Though sleep disorders are hardly new – even Aristotle wrote about them – our round-the-clock lifestyles, caffeine and alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, stress loads, and a myriad of other factors have conditioned our bodies to stay awake. At times, sleep seems like the impossible dream and staying up is wearing us out.
So is there hope for the bleary-eyed? Is a good night’s rest even possible these days? Absolutely! But first, you’ll need to brush up on your sleeping skills and make a few simple daytime changes so you can sleep better tonight. Here’s where to start:
1. Get into a sleepy-time groove.
Getting up and going to bed around the same time, 7 nights a week, is one of the most important things you can do to establish good sleep habits. Waking and sleeping at regular times reinforces a consistent sleep rhythm and reminds the brain when to release those all-important sleep and wake hormones.
2. Lost sleep is lost.
Going to bed extra early Sunday night after Saturday night’s debauchery won’t help you “make up” for lost sleep. Instead, it’ll throw off your body clock even further, making quality sleep more elusive. Take a power-nap if you really need it (see below) but again, go to bed at your normal bedtime to maintain a consistent sleep routine.
3. Nap like a grown-up.
Toddlers need 2-hour naps. Adults don’t. A grown-up power-nap should be no more than 30 minutes, preferably before 4pm. Long or late afternoon naps damage sleep rhythm, and make it tougher to fall asleep at night.
4. Rest your belly.
To rest easier, eat light at night, at least 3 hours before bed. This will help ensure that the digestive process is well under way and nearing completion before you hit the hay. Eating close to bedtime forces your body to work into the wee hours, digesting when it should be resting.
5. Say no to late night snacks.
Refined grains and sugars at night can raise blood sugar and overstress the organs involved in hormone regulation throughout the body. This roller coaster can contribute to waking you up throughout the night as hormone levels bounce up and down. My advice? You’ll sleep better tonight if you just say no to late night snack attacks.
6. Dry up your act.
Late night liquids can disrupt sleep with frequent trips to the loo, so cut yourself off about 4 hours before you turn in for the night to extend your bouts of uninterrupted sleep.
7. Deprive your senses.
To sleep better, you’ll need a quiet, dark room. Blackout curtains, an old-fashioned sleep mask, earplugs, plus a white noise machine (optional) will help block out common sleep-disrupters like street noise, streetlights, snoring partners and early morning sun.
8. Chill out, dude.
A sleeping temperature of 60 to 68 degrees is best for most people, even in winter. In hot weather, a fan or an air-conditioner set at about 70 degrees will do the trick. “Chilling pillows” with cooling gel inserts and sheet-cooling devices can also make sleep more comfortable.
9. Prepare to sleep.
It’s important to prepare for sleep with a few day-ending rituals. Start by turning off all screens, computers, iPads and so on, an hour or two before bed. Engage in quieting activities that relax the body and down-shift the mind to begin the transition to a sleep-friendlier state.
10. Banish all electronics from the bedroom.
Their glowing lights and EMFs can undermine your ability to power down at night. Even in seemingly innocuous doses, light can stop your melatonin levels from rising, which is essential to induce sleep and help you achieve the deep, restorative rest your body needs.
11. Use melatonin strategically.
When sleep proves elusive, melatonin, in low doses for short periods – no more than a week or two at a time – can help regulate sleep rhythms. Generally, 1/2mg to 2 mg about 90 minutes before bed will do the trick. Keep in mind however, for some people, over-use of melatonin can actually disrupt sleep, so use it sparingly and follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions.
12. Power down with calming nutrients.
Instead of sleeping pills or alcohol, try herbs or supplements with calming effects, about a half an hour to an hour before bedtime. Magnesium (300-600 mg) is a wonderful calming mineral and can help induce sleep. Also helpful are the amino acids L theanine (100-500mg), 5 HTP (50-100mg), taurine and GABA, or herbs like lemon balm, passion flower, chamomile, magnolia and valerian root taken per package instructions. (Or you can find most of those nutrients in one formula.)
13. Catch a sleep wave.
If you can’t fall asleep within 45 minutes, get up and out of the bedroom. Keep the lights low and try a calming, screen-free activity, like reading or knitting. Wait about an hour before going back to bed. Staying in bed trying to fall asleep (instead of getting up), will only stress you out more and train your brain to not recognize bedtime as sleep time.
14. Have a chat with your doc.
Do you take prescription drugs? They could be contributing your sleeplessness. Among the more common sleep-stealers are antihistamines; diuretics; anti-psychotics; anti-depressants; decongestants; asthma medications, and some blood-pressure medicines. If you suspect they may be undermining your zzzzzs, ask the doc if you can switch to a more sleep-supportive alternative.