No, this post is not about bathing before going to bed or changing the sheets, although both are fine practices. This post is really about getting good sleep. A survey conducted in April of this year by the Better Sleep Council found that 53% of women and 44% of men report that they regularly are not getting enough sleep. Less than half are taking even one step to do something about it. Does that group include you?
Many people don’t realize that chronically missing sleep can have consequences far beyond grouchiness and daytime fogginess. Chronic sleep loss puts you at greater risk for accidents, impaired mental function and a host of serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Sleep issues that are chronic and long-term merit a trip to the doctor. In the meantime, regardless of frequency, there are some common-sense steps listed together under the heading of “Sleep Hygiene” that can lead to better sleep. There are lots of versions floating around, but here’s mine. Focus on just one or two items at a time and see what works for you:
Establish a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. An evening ritual – a warm bath, writing in a gratitude journal, enjoying a cup of herb tea, etc. – cues the body to sleep. Let go of working and/or thinking about it. If you are having trouble letting go of your to-do list for tomorrow or unresolved worries from the day, jot them down on a notebook and put it aside. Then let them sit. You know where to find them if the need arises.
Avoid daytime napping. If you really must catch some zzz’s, limit naps to 30 minutes or less and not too close to bedtime.
Watch alcohol and caffeine consumption. Alcohol causes initial sleepiness, but sudden waking may occur after a few hours. Caffeine is a stimulant that people use to wake themselves up. Avoid both within 3-4 hours of bedtime, even more if you are extra sensitive to the effects.
Watch your diet. A body digesting food can’t rest. Try eating your big meal for lunch and a light dinner. Limit spicy, rich, or hard-to-digest foods in the evening, especially if you are prone to acid reflux. If you frequently wake needing to pee, limit liquids after 8 PM.
Don’t use nicotine. Nicotine works as a central nervous system stimulant. It can cause or contribute to insomnia. (Also, smoking is really bad for you!)
Time your workouts. Regular exercise generally aids sleep, but vigorous exercise done too close to bedtime can be too energizing. Do your cardio and strength training early in the day. In the evening, opt instead for a 20-minute gentle, breath-based yoga practice that will help you transition to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind and body.
Create a cozy, comfortable environment. Invest in a good mattress and comfy bedding. Clear the clutter from your room and make sure it’s cool, dark and quiet at bedtime. Banish electronic/LED devices or at least cover the blinking lights with a scarf.
Reserve the bed for sleep-related activities. Train your body to associate the bed with sleep by working, reading and watching TV in other rooms.
Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Meditation, yoga nidra, deep breathing, and guided relaxation will all calm the body and mind. There are literally thousands of cds, youtube videos and podcasts available. Despite the illustration, it turns out that counting sheep is not an effective sedative. But counting your blessings will put your mind in a beautiful state and allow you to stop rewriting project specs or calculating spreadsheets in your head.
Don’t worry about sleep. Worrying about lost sleep has been shown to cause more damage to the body than the lost sleep. Instead listen to music that relaxes you or think about people, places and things that make you happy. Give your mind permission to stop thinking and bring your focus to your breath–don’t try to fix or manage it. Just watch your body take in fresh breath and exhale what’s no longer needed. It’s not necessarily to take a deep breath–when the body is totally relaxed the breath may become quite shallow. Just relax and enjoy the sensation of rest.