang onto it and doze off. The vibrations are enough to wake me while not being annoying or jolting me awake.
What Helps You?
This is by no means an extensive list, however it does hit some of the major items that often need improvement. What other things have you done that have helped you get to sleep? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Peasap