Tips for getting a healthy night’s sleep
We all know the importance of a good night’s sleep. Being tired can make you irritable and forgetful; it can affect your digestion and your appearance. It can even lead to overeating and excessive snacking in an effort to re-energize yourself to make it through the day. Being exhausted means we have less to give to our work, our families, and our partners. So why are we always burning the candle at both ends? It may not feel like there are enough hours in the day to get the sleep we need, but healthy sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, are among the most important self-care practices we can cultivate. Here are six simple ways to get more (and better quality) sleep.
Program Your Day
It might not feel intuitive to start thinking about sleep in the morning, but there are a number of things you can do throughout your day to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep, many of which are listed throughout this article. A major tip is to avoid napping– or if you must nap, do it far enough away from bedtime that your body will be tired when it’s time to lay down for the night.
Exercise is also crucial. Vigorous exercise is best, but a light workout is better than none at all. As little as ten minutes a day can have positive sleep benefits, but the timing in the day is important. Don’t stay up late to exercise (that defeats the purpose of getting more sleep) and make sure to do it early enough in the day that your body has time to recover from the activity before slowing down for the evening.
Make A Sleep Schedule
It’s recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For some, that’s easy as pie, but for others that number can seem impossible. One way to get a full night’s sleep? Start earlier. Count backwards from the time you need to wake up and set your bedtime accordingly. Creating a schedule for sleep and sticking to it (both weekdays and weekends) will help train your body into a healthy and regular routine. Not tired at your appointed bedtime? Get in bed anyway and read or do another relaxing activity until you’re ready for sleep. Tired before your bedtime? Listen to your body and head to bed. You’ll never be sorry to have too much sleep!
Let It Go
Sometimes our minds won’t stop buzzing when we get to the end of the day. Stressful thoughts of work or other obligations can keep us from relaxing fully. By finding ways to put down these worries for the night, your sleep quality will improve drastically.
Take all of the thoughts buzzing around in your head and put them to paper. Making a list of things to do tomorrow allows you to stop worrying about them in the moment. Tomorrow’s a new day. Imagine how many tasks you’ll be able to tackle once you’re well-rested!
You can also practice some physical relaxation techniques to let go of any tension you’re holding in your muscles. Try squeezing your hands into a fist as tight as they’ll go for a few seconds, then releasing them fully. You can repeat this with pretty much any body part: eyes, shoulders, glutes, toes, etc. Over-tensing and then releasing will flush out any residual holding so your body will be ready for rest.
Cut Down On Caffeine
We all love a cup of coffee in the morning to wake us up, to get us through that afternoon slump, or to enjoy with dessert after a nice dinner. But if you’re enjoying coffee too late in the day, the quality of your sleep may be suffering. And coffee isn’t the only culprit: tea, which many people use as a substitute for coffee, can have just as much caffeine as a cup of joe, as can dark chocolate. Everyone’s bodies respond to caffeine differently, so some people will be able to drink coffee in the evening with no negative impacts, while others will be up all night. Try cutting out anything caffeinated after 4pm and see how your body feels. Maybe you don’t need that afternoon cup of coffee after all. Can you energize yourself by going on a brisk walk instead?
Careful What You Consume
Smoking is also a no-no for healthy sleep. The nicotine in cigarettes and some vapes is a stimulant, which is the opposite of what your body wants when it’s trying to wind down. Similarly, eating a meal too late in the day or that’s too heavy may also interfere with your sleep. This requires your body to put a lot of energy towards digestion, so while you may feel tired (food coma, anyone?) your body isn’t totally ready for relaxation.
Drinking water throughout the day is very helpful in regulating many of your body’s vital systems, but avoid drinking too much right before bedtime. If you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, waking up and moving around to do so will definitely interrupt your cycles of sleep.
Create A Sleep Sanctuary
Your bedroom should be a space that’s used exclusively for sleep, relaxation, and intimacy. Many people make a habit of eating or doing work while in bed, which are stimulating activities. By keeping those things out of the bedroom, you begin to create a space where your body instinctively knows it’s time to rest.
Your body temperature actually lowers while you sleep, so creating a cool climate in the room can help facilitate your transition to dreamland. Try setting your thermostat between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.
Consider the light in the room. The circadian rhythms of our bodies respond to sunlight, so having some sunshine peeking through at the time you want to wake is a great idea. On the flip side, any light pollution from man-made sources can be disruptive to sleep. A set of blackout curtains might be a great investment.
Limit Screen Time
If you’re the kind of person who lies in bed trying to catch up on text messages, scroll through social media, or send one last email before falling asleep, you’re not alone. 90% of people in the United States admit to using technology just before bedtime, but do you know just how harmful it can be for your quality of sleep? Not only does technology use keep your mind active in a time when it should be powering down, but by getting involved in new conversations and trains of thought, your bedtime is delayed.
Most importantly, electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and some kinds of e-readers emit blue light, an artificial, short-wavelength type of illumination that can disturb our circadian rhythm: the internal clock that tells our bodies when it’s time to go to sleep and wake up. Blue light can also disrupt your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for bringing your body into sound sleep.
Consider a digital curfew: set a deadline (relative to bedtimes) for all members of the family to put down their electronic devices. Choose a time that’s at least 30 minutes before bedtime, though it could be earlier as long as it’s a time that’s realistic and sustainable. Some great alternatives to tech use before bed include reading a book (either the old-school paper kind or on an e-ink e-reader, the kind in grayscale and not in color), having a quiet conversation with a loved one, or doing some meditation.
Restore To Restfulness With Yoga
You may not think that a physical movement practice could help your body come into stillness, but in fact there are a number of yoga poses that will do just that. Gentle movement helps to release tension and encourage deep breathing, both of which activate your parasympathetic nervous system which mitigates stress. There are many different types of yoga, but this slow flow and sequence of restorative poses will help you body relax and unwind for a good night’s sleep. Of course, if you have any physical limitations or health concerns, check with a medical professional before beginning this practice.
Legs up the wall pose (also known as viparita karani) is one of the most calming and grounding postures. It’s simple enough to be accessible to nearly everybody, even those with no yoga experience. You’ll need a wall or other solid vertical surface. Begin by sitting next to the wall with your hip touching the baseboard. As you come to lie on your back, extend your legs up the wall. Scoot your hips as close to the wall as you can so your body makes an L shape instead of a V shape. You can always put a blanket or bolster under the hips to give yourself more space in your hamstrings. Lay your arms out beside you in a T-shape or low V (with hands closer to the wall rather than overhead). You can stay in this pose for as long as you’d like: 10-20 minutes is ideal. When you’re ready to come down, bend your knees and hug them into your chest before gently rolling over to your side in a fetal position. From there, you can come up to hands and knees, then to sitting.
If you’ve taken a yoga class before, your favorite pose might be savasana. It’s how teachers close most classes: yogic naptime. The idea behind this pose is to do nothing. Release any special breathwork, any muscular holding, and any thought patterns that are keeping your mind occupied. Simply lie on your back, feeling the ground beneath supporting your body fully. What makes this pose special is the intention to release: try it lying on the floor or even in your bed if you’re experiencing restlessness.
Creating healthy habits for good sleep hygiene is fairly simple with a bit of mindfulness and planning. Listening to your body is key: it will tell you how much caffeine you can handle, what kind of movement or exercise feels good, and where your body’s natural circadian rhythms fall. Just imagine how much better your days will be when you wake up fully rested.
Healthy sleep is just a small part of living a healthy lifestyle. For more tips on healthy habits, visit eatsensiblemeals.com. Our portion-controlled meals are available for delivery, making clean eating a habit that’s easy for your whole family to enjoy.