As children, the words “bedtime” and “nap” were dirty words that we wanted to avoid for as long as possible. Staying awake all night was rebellious, or proof that we were growing up. Now, as adults, we long for a good night’s sleep, and treasure any time we can sneak in a quick nap.
Sleep is crucial for both your physical health and your mental health. When you sleep, your body and mind rest and reenergize. When your body is resting, it has time to process nutrients. While you sleep, your body grows and thrives. Your mind also needs time to be quiet, to relax, and de-stress. During sleep, your brain also grows by storing memories and sending important messages to your body.
But sleep isn’t always easy to come by – for many of us, it can be difficult to fall, or stay, asleep. Our lives are busy and stressful, and turning off is difficult. Though the world is quiet, your mind may be loud with many thoughts running through it. When sleep does not come naturally for you, it can be aggravating, and that can lead to even more trouble falling asleep.
Since you need sleep to balance your mind and body and be your best for the next day, try these tips to restore and rejuvenate.
Set a routine. It is normal to want to stay up late on the weekends, sleep in on Sundays, or take a nap when you have a free afternoon. It seems like a good idea at the time and should help you feel rested, but our bodies have sleep-wake cycles that need consistency. Pick a bedtime that allows you to get about eight hours of sleep each night, and try to keep that schedule throughout the week, give or take one hour. If you do need to nap (and that is OK in moderation), try and take short naps that will not interfere with bedtime.
Prepare for bed. Preparing for bed means more than brushing your teeth and washing your face. While some people can fall asleep anywhere, others need the right place, atmosphere, and mindset.
- Create a calm, dark environment that is conducive to sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the body that helps trigger sleepiness; it is produced when it is dark outside. Bright lights affect the production of melatonin, which then affects your ability to fall sleep. If your room is too light, your body’s production of melatonin will be affected and your body will not know it is time for sleep.
- Give your brain time to relax before bed. Turn off those screens – phones, tablets, TVs, computers. While some people find watching TV and playing games or reading on an e-reader relaxing, the light from these devices can affect your sleep/wake cycle and trick your brain into thinking that it isn’t time to sleep.
Eat and drink right. What you eat and drink at night can affect everything about your sleep.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Noshing before hitting the hay can cause heartburn, stomach aches, or other discomfort. Be mindful about when and how much you eat close to bedtime. On the other hand, some people have trouble falling asleep if they are too hungry. Find the right balance for yourself.
- Watch your nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol intake. These substances all affect your ability to fall asleep. While alcohol makes you tired, once it wears off, it can cause you to wake up without getting a full night’s rest. You know your body best and know how much your body can handle. Additionally, while drinking water is important for your health, make sure you do not drink too much before bed, causing you to have to go to the bathroom during the night.
Fit in some exercise. Since your mind and body are connected, it makes sense that if you take care of your body, you will be less stressed. Regular exercise has many benefits; one of them is regulating hormones that help you relax and sleep. However, some exercises can have an energizing effect on the body. Unless your exercise is yoga or stretching, which helps calm the mind and body, try and wrap up your workout at least three hours before bed.
Relax. This is often easier said than done! Bedtime is quiet; this can allow your mind to wander, get anxious, and worry. If this causes you to have difficulty falling asleep, it can be helpful to practice a relaxation technique before bed. For some, this means journaling, reading, meditation, breathing exercises, or muscle relaxation techniques. There are many stress reduction practices that you can do during the day as well that can help manage your time so that when it is time for bed, you feel OK about letting yourself get rest.
Know when to ask for help. Sometimes there may be a medical reason behind why you’re having trouble sleeping. If you have tried these tips and are still having trouble sleeping, consult your doctor. It is always OK to ask for help.
Do you have a trick for falling asleep or staying asleep that we did not mention? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.