Next to eating a clean diet and getting regular exercise, making time to relax and get proper sleep is imperative to good health. In fact, if you eat an impeccable diet of whole foods and work out 4 times a week, but you do not get proper sleep, you may never experience the fruits of your labor. Learning how to reduce stress and getting a good night’s sleep are non-negotiable; this is how our bodies and minds recover from the constant stimuli of daily life.
There are many ways people choose to unwind at the end of a day; Yoga and stretching, meditation, reading, having a cup of chamomile tea, getting a massage, or listening to soothing music to name a few. It is a good idea to start the unwinding process after you eat supper to get your body & mind into a state of relaxation to prepare for sleep. I recommend picking anything that works for you that does not involve modern technology – meaning shut off the TV and the computer and keep your cell phone out of sight. A hot shower or bath after supper is a great way to start the process. If you insist on watching TV or need to spend time on the computer after dinner, try stopping those activities at least an hour before bedtime. The flickering, unnatural light of a computer, cell phone or TV can interrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm so it may disrupt your sleep cycle. The stimulating content of a movie or TV show can be also be counteractive to relaxation.
So many people suffer from sleep disorders in this country, that it is practically an epidemic! It is a rare day that I talk to someone and they have no problem sleeping. This is an insidious health problem that most people do not take seriously. Sleeping is the time our bodies heal. Without it, we are at risk for major health issues. According to Chris Kresser, “Fewer than 6 hours of sleep per day is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and worsening insulin resistance, as well as increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).” You can read his entire post here for a detailed understanding of how important sleep is and why.
So how can we get better sleep?
I have never been a great sleeper. It takes me forever to warm up in the winter, to stay cool in the summer; I wiggle around, I can’t get comfortable, and when I finally do I have a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night due to various outside noises. Sometimes I wake up to go to the bathroom. Or my cat puts his paw on my face looking for a midnight snack. Once I wake up, it is extremely hard for me to fall back to sleep. If I do fall back to sleep, I feel worse when I wake up than when I did initially. If this sounds similar to what you go through every night, I sympathize! Good thing I have done a lot of work to improve my situation so I can pass that knowledge onto you!
Here are some tips I use to get a better night’s sleep:
1. Get regular exercise
Nothing will tire you out like exercise. Your body will crave sleep at night!
2. Start unwinding after supper (or at least an hour before bedtime)
As I suggested above. This is critical to setting the stage for proper sleep.
3. Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
The more consistent you are, the more your body will get used to your sleep cycle. It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends.
4. Treat your bedroom like a sleep chamber, not like your living room!
Remove the TV, the computer and yes, even the cell phone from the bedroom: these are all potential distractions and common sleep-disruptors. They make noise, have flickering lights, and can delay your bedtime or shorten your sleep time. I can’t stress enough to get black out curtains for the bedroom windows. Yes, make sure it is pitch black in there. Like a cave. Or a cocoon. A delightful sleep cave-cocoon!
5. Reduce caffeine intake.
This should be a no-brainer. Have your coffee or tea in the morning and that’s it. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime. If you love dark chocolate for dessert, be aware that it contains caffeine also and may cause trouble for you.
6. Make sure you are comfortable.
If you cannot find an adequate sleeping position, then consider getting a new mattress. Many of us hang on to those for so long they have little to no more integrity. A mattress is one of the most important purchases you will make, so spend your money wisely and don’t skimp! Try out all the beds in the store until you find that perfect one for you.
7. If you have a digital alarm clock, turn it to face away from you.
Yup, it’s that unnatural light issue again. It can mess with you! I know a few people who have gone back to using the old style analog clocks that have no lights. Many folks are also talking about those alarm clocks that wake you with light instead of sound, mimicking sunrise. These can be better alternatives to the digital ones. If you use your cell phone as an alarm, you are asking to be interrupted. Get a proper clock.
8. Keep Fluffy and Sparky out of the bedroom
We all love them, but if your pets are waking you up or keeping you awake, you should keep them out of the bedroom. I find cats to be more troublesome than dogs in this regard. If you decide to keep the kitty in bed, consider leaving some dry food out in the kitchen for them to nibble on when they wake up at 4:00am looking for snacks from you. This area is one I had trouble with until I realized that my cat Mr. Bradley is just a prankster who wants to wake me up because he is bored 🙂 I would close the bedroom door and he would immediately start caterwauling and banging on the door to get in. Nothing would stop him! If I let him in, he would wake me at obscenely early hours with the paw and some squawking. So I bought some ear plugs and put him out of the bedroom. Problem solved. I no longer can hear or respond to the kitty cacophony so he eventually gives up and goes to sleep elsewhere. Ear plugs take a little getting used to and are not for everybody, so I am not recommending them outright. I just find they work for me since I am so easily awakened by outside noises. (Like Mr. Brad.)
9. Relax your mind
This is always the most difficult part for me. My brain LOVES to run wild when I get in the bed. I use a breathing exercise that is kind of like counting sheep. I count my breaths to 100. Usually does the trick. Kind of like meditating, it keeps my thoughts from wandering and I focus back on the counting. I have also discovered the Sounder Sleep System which has made a huge difference in my state of relaxation (see tip #10)
10. Manage stress during the day!
If you do nothing else on this list, the single most effective way of getting proper sleep is to learn to diffuse stress during the day. If you are all amped up on adrenaline and cortisol at work all day and then expect to sleep well at night, you are in trouble! When things at work become stressful, I either talk a short walk to get away for a few minutes to clear my mind and relax, or I use simple meditations found here and here that were recommended to me by some friends. These are easy to do at the office because they only take a few minutes. As I mentioned in tip #9, The Sounder Sleep System has also been of great relief for me. The system has daytime and nighttime relaxation techniques that can set you on the path to better stress management and better sleep.
Remember – you can’t be all things to all people. You have to take care of yourself first. Click here to find out how.
If you have any tips to relaxing and getting better sleep that you would like to share, please post in the comments or on my Facebook page.