Sleep is one of those things that comes full circle in life. As babies, we’re in a deep sleep most of the day as our tiny bodies work overtime to grow. In our toddler years straight through middle school, we’ll do anything to negotiate our way out of bedtime. As teens and young college adults, we’re night owls who study and socialize into the wee hours of the morning. However, by the time we’re busy adults with careers and kids, all we want is to “sleep like a baby” again.
With adulthood responsibilities comes stress, making a quality night of sleep hard to come by. We fret over demanding careers, our children’s academic success and friendships, our health and the health of aging parents, financial stability, and much more.
While stress and anxiety are major deterrents to quality sleep, sometimes our own actions exacerbate the issue. From an irregular sleep schedule to scrolling through social media right before your head hits the pillow, let’s explore the bad habits to break and the tips to follow for a better night’s sleep.
Follow a Regular Sleep Schedule
The human body is a well-oiled machine that is easily trained. Stick with the same bedtime every night, and wake up around the same time every day. Consistency is key, and will lead to your body understanding when it should be awake and when it should be asleep. Try to maintain the same sleep schedule even on the weekends, which will help you avoid Sunday Night Insomnia. Our bodies respond best to regular patterns, so find a sleep pattern and stick with it.
Find Your Ideal Bedroom Temperature
Whether you prefer a cold room and snuggling deep under your covers, or a warm room with just a sheet tossed over you, find your ideal room temperature and set your thermostat accordingly. Sleep can be disrupted when we get too hot or too cold, and falling back to sleep is delayed until our bodies are back to a comfortable temperature. If you have a programmable thermostat that changes your bedroom temperature during the day when you’re not using it, make sure it’s set to adjust back to your ideal sleep temperature an hour before bedtime.
Avoid Late Night Snacks
Late night snacking is a huge temptation for many people. When we finally get the chance to relax on our couch after a busy day, it’s easy to reach for snacks and mindlessly eat while catching up on our favorite TV shows. However, those late-night snacks are bound to cause sleep issues because it causes the muscles and systems that digest and metabolize food to keep working when they should be resting. Try to stop snacking two hours before bedtime to prepare your body for quality sleep. If you had a light dinner and need to snack, choose proteins and fiber such as cheese, almonds, or air-popped popcorn. Avoid anything with sugar or caffeine.
Exercise Early in the Day
Regular exercise is a wonderful contributor to quality sleep, but only if done at the right time of day. Exercising in the morning or early afternoon leads to great sleep, while raising your heartrate in the late afternoon or evening can lead to sleep issues. When we exercise, our bodies are surging with adrenaline and raising our core temperature. It takes time to come down from that, so give yourself at least three hours between exercise and your bedtime.
Shut Off Your Phone
It’s tempting to grab your cell phone after you’ve crawled into bed to give your social media feed one last scroll or check your email. However, the blue light emitted from cell phones actually restrains the production of melatonin—your body’s natural sleep chemical. This makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
In addition, social media or a work email can lead to stress and anxiety if you see something upsetting right before shutting your eyes. A triggering social media post or an email from your boss adding to your already heavy workload can make your body go from a sleep-ready state to wide-eyed and stressed out.
Develop an Evening Relaxation Regimen
Anticipating your week or day ahead can provoke extreme anxiety, as you ponder how you’ll meet all your work deadlines, get your kids to sports practices on time, and prepare a home-cooked dinner for some family time. Anxiety triggers the human body’s stress response system, creating a surge of the stress hormone cortisol and disrupting sleep.
There are several ways to enter a deep state of relaxation in the evening hours, setting you up for a night of deep sleep. A national survey revealed that 55% of people find yoga helps them sleep better, with 85% saying it helps reduce stress. Try these restorative yoga poses that will melt away stress and lead to a better night’s sleep.
Likewise, mindful meditation has proven to help combat sleep issues by increasing melatonin, increasing serotonin, reducing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, and activating the part of the brain responsible for sleep. Find a quiet, comfortable area in your home to lie down—the preferred position for meditation prior to sleep—close your eyes and inhale slowly. Focus on your breathing, exhaling deeply, and allow stressful thoughts to quickly exit your mind. Do this for 3-5 minutes each night before bed.
There are also helpful at-home devices that help you relax, such as the Neck Hammock. This simple, portable device that only requires a door knob, door jamb, or post to use, leverages cervical traction to help relax the mind and body. When used just 10 minutes each day to gently pull your neck, it relaxes the muscles in your neck and spine to relieve anxiety, induce relaxation, and improve sleep.
Quality sleep is essential to our quality of life, impacting our mood, energy, and productivity. Take these tips into consideration if you find that good sleep is more of a luxury than a regular occurrence.