Picture this: it’s the middle of the day, you’re feeling great, and boom! Drowsiness rolls in, your eyes start closing, your concentration falls, and dreams about getting home and into bed become irresistible. While an afternoon slump can be totally normal for most people, it can be an indicator that you’re not getting enough – and good quality – sleep.
Over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity has declined. In fact, many people regularly get poor sleep. Modern life is full of factors that may cause sleep disorders: an intense schedule, work stress, family responsibilities, big city noises, information overload, anxious thoughts, and other habits that aren’t great for sleep, like looking at screens just before bed. Most people do not pay much attention to this and just plan to catch some extra rest during the weekend, but ignoring what might seem like a minor inconvenience and inevitable part of modern lifestyle can lead to serious physical and mental problems.
Scientists say that sleep is not a monotonous state, but an active process with many vital functions. Multiple studies link sleep deprivation with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease and obesity. Lack of sleep has a devastating effect on our immune system that decreases our resistance to infections, and, especially relevant today, can reduce the efficiency of vaccines.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic spell that can make you sleep well at night, but there are some simple steps towards better sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene.
Step 1. Create a comfortable and relaxing sleeping environment
A quiet, clean, and peaceful bedroom is one of the key factors of having a good night’s sleep. It’s worth putting in the effort to create a space conducive to quality sleep, and you should focus on maximizing comfort and minimizing distractions.
Sleep in the dark
Excess light exposure can throw off your sleep and circadian rhythm. Put blackout curtains over your windows or a sleep mask over your eyes.
Keep noise to a minimum
Peace and quietness are a must for a sleep-positive bedroom. Try to eliminate or at least mask any disruptive sounds. You may consider drowning them out with a fan or white noise machine. Earplugs or headphones are another solution.
Find an optimal temperature
You should not be feeling too hot or too cold when you sleep. The ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, but sleeping in a cooler room that is between 60 and 67 degrees is generally ideal.
Get a comfortable mattress and pillow
A quality mattress is vital for body relaxation and ensures that your spine gets proper support to avoid aches and pains. The pillow you choose may depend on your preferred sleep position. If you suffer from allergies, it’s also important to pay attention to pillow fill.
Choose quality bedding
Your sheets and blankets play a major role in helping your bed feel welcoming. Look for bedding that is pleasant to touch and helps maintain a comfortable temperature during the night.
Keep your bedroom in order
If your eyes see a mess when you enter the bedroom, there’s a high chance that you won’t have an easy time falling asleep. Spend a few minutes tidying up!
Add relaxing aromas
A light, calming scent can provide a soothing smell in your bedroom and help ease you into sleep. Many people gravitate to lavender for relaxation and deeper sleep. Fresh air is also essential; try to keep your windows open as often as possible.
Step 2. Craft a pre-bed time routine to unwind
You might think your difficulty falling asleep happens when you hit the pillow. However, the lead-up to bedtime is what can make you fall asleep easily and effortlessly – or the opposite. After a busy day, it’s crucial to make time in the evening to relieve stress, awaken your senses, and calm down. Try to create a consistent routine that you follow each night so your mind and body will react to the signals that night rest is approaching.
Listen to soothing music
Rather than watching the news or TV, turn on classical music to lower blood pressure and reduce stress, or any of your favorite, relaxing music to quiet down and lift your mood. Both will get you into the right frame of mind for sleep.
Lower the lights
Think of some lamps or candles instead of bright overhead light to create a more low-key, serene surrounding. Light exposure tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime while indirect light will contribute to your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
Avoid using devices
Disconnect from your smartphone and laptop, and stop watching TV at least 30 minutes before going to bed. In addition to overdriving your brain, electronic devices emit large amounts of harmful blue light. To reduce nighttime blue light exposure, you can try special glasses or install apps that block blue light.
Take a warm bath or shower
Heat relaxes tense, tired muscles, and helps you de-stress.
Read a book
Reading is a great way to escape from the worries and stresses of everyday life, and a screen-free form of pre-sleep entertainment.
Do gentle yoga or low-impact stretching
These activities will increase relaxation and relieve tension in your body.
Mindful meditation is about learning to be more at ease with your thoughts and helps pave the way for a good night’s rest. Deep breathing and visualization will also work.
Step 3. Set up a sleep schedule
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is a great step towards healthier rest. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Get up at the same time every day
Pick a wake-up time and stick with it, even on weekends when you would otherwise be tempted to sleep in. Your body will fail to develop a healthy sleep routine if you’re constantly up at different times.
Try to keep up to regular bedtime
It’s recommended to go to sleep no later than 11 PM, with the amount of daily sleep for a healthy adult maxing out at 8 hours. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing, and then go back to bed.
Be careful with naps
While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping, especially late in the day, can negatively affect your sleep as they confuse your internal clock. The best time to nap is shortly after lunch in the early afternoon, and the best nap length is around 20-30 minutes.
Stop re-setting your alarm clock
Whether you snooze your alarm for five minutes or an hour, you are definitely not helping your sleep. After this, you will most likely wake up even more tired. Each time the alarm rings, the body thinks it’s time to get up, and when you postpone this, the body no longer knows how to react.
Step 4. Foster healthy pro-sleep habits during the day
Preparing for high-quality sleep is actually an all-day affair, so you should keep on track of your habits during the day.
Expose yourself to natural light
Make sure you get enough natural light during the day (morning time and outdoors is preferable). Sunlight keeps your circadian rhythm healthy, which in its turn improves your daytime energy and tells your body when it’s time to sleep.
Daily exercise is the foundation of healthy living. When it comes to its benefits for your resting hours, active movements initiate changes in energy use and body temperature that helps promote solid sleep. Doctors advise to avoid intense training late in the evening as the body won’t have enough time to settle down before going to bed.
Make your bed a sleep-only zone
It may be tempting to hang out in your comfortable bed with different kinds of activities from working to watching a movie or even eating. But this can actually cause you problems at bedtime. You need to develop a strong mental association strictly between your bed and your sleep.
Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine later in the day
All of these stimulate your nervous system and stay elevated in your blood for hours. When consumed in the late afternoon or evening, these substances can stop your body from naturally relaxing at night and diminish sleep quality.
Don’t eat too late
Try to avoid eating dinner within just a couple of hours of bedtime, and minimize especially fat or spicy foods to avoid food-based sleep disruptions. It will likely be much harder for you to fall asleep if your body is still digesting a big dinner. Go with something light and healthy if you need an evening snack.
Implementing all of these tips at once may sound overwhelming, but it’s really not an all-or-nothing thing! You can choose several of the tips above as a start, and keep adding more. It won’t take much time for them to start paying off by helping you wake up full of energy, maintain that feeling throughout the day, and enjoy a healthy sleep every night.
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