I often wake up around 1 or 2 in the morning and then lay awake for several hours as my mind races. I inherited this wonderful affliction from my mother. Getting a good night’s sleep requires constant maintenance on my part – diligence in preparing my body and creating an atmosphere conducive to sleep. I’m sure that you’ve all had nights like this. Getting enough sleep is extremely important for your health – keep reading for tips on improving your sleeping habits.
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is beneficial for your health for several reasons. When you sleep your body repairs damage caused by stress, free radicals, and UV light during the previous day. Sleep is also necessary for optimal functioning of your immune system, cognitive performance, and metabolism. Not getting enough sleep can put you at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression.
There are many different reasons that people have trouble sleeping, but the most common cause is behavioral – things that we do during the day that make it difficult for us to sleep at night. Making a few small changes in your daily life can dramatically improve your ability to sleep at night – behavioral modifications have been shown to be as effective as sleeping pills. Consider the following 5 tips for improving your sleeping habits:
- Get up at the same time everyday. Your body loves routine and it craves a consistent sleep schedule. I know how great it feels to sleep late on the weekends – but if you regularly wake up early during the week, sleeping in on Sunday morning will confuse your body and wreak havoc with your sleep cycle. Give your body the consistency it needs and get out of bed at the same time everyday. Going to bed at the same time each night is not as important. Avoid dramatic changes from night to night, but in general only go to bed when you are sleepy.
- Maintain a regular daily schedule. Do your best to keep a regular schedule – eat meals, take medications, exercise, and do your chores at the same time each day. Establishing a consistent routine helps your inner clock run smoothly. Sleep quality is highest when the sleep schedule is regularly synchronized to your internal clock – you sleep best when your body is expecting it and is ready for it. This may sound like a pain in the butt… but if you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s worth it!
- Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve sleep. A 30 minute walk four or five times per week is all that is necessary to have a beneficial effect on your ability to sleep – and your health in general. Exercise helps to reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve immune system function. It can also relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise increases your heart rate, so if you exercise vigorously, do so at least 6 hours before bedtime. Mild exercise, such as stretching or walking, should be done at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Generally, it’s recommended to avoid these chemicals at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that make it difficult for your nervous system to slip into sleep mode. Alcohol may initially make you feel sleepy, but it actually interferes with normal sleep rhythms so you may have difficulty staying asleep or may wake up not feeling rested. It’s also important to note that as we get older our ability to handle these chemicals changes – so just because you’ve always been able to have an afternoon coffee or a beer with dinner doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. It might now be the exact cause of your sleep troubles.
- Establish a relaxing pre-sleep ritual. This will help your body slow down and prepare for sleep. Don’t underestimate this step! Overstimulating the nervous system just before bedtime will make it difficult to fall asleep. Activities such as a warm bath, light snack, reading, or meditation are often helpful. Also, the latest research shows that the blue light from televisions, cell phones, tablets and computer monitors reduces melatonin production, which then interferes with your normal sleep cycle. It’s recommended to avoid using these electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
One last tip… a few months ago I downloaded an app to my phone called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation app that has a bunch of different meditations for inducing sleep. I use one called “Yoga Nidra for Sleep” by Jennifer Piercy. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I play this sleep meditation and it gives my mind something to focus on, rather than letting it run wild. The meditation goes for about 20 minutes, but I almost always fall asleep before it ends.