Losing sleep is frustrating. But more than that, if it happens consistently, it can be debilitating. Research studies clearly show that a consistent lack of sleep impairs mental alertness and judgment — things most people need on a daily basis. You know you need to fix this problem, but you really don’t want to go the route of sleeping pill — they can have bad side effects and leave people really groggy in the morning. Here Are 21 things you can try to improve your night’s sleep. While not all of them work for everyone, you can try them and find those few that work for you.
General Preparation for Sleep
1. What’s your mattress like? Is it more than eight years old? Is it too soft or too firm? Spend the money and get a good one now. An adjustable mattress that works for each individual is probably the most important sleep aid there is.
2. Figure out your ideal sleep schedule. This doesn’t mean how many hours you sleep; it means what it the best time for you to hit the sack at night and to wake up in the morning. If you can’t figure it out, go camping for a long weekend, with no alarm clocks. Stay awake all day and go to bed when you are tired. Do the same thing the next day and the next, and you will know what bedtime is for you. If you can’t transfer that bedtime over to your work life, then at least you know how many hours you need and can work toward that goal.
3. How many hours of sleep you need. Once you know how many hours is right for you, shoot for that number on a consistent basis. If you need seven hours, work backwards from your morning routine, and you’ll have your bedtime.
4. Get up at the same time every day. No matter what time you went to bed the night before. Sleeping later will mess up your schedule, and you are training your brain and your body for a schedule. That schedule begins with your waking time.
5. Put your alarm clock across the room. Here’s the thing about those snooze buttons. Your body is already preparing itself to wake up if you are on a schedule. You are in a lighter phase of sleep. If you punch that snooze button, you may fall back into a deeper phase and when you are awakened from it, you will really be groggy.
6. Open those blinds as soon as you get up. The more exposure to light in the morning, the more awake you will feel. And there is a scientific reason for this. While you sleep, your brain produces melatonin, a relaxant. When you expose yourself to bright light, the brain gets the message to stop producing melatonin and to start producing cortisol, the stay-awake chemical. The more bright light you get in the morning, the more energy you will have. And the more energy you have during the day, the more your body and brain will be ready to turn that off when its bedtime.
7. Get some exercise every day. Even if it is only to walk your dog or mow your lawn, you have to be physical for a part of your day, especially if you sit at a desk. Before the industrial revolution and the advent of “office” jobs, people worked on farms — they did physical labor all day. They slept well at night too. And even today, people whose jobs are primarily physical sleep better than those who do not. This should tell you a lot. Get off that couch in the evening!
8. Fasting. At least one government study indicates that a moderate amount of fasting periodically seems to enhance sleep. Here is an example of what is meant by moderate intermittent fasting. Three days a week don’t eat after 7:00 p.m. Don’t eat breakfast the next morning either. Then, eat lunch. Although the reasons why this stimulates better sleep are not fully known, the results are pretty clear.
9. Lose the caffeine. Caffeine is not just in coffee. Check out the amount that is some soda as well — it’s huge. And those energy drinks? Caffeine on steroids. Don’t drink caffeine after early afternoon, because it can stimulate you for at least five hours later.
Before You Go to Bed
10. The brain begins to signal release of melatonin when the sun goes down. Of course, we live with electricity, most of us, so we can stay “under the lights” all night if we wish. But our bodies will not produce the amount of melatonin we need to get ready for sleep. One of the worst culprits is your devices’ blue screen. If your device has a “night light” feature, turn it on. The lower light with a different frequency will let our body go ahead and produce some melatonin.
11. Try to shut down your computer two hours before bedtime. It’s not just the light. What you do on your computer continues to be your brain stimulated, and you may have a more difficult time falling to sleep.
12. Have a consistent routine for bedtime prep. Both your brain and body will react to a consistent routine. When you use the same routine for getting ready for bed every night, it’s being told that it is time to begin the “shutdown” process. The same thing goes for the morning. If you keep a consistent routine, your body and brain get the message that it is time for some energy.
13. Take a melatonin supplement about 30 minutes before your normal bedtime. This will enhance the natural production of melatonin so your system gets a double dose.
14. No alcohol. That glass of wine or drink before bed sounds like a good idea. After all, alcohol is a depressant within your system and should make you sleepy. The short answer to this is yes is does. However, you will end up sending more time in stage one and two of sleep and less time in deeper stages that are more beneficial. The result? You’ll wake up more tired.
15. Temperature is a factor. We often have heard that a cold shower in the morning will really wake a person up. Strange that it could do the same thing at night too. But there is a difference. If, at night, you take a hot shower, followed by just a minute or two of cold, you will stimulate a thermogenic effect in your body. Basically, this is when your body releases more energy, and as it releases more energy, you become sleepier.
Think of it this way. When you eat a huge Thanksgiving meal, you become sleepy. Some attribute this to a chemical in turkey. But people become sleepy after any large meal. The reason is that your body has increased its metabolism to digest that meal — this is a thermogenic response, and it makes you tired. The same can be said for when a body temperature goes from quite hot to a shock of cold. The metabolism is stepped up and can make you tired.
16. Don’t lie awake. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 to20 minutes, don’t lie there and become frustrated or angry. Get up. Get out of bed and go into another room. Listen to quiet, calm music or read something really boring until you feel sleepy, then try again. Trying to force sleep only makes things worse.
17. Sleep likes cooler temperatures. Our bodies cool off a bit when we sleep. Some studies suggest that if we can cool our beds a bit rather than warm them up, we may enhance that cooling down and get to sleep faster.
18. The darker the better. Eliminate as much light as possible. This may mean getting blinds and curtains at your windows to block out street lights. If you have devices in your room that are charging with lights on, even though they are tiny, cover them up.
19. Think about adding white noise. These are great little devices that provide a constant sound — rain or ocean waves, for example. These can block out other sounds that may pop up — sirens, thumping music from a car passing by, and so forth. A fan may work as well.
20. Counting sheep or something else. There was a reason your grandmother told you to do this. It is the effect of repetition about something totally meaningless. You can also count your breaths. A lot of people cannot fall asleep because they cannot shut down their brains. After a hectic, busy, or stressful day, we have a tendency to go over the events and ruminate on them. Instead, focus on counting or something else repetitive and you will become sleepier.
21. Muscle tightening and relaxing helps some. Start at your feet. Tense you muscles then relax them. Do the same as you move up your body. This seems to cue the brain and body, as you relax, that it is bedtime.
As said earlier, avoid sleeping pills if you can help it. Your sleep won’t be a good as the natural thing. If, however, none of these tips work, then consider getting a prescription for a temporary period of time, just until you can get your body more regulated on its own. Sweet dreams.