There are SO MANY tips on how to get better sleep. Mattresses, light exposure, daytime activities, the food we eat, exercise, sleep position, supplements – you get the picture.
We know sleep is important, but it’s confusing. Sleep too little and concentration and brain function decreases. Sleep too much and you’ll encounter a different host of health issues. What’s the right number then? Is it 7 hours? Is it 8? Somewhere in between? Does it matter based on where you live or what you do or what your age or gender is?
Generally speaking, the vast majority of individuals cannot perform optimally with less than 6 hours of sleep. While a single night of sub-6 hour sleep will have minimal effect, doing this consistently over time will affect decision making, executive processing, memory and other important cognitive and physical tasks.
You see, when we sleep, our bodies and brains don’t actually shut down. A lot of complicated and critical things happen, things that repair, recharge and rebuild our bodies. Even your skin renews itself, hence the phrase “beauty sleep” (it does not come from Sleeping Beauty contrary to popular belief, it’s because you will physically look bad if you are sleep deprived).
Also, we sleep in stages: light sleep (stage 1 and 2) and deep sleep (stages 3-5). The deep sleep is where all of the restorative work gets done, which is why it’s important to aim for better quality sleep, and necessarily more of it.
Here are some simple sleep tips to consider that just might help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep and wake up feeling awesome:
1. Determine your sleep number: Try to assess, on average, how many hours of sleep you need for your body wake up naturally, without the aid of an alarm clock. This is the amount of sleep you should aim to get on a regular basis.
2. Track your sleep: It’s always good to establish a baseline so that you can track your progress. Apps like Sleep Cycle (free) track the quality and length of your sleep by monitoring your breathing patterns through your phone speaker.
3. Sleep in total darkness: Because of our circadian rhythms, the presence of light prior to sleeping signals the body to limit the production of melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) which can disrupt sleep. Remove or cover up your electronics, install blackout curtains or sleep with an eye mask.
4. Avoid “blue light” before bed: Too much exposure to light before bedtime, especially “blue lights” from electronics and certain lightbulbs, is one of the biggest culprits of sleep struggles. Try to avoid or limit the usage of tablets, smartphones, TVs, computers, clock radios and other blue light emitting devices 60-90 minutes before bed.
5. Keep your room cool: The ideal temperature for sleep is somewhere between 65 and 70 degrees because cooler body temperatures lead to more deep sleep, where as hot environments result in more wakeful states.
6. Adjust your sound: Sound frequencies can actually alter brainwaves and influence the body’s functioning, which means that we can achieve more periods of deep sleep if we listen to certain sounds. A simple white noise app will suffice or, for the more adventurous, a “binaural beat” deep sleep inducing track, which you can find on Amazon, iTunes or Spotify.
7. Clear your mind: This is a great time for some introspection so that your day ends on a positive note:
- Say a prayer
- Write down the things you accomplished during the day
- Write down the things you’re grateful for
- Journal – get thoughts, ideas and problems out of your head, which can be especially helpful if you’re the type to lie in bed rehashing the events of the day
8. Don’t drink caffeine after 2pm: Caffeine is a stimulant and has sleep disrupting effects.
9. Don’t drink alcohol: If you do drink, have a cocktail earlier in the evening and not right before bed because while alcohol might help you fall asleep, it lessens the amount of time you spend in deep sleep.
10. Consider supplements: There are dozens of supplements and minerals that are known to enhance sleep such as magnesium (in the form of vitamins, lotions or even an epsom salt bath), melatonin, chamomile tea or lavender oil.
11. Create a bedtime routine: Our bodies like predictability. Wind down 30-60 minutes before bed and find activities (meditation, reading, stretching etc.) that work for you. And try to do this at around the same time each day.
12. If you can’t sleep, get up: If you are not able to fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Read or journal under a dim light. Some dense fiction will surely put you to sleep quickly!