I’ve recently had several requests for information about sleeping better. Some people naturally sleep well, and some don’t — for a variety of reasons. I teach classes on better sleep a couple of times a year, and I encourage you to talk with a doctor, a sleep specialist, or join a class if you want to create a sleep plan that really works for you.
Generally sleep problems come in two categories: falling asleep and staying asleep. Some people have a problem with one or the other, and some have problems with both. Once you establish which is more problematic for you, you can tackle it and find the components of getting a good night’s sleep. There are some simple steps to getting the sleep that you want, and they are pretty easy to think about and plan to do, but often hard to put into practice in our busy lives.
- Create a sleep hygiene plan that works for you. This is something you do every night, even on the weekends. It is recommended that you go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, but a sleepy hygiene plan is more than that. It encompasses what you do to get yourself feeling sleepy even hours before it’s bedtime and up until the time you plan to go to sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before you go to sleep. We all know about caffeine, but you may be getting it in surprising places. Make sure that you buy drinks that are truly caffeine free. Don’t drink any caffeine for several hours before you plan to go to sleep. Many people think alcohol helps them to sleep, but alcohol doesn’t allow your body to truly rest and get the sleep it needs until it processes out of your system. For some people, this effect can come from even small amounts of alcohol. And a drink you pour yourself is probably more than the recommended amount in terms of ounces, so you may be drinking more than you think. Using alcohol to counteract the effects of too much caffeine is also not a great way to get a good night’s sleep.
- Make sure your room is dark, quiet, and cool. Anything you can do to make your room darker is a great idea. Blackout shades work well for both darkness and noise reduction, and are relatively inexpensive. The cooler your body is, the longer you will sleep. Our natural rhythm is connected with the rhythms of the earth, which tends to cool down at night when we usually sleep.
- If you wake up or can’t get to sleep in the first place, get up. Do something soothing and quiet instead of thinking about going to sleep or why you’re not going to sleep. Reading something slightly difficult or boring is always a good option, but use a low light, and do it somewhere other than your bed. Meditation is also a good option. When you’re truly tired, try again. We often keep ourselves awake by thinking about why we aren’t sleeping and the consequences that not sleeping well will bring tomorrow.
None of these things will work the first time you try them, and may take quite a lot of repetition to become a healthy habit for you, but keep trying. Sleep is important for our brains and bodies to function well every day. A good night’s sleep is linked to weight loss, positive attitude, and a whole host of other good things. Good luck!