“I really hope I wake up at 2 am and struggle to fall back to sleep”…said no one ever. We all know we’re supposed to get enough sleep, and we really do try but sometimes sleeping can be our nemesis. Quality sleep is just as essential to us as is air, water and food. Without sleep, we can’t preserve the pathways in our brain that allows us to absorb and create new memories. It is also harder for us to concentrate and respond quickly.
Sleep also plays a significant role on our health. Sleep affects various types of tissues and systems in the body. This includes our brain, heart, and lungs as well as our metabolism, immune function, and attitude. Research shows poor quality sleep can increase the risk of many diseases and disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Fortunately, there are a variety of helpful tips and tricks that can help us improve our quality of sleep. Whether these tips and tricks help you get into bed more calmly or get out of bed more reinvigorated, here are a list of do’s and don’t to maximize your sleep efforts.
- Do: Set the alarm for a later time. In lieu of setting the snooze button alarm for an additional 20 or 30 minutes, etc, set your alarm for only 10 minutes before the time you actually need to get up. Use these 10 minutes to take a few deep breathes and think about all the positive things you have scheduled or will accomplish. Breathing deeply mimics how your body feels when it’s already relaxed, so after inhaling and exhaling for a few rounds, you just might find yourself feeling calmer. That’s because deep breathing stimulates the body’s naturally-calming parasympathetic system, NPR reported.
Don’t: Hit the Snooze Button. Although it may feel good knowing you have 10 minutes of tranquility after hitting the snooze button, it can actually hurt you, not help you. Why? Well, the snooze button disturbs REM sleep, which makes us feel even groggier than if we were to wake up during other stages of sleep.
- Do: Train your brain to sleep. Listening to special meditation music that uses theta and delta frequencies within the recording can relax the mind and train the brain to automatically move into therapeutic frequency ranges. Meditation music can slow brainwaves down by entraining the brain to release theta waves for deep relaxation. Delta waves promote deep sleep.
Don’t: Power up the devices in bed. This includes ALL your devices — smartphones, laptops, TVs. All of these belong outside your bedroom. If you must sleep next to your smartphone, silence the email and text alarms. Be sure you power down at least 60 minutes before bedtime. Also, remember to block your clock. Sneaking peeks at the time only adds to your stress. Moreover, that dim blue light is one of the biggest triggers that tells our brains that it’s time to be awake and alert. Dim the lights, cover it or simply turn off devices when possible.6 Steps to Achieving Your Optimal Sleep Status. Quality Sleep is Essential to Brain Health! Click To Tweet
- Do: Sleep Naked. Sleeping naked increases the chances of skin-to-skin contact with your partner. Skin-to-skin contact releases copious amounts of neurotransmitter, oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the “happy chemical” and contributes to healthy relationships. When high levels of oxytocin are released, the bad hormone, cortisol is decreased. High cortisol levels weaken our immune system, raise our blood pressure and cholesterol, increase our appetite, disrupt our normal sleep patterns, lowers our libido, and increases cravings for bad foods like sugar and carbs. Sleeping naked also helps us sleep at a comfortable temp. For most people, a comfortable temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Sleeping naked also helps our bodies breathe. Body parts that are covered all day long like your armpits, groin and feet are given a chance to air out and breathe. This can lower the risk of skin diseases, like athlete’s foot, that result from moist, warm skin.
Don’t: Share a blanket. Have you ever gotten into a tug a war over blankets with your partner? Worse, ever get into a temperature war with your partner where one of you are sweating while the other one is shivering? Try using just one fitted sheet as usual and then make 2 twin-sized flat sheets and blankets to meet each person’s needs. Simply cover this over with your bed comforter when making the bed each morning and no one will even know!
- Do: Exercise. Regular exercise helps you sleep better. Gentle mind-body exercises, like Pilates, yoga or tai chi, are great to do just before you call it a night.
Don’t Exercise Vigorously Before Bed. A post-workout burst of energy can keep you awake at night. A good rule of thumb is to finish exercising 3 to 4 hours before you head to bed.
5. Do: Eat Right at Night. Eating heavy foods and big meals can overload your digestive system and affects the quality of your sleep. Have a light evening snack of cereal with milk, fruits or nuts instead. Also, be sure to finish eating at least an hour before bed.
Don’t: Drink Alcohol before bed. Although alcohol can make you sleepy at bedtime, it will actually make you wake up more often during the nights. Try warm milk or chamomile tea in lieu of alcohol and don’t drink anything in the last 2 hours before bed.
- Do: Try aromatherapy. The scent of lavender has noted benefits for sleep. The Wall Street Journal cited that lavender helped women with insomnia fall asleep more easily. Try oils or even hot bath before bed. A bath raises your body temperature slightly. Then, when you get out, your temperature drops, which mimics the natural drop in body temperature caused by the brain as it readies the body for sleep.
Don’t: Stay in bed if you can’t sleep.
If all else fails, get out of bed. Continuing to lie there only stresses you out more, making it even more difficult to get back to sleep. Experts recommend getting out of bed to do something else — as long it’s relaxing and doesn’t involve bright light. Then, go back to bed when you’re really tired.
In summary, as much as we all love to sleep, it can be frustrating and even harmful when we can’t. If you find that no tip or trick helps you, it may be time to see your doctor. Inform them if your sleeplessness lasts for a month or more. They can check to see if a health condition — such as acid reflux, arthritis, asthma, or depression — or a medicine you need to take is part of the issue. You may also benefit from tracking your sleep in a Sleep Diary. This will help you identify patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.