Nothing feels better than a good night’s sleep, but it doesn’t always come as easily as we’d like. For some people, medical conditions like Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), and Insomnia contribute to sleep difficulties, often requiring individualized treatment from a specialist (Southeastern Med’s Sleep Medicine services are available for this exact purpose). In other cases, however, struggling to fall asleep is merely a consequence of how we’ve utilized our waking hours. With the hectic pace most of us keep all day, it’s no wonder our bodies — and our minds — have a hard time stopping. With a little extra planning and consistency, though, there are ways to construct a healthier routine; one that can ease nighttime stress and have you sleeping like a baby at long last.
Believe it or not, you can start working toward a better night’s sleep the minute you hop out of bed.
Getting up at the same time everyday — yes, that includes weekends — helps you establish a good sleep rhythm.
Knock Out the Hard Stuff
Morning is the perfect time to tackle your toughest and most stressful tasks. You’ve got the energy to take them on, and you have the rest of the day to recover.
While sleeping may be the last thing on your mind at this point of the day, what you do now can make a real difference tonight.
Step Away from the Coffee
Caffeine stays with you a lot longer than you might think. It’s best to limit your caffeine intake throughout the morning and to stop drinking it altogether after 2 p.m.
Sweat It Out
Daily exercise has so many benefits, it’s hard to keep count. Get that blood pumping — just not too close to bedtime — and you’ll be amazed by how much sounder you sleep.
A lot of people make the mistake of going, going, going until bedtime, and then they wonder why they can’t fall asleep. Make evening your transition time.
Schedule an Early Dinner
Make sure you finish dinner at least two to three hours before going to bed.
Cap Your Nightcap
Yes, alcohol can make you sleepy. The problem is that it disrupts deep sleep. Finish your nightcap at least two hours before bed to avoid a restless night.
Go for a Stroll
A nice, slow-paced walk can be very relaxing. Clear your mind, and loosen your body. Just make sure it’s not too invigorating as you get later into the evening.
Do Away with Late-Night Desserts
It’s pretty common to get the munchies at night. If you’re truly hungry, try a light healthy snack. A handful of almonds or whole grain crackers with cheese are good options. But try to stay away from anything greasy or sugary.
Prep for Tomorrow
Pack your lunch, lay out your clothes, gather what you need to walk out the door for work. Being organized and ready for what tomorrow brings can help you relax and sleep better tonight.
Clear Your Space; Clear Your Mind
It’s been proven that a cluttered, messy environment can make you feel more stressed. If you have a sink full of dirty dishes and piles of bills on your nightstand, chances are it’s going to affect your sleep. Take some time to do a quick tidy before settling in for the night. It can also help to write a to-do list so that you’re not trying to remember things for the next day.
Consider this your one-hour countdown to bedtime.
You may think it’s relaxing to binge your favorite TV show or scroll through Facebook right before bed, but it could actually be keeping you awake. The backlight from your TV, phone or computer — along with plain old light from your lamp — keeps your body from producing melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep. So, at least an hour before bed, dim the lights and turn off all electronic devices.
Set the Mood
A good sleep environment plays a huge role in how well you sleep. Obviously, a comfy mattress and pillow can go a long way. But you also want to aim for total darkness, a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees, and minimal distractions. Some people find that using a fan or sound machine helps drown out other noises. And it may be worth considering putting your pets to bed in a different room.
Stretch It Out
Five to 10 minutes of light, gentle stretching can help your body relax so that you get comfortable faster when you climb into bed. And — bonus! — it can help you wake up feeling looser and more relaxed, too.
Have a Soothing Drink
Drink a hot cup of (non-caffeinated) tea or warm milk about half an hour before bed. Not only is the warmth relaxing, but milk can stimulate the production of melatonin, and tea with lavender or chamomile can help calm you.
Take Time to Unwind
Take a warm bath with calming scents, like lavender or vanilla. Read a couple chapters (just be sure it’s an actual paper book, not an electronic device). Practice meditation or mindful breathing. Write down what you’re grateful for. Whatever soothes you, take some time to do it.
Hit the Sheets
It’s really important to go to bed at the same time every night. Schedule your bedtime like an appointment. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of lying down, get up, leave the room, and do something relaxing for a bit. The worst thing you can do is lie there for hours, staring at the clock.
Visit sleep.org, powered by the National Sleep Foundation, to learn more about improving your sleep, or if you feel you need extra help, contact Southeastern Med to arrange a consultation with our board certified sleep medicine specialist.