After a long day, we’re tired. Oftentimes it’s not the falling asleep that brings us trouble, but the staying asleep. We bolt awake in the middle of the night or blink our eyes open, bleary and confused, several times in the wee hours of the morning. We toss, we turn, we wake up tired and start the cycle over again. What gives?
Alanna McGinn, sleep expert and founder of the Good Night Sleep Site, tells us that getting a solid, consistent night’s sleep doesn’t start and end with being tired. There are lots of things we need to do to condition our minds, bodies, and energy to thoroughly rest, uninterrupted, and it really begins before bedtime. Some pointers may seem insignificant, but they make a major difference. Keep these habits in mind to improve your sleep hygiene:
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
“Caffeine—like coffee, tea, soda, and nicotine—can act as a stimulant that can keep you awake. While alcohol can help you doze off, it can cause more fragmented sleep throughout the night. Alcohol, when broken down, produces more REM sleep (light sleep). Brain activity during this stage closely resembles brain activity when awake.”
Incorporate daily exercise
“Our goal when we wake up is to build a strong drive to sleep, which will help falling asleep at night and make staying asleep easier. One way to do this is to incorporate daily exercise and increase your heart rate. You should be trying to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, and 150 minutes of exercise per week.”
Turn off tech and keep it out of the bedroom
“Not only does technology expose us to blue light, it can be emotionally and mentally stimulating, making it more difficult for us to shut down our minds and settle into sleep. Many say that they can fall asleep great to the TV. When you are exposed to bright lights before going to bed, the sleep switch in your brain turns off. So while you may fall asleep fine to the TV or after surfing your phone, your brain still thinks it’s awake, not allowing you to achieve restorative sleep, and promoting more restless sleep.”
“We need to build a strong association between sleep and our bed, so it’s important to remove clutter and distractions and focus on creating an environment that is inviting and conducive to sleep. Falling asleep in a calming and relaxing environment helps to lower stress and anxiety levels, allowing us to sleep more soundly or drift back to sleep easily if we do wake up throughout the night.
Focus on your five senses. How can you create the best relaxing environment to help you drift off to sleep and sleep soundly through the night?
- Sight—eye masks, the color you choose on the walls, etc.
- Sound—earplugs or sound machine.
- Touch—bedding, PJs.
- Taste—bedtime tea or herbal elixir.”
If you can’t sleep, stop trying
“There are going to be nights where you just can’t sleep. Sometimes it takes time to teach our bodies to fall asleep, and lying there staring at the clock is just going to make you more anxious. Our goal is to train our brain that bed equals sleep, so you don’t want to lie awake for hours. To strengthen the association between your bed and staying asleep, it’s best to get out of bed if you can’t sleep and go into another room and do a quiet and restful activity like reading a book, drinking a warm glass of milk, etc. until you feel sleepy enough to head back to bed.
Plan what you will do before you go to bed. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the night, but the more you train your brain that heading to bed equals sleep, the better you will fall asleep—but also stay asleep, or fall back to sleep easily if you wake up.”