“To sleep: perchance to dream” as Shakespeare said, can sometimes be an elusive goal. Modern life makes getting enough sleep challenging. The health benefits of adequate sleep are compelling. But when we actually get some pillow time, may times we can’t seem to drift off. What can we do? Here are five solid tips from sleep experts for improving your odds.
First, try to establish a regular schedule for sleeping. That means going to bed at roughly the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. Obviously weekend and weekday schedules can vary, but getting your body’s internal clock to expect and anticipate bed time can be a real step in the right direction.
Tip 2: Set the stage for sleep. That means configuring your “sleep nest” for maximum comfort and sleepability (yes, I just made up that word). Try for total darkness, which may involve blackout curtains and masking of all those pesky glowing indicators. Some black electrical tape can help cover those beacons of light announcing the awesomeness of your bedroom audio/video center. Also, aim that nasty alarm clock away from your pillow. You will hear the alarm just fine this way, without the bright digits painting a changing pattern of blue or green light over your face. Try to get your bedroom cool, too. The rest of your house might be comfortable at a higher temperature, but try to get your bedroom between 68 and 72 degrees. A light blanket over your body can be very soothing.
Our next tip may sound silly, but it works. Establish and stick to a “go to bed” routine or ritual. Follow the same steps every night in preparation for sleep. Your body will begin to recognize the routine and start to put itself into sleepy mode automatically. It works for toddlers and it will work for you.
Tip number 4 is a bit tougher: proper diet and exercise. Light exertion two hours before bed time is great. A stiff workout just before hitting the hay is counterproductive. You may feel bone tired, but your metabolism is racing and the last thing it wants to do is sleep. And plan those meals appropriately. Not only is it unhealthy to eat a large meal before bed, your digestion process will make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Plan ahead!
Tip 5 is actually a list of things to avoid, a list of sleep killers if you will. Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bed. Both may make you feel relaxed, but your sleep will definitely suffer. And avoid those glowing screens right before bed. Most sleep experts recommend at least an hour away from the iPad before bed. The light from computer screens is harmful to our sleep, so step away from the Internet and you will be happier. The same thing applies to those nasty “to do” lists that many of us maintain. These are great lists to start your day, but ending your day with a fresh list of action items hanging over your head just ramps up your stress levels, fills your head with worry about worst-case scenarios and makes sure that the sheep you count will all look like your boss. So set those lists aside and let the stress stay outside the bedroom.
Following these five tips can dramatically increase the quantity and quality of your sleep. Better sleep means better health and a richer life, so why wait? Start sleeping better tonight!