If you’ve ever been sleep-deprived for any length of time, you likely realize just how important sleep is to your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Consistent inability to sleep well can lead to issues with your heart health, immune system, energy levels, weight, job performance, family life, relationships, and mental health and can prove incredibly damaging over time. Thankfully, there are a few simple steps that you can follow to help get your sleep back on track and take control of your nights as well as your days.
Step 1: Get on and stick to a sleep schedule
If you don’t already have a consistent sleep schedule that you follow, there is no time like the present to change this. Following a set bedtime and wake-up time is one of the first and best things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, get your body into a natural rhythm, and stop dreading being jolted awake by your alarm clock every morning. Keep in mind, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep to function properly. Over time, your body will begin to wake up on its own and you will be refreshed and ready to start the day. This means no going to bed late and sleeping in on the weekends. Even though it may feel good at the moment, you aren’t doing yourself any favors in the long run.
Step 2: Create a bedtime routine
After you’ve established a sleep schedule and are sticking to it, start to create a relaxing, repetitive bedtime routine that will indicate to your brain and body that it is getting close to time to sleep. Obviously, you may have some variety in your evenings, depending on your work and home life situation, but it is still possible to select a few actions that can help your mind calm down and unwind. Journaling, taking a warm bath, drinking a cup of chamomile tea, turning on an essential oil diffuser or soothing music, turning down the lights, putting away electronics, stretching, and reading are all great ways to focus on sleep and release the stress of the day. Try incorporating one or all of these, depending on how complex you want your bedtime routine, and after a few weeks, you’ll realize that you start to feel sleepy and more relaxed as soon as you start going through the motions.
Step 3: Cultivate a quality sleep environment
If you live in the city where streetlights shine into your bedroom or you are woken up too early by the morning sun, install blackout curtains in your bedroom, as light can interrupt your circadian rhythm and throw off your sleep habits. Make sure that you keep the temperature at a comfortable 60-67 degrees (the best temperature for sleeping). Sound can also be an issue. Use white noise, a fan, or nature sounds to block out irritating noises, if desired.
When is the last time you even thought about your mattress or your pillow? Just how long have you had that same set of sheets? Though it may not seem that critical, having quality bedding is one of the most essential steps towards creating a quality sleep environment that allows you to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer without midnight insomnia. Invest some money into a toxin-free mattress and pillow that fit your unique sleeping needs (be sure to test them out), and get quality bamboo or organic cotton sheets that feel good against your skin.
Take a look around the room and count how many electronics you have. Do you have a tv in your bedroom, a computer? Where do you plug in your phone? The bedroom should really just be for two things. Sleep and sex. If you tend to lay in bed scrolling on your phone or aimlessly watch tv while you try to fall asleep, you are exposing yourself to potentially harmful blue light that could be disrupting the natural production of melatonin in your body and keeping you from that elusive good night’s sleep. Plus, your body no longer associates the bed with sleep. Try removing the tv, charging your phone in the living room (use an analog alarm clock if you can), and detoxing from nighttime electronics.
Step 4: Start thinking about sleep early in the day
Though it may sound strange to say that you should start thinking about sleep as soon as you wake up, it is actually good practice. Your daily activities can keep you tossing and turning through the night so make sleep a priority during the day. Monitor your caffeine intake and stop drinking coffee around 2 pm or earlier if you are sensitive to the simulation and avoid alcohol close to bedtime as it can affect the brain and lower sleep quality. Though it may be difficult, especially if you are limiting caffeine intake, try to avoid that afternoon nap. Even if you only nap for 20 minutes, you may end up throwing off your sleep schedule and affecting your ability to fall asleep.
Step 5: Follow a healthy lifestyle
Get out and see the sun to help maintain that circadian rhythm and give you a much-needed dose of sunlight therapy. Be sure to incorporate heart-pumping exercise into your day to get your blood flowing and ensure that you’re actually tired when you are ready for bed. Keep in mind, most experts suggest staying away from vigorous activity at least one hour before bed.
We’re all guilty of wanting the occasional midnight snack, but try not to go to bed incredibly full as the process of digestion can keep you up and disrupt your sleep through the night. Eat real, whole foods and grains, avoid processed foods when possible, and drink lots of water (just not right before bed). Focus on what makes you feel better and your sense of wellbeing will spread to every area of your life…including your sleep.
Remember, the occasional restless night or bout of insomnia is totally normal and simply part of the human sleep experience; however, if you regularly have trouble falling and staying asleep, you may want to consult with your doctor about other issues that may be keeping you awake.
-The Backyard Garden Team