Open up any health magazine and you’re likely to find at least one piece extolling the benefits of a good night’s sleep. More and more, research has linked poor sleep habits to everything from obesity and heart disease to depression and diabetes. Clearly, sleeping well is an integral part of our overall wellness. However, for many people, that’s far easier said than done.
As anyone who has trouble sleeping can attest, it is ENDLESSLY frustrating to lie awake in bed, trying desperately to get some rest. Naturally, the harder we try and the more anxious we become, the more sleep eludes us. Add to that, worry over being exhausted and not being able to function the next day. Add to that, the stress of a life challenge that we (or a loved one) may be facing and the “Worst Case Scenario” movie that’s on replay in our mind and…well, a good night’s rest seems like an impossibility!?
While we all have sleepless nights now and then, a consistent pattern of poor quality sleep not only prevents us from functioning at our best, but also presents some serious health risks. Before I share with you my best tips for getting a good night’s rest, let’s look at the benefits of good sleeping habits (there are many!). I have a feeling that these benefits will convince you to invest some time and attention to this area of your life.
The benefits of a good night’s rest include:
- better thinking, problem solving, attention, memory and creativity
- A strong heart (during sleep time, the body works on maintaining/restoring the heart and blood vessels)
- Healthy weight (sleep decreases cortisol levels)
- Hormone regulation
- Strengthening of the immune system
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Less depression and anxiety
- Better sex
- Lower risk of accidents and injury
But the bigger question is how do we get a good night’s rest, when most of us are hyper-stimulated and trying to pack entirely too much into each 24-hour day? Based on the research available on this topic, here are some strategies for improving the amount and quality of your sleep. I’ve used many of these strategies and they’ve made a noticeable improvement in my sleep and, consequently, my energy level. Even trying just one or two of them is likely to yield a positive result (and number 12 is the absolute game changer!).
- Stick to a steady sleep schedule – both bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. This means going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day (and NO hitting the snooze alarm – this is counter productive, as the depth and quality of sleep in those 10 minutes is poor).
- Watch what you eat and drink at dinner. Have enough food that you won’t go to bed hungry, but not so much that it’s difficult to digest. Also, limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. Both interfere with sleep patterns throughout the night and will, ultimately, result in less restorative sleep.
- Keep the temperature in the room on the cool side. It’s harder to get good rest when the body is too warm.
- Keep the room very dark. This is important, as we don’t want to interfere with the circadian rhythm of the body. Even things like a nightlight, a bright digital clock or other screen can cause sleep disturbances and interrupt natural sleep cycles. So, it’s a good idea to ditch the lights and, perhaps, even invest in a sleep mask or blackout curtains to maintain a very dark environment.
- Make the bedroom a television-free and computer-free zone. The goal is to establish the bedroom strictly as a place for rest and sex. The body will begin to recognize the bedroom this way and will begin to wind down, upon entering.
- Get regular exercise. Make sure to get some movement/exercise each day (just 20 minutes will do). Just be sure not to exercise right before bed, as it may give you an adrenaline rush and make it hard for the body to wind down. Gentle yoga might be an exception to this, but all other forms of yoga should be done at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Spend a little time outdoors each day. Whether due to the fresh air we breathe, the sun on our skin or the peaceful quality of nature, it’s well documented that being outdoors promotes better sleep.
- Develop a “wind down” routine. This can be a hot bath, some deep breathing exercises, time spent in meditation or prayer, a hot cup of tea, journaling, reading, etc. When done regularly, this routine signals the body to release the day and prepare for sleep.
- Invest in a quality mattress, pillow and bed linens. Make sure that your back and neck are well supported and kept in proper alignment while you sleep. In addition, high quality bed linens will be much softer against the skin. All of these things combine to create a more comfortable and restorative sleep.
- Experiment with essential oils and aromatherapy. There are lots of options for incorporating scent/essential oils into your sleep experience – essential oil diffusers, pillow/linen spray, even just rubbing a few drops of essential oil between the palms, cupping the hands over the nose and inhaling the scent. Some scents known to relax the nervous system are lavender, vanilla, cedarwood, frankincense and chamomile.
- Avoid napping during the day. Some people love the luxury of a good nap but, most people find that it interferes with the body clock and makes falling asleep at night harder. If you’re someone who has trouble falling/staying asleep, you may wish to avoid napping during the day.
And the VERY best piece of advice I can give is this…(drumroll, please)…
- Make sure that you have some “me” time scheduled into each day. This doesn’t, at face value, seem like it would benefit sleep, but I believe that the reason most people don’t go to bed earlier is that the time at night, before bed, is the ONLY time that they have to themselves and they are loathe to give it up to sleep. One girlfriend after another has told me that they can’t seem to go to bed earlier because, “If I give that time up, then my entire day belongs to others.” Wow. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? We are staying up so late because we simply MUST have some time to ourselves each day; it’s so important that we will even sacrifice sleep and energy and, perhaps even our health, to get it. Therefore, if we build a little “me” time into each day, we’ll likely be much more willing to go to bed earlier and get more (and better) rest.
When we make quality sleep a priority and implement just a few changes to our daily routine, the results are quite noticeable (and pretty amazing!). A well-rested body contributes to a well-lived life.
I hope that this information serves you and, if you have tips and tricks that have worked for you, I’d love for you to share them in the Comments below.
Have a beautiful (and restful) weekend,
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