One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to sleep well and make sleep a priority in your life. It’s not being selfish, the world needs you – not a wired and tired version of you, but a well-rested, refreshed and best you possible. So if you’re not sleeping well or just wish to learn how to sleep better, see which of the areas below you can work on to improve your sleep. Good luck and sweet dreams!
Minimize disturbances from your partner or pets
For snoring, tossing & turning, different sleep/wake schedules, pets and other issues that are challenging to work out, stay open-minded about sleeping in a separate bedroom as your partner, if you are fortunate to have one. Many people do it nowadays. You can still share intimacy with your partner before you retire to your room to sleep. And sleeping in a different room doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner, it means you DO love them, enough to give them a happy and well-rested version of you.
For snoring, try elevating your partner’s head with an extra pillow, an adjustable base, or have them sleep on their side. Also make sure you have a supportive mattress. If they ever make a choking sound while snoring, they may have sleep apnea and should get checked out by a specialist (additional resources: What Is Sleep Apnea and What Are the Side Effects? Does Snoring Mean I Have Sleep Apnea?). You can also try experimenting with earplugs for those extra difficult nights. (See note about earplugs at the end of this blog). For tossing and turning, get the largest bed your room can accommodate. A king size mattress with no motion transfer is ideal. Also try using different top sheets and blankets. If your pets wake you at night, keep them out of the bedroom, or as mentioned before, go to another bedroom – and shut the door.
Eliminate nighttime light from your bedroom
Invest in a nice set of blackout curtains, unplug the nightlight, and if there is still light in the room, try using a mask. The darker the room, the deeper you’ll sleep!
Keep bedroom quiet as possible and use white noise
Make your bedroom a dark, quiet sanctuary. For the random nighttime noises you can’t control, some people find sleeping with “white noise” helpful to drown out the rest of the noises. Examples of white noise would be the sounds of crashing waves or traffic on a distant road. The easiest way to make your own white noise is to turn on the fan-on feature of your thermostat. This will also keep fresh air circulating in your room. For difficult nights, or the party next door, try earplugs.
Although this can be difficult to achieve in Arizona, try to keep your bedroom as cool as possible – your body will sleep better in a cooler environment.
Give your electronics the boot
Allow your mind & body to associate your bedroom with rest, relaxation and sleep. Keep stimulating electronics out of the bedroom – TVs, cellphones, iPads, laptops etc. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, put it in “airplane mode” and “do not disturb” before you even bring it into your bedroom. That way you won’t be tempted to surf the web or check emails and texts before bed. Electronics (and the messages they convey) tend to stimulate the mind. They also emit blue light which tricks the mind into thinking it’s still light outside and inhibits the body’s natural release of melatonin. Quit using electronics at least an hour and a half before bedtime.
Clean up the air you breathe
Weather permitting, open your windows to let in some fresh air. Also put a plant or two in your room. Plants not only have a calming effect on the mind, they are nature’s air cleaners. You can also invest in an air purifier or ionizer, just not one that emits ozone.
A good quality mattress, of course
When you think about spending a third of your life sleeping (time well spent, by the way), and the other two thirds are affected by how well you slept, it makes sense to invest in a good quality mattress. Find one you can afford that is comfortable, supportive, breathable and made with healthy components.
Use meditation to calm your mind
Use meditation during the day to calm your mind. If a restless mind is a challenge for you, don’t wait until bedtime to try to quiet the inner chatter. The Headspace app for your phone provides an excellent introduction to meditation. If you have particular thoughts that are troubling you, use a journal to get them out of your head and onto paper. Transferring your thoughts in this way has a therapeutic effect and will help you let go of them so you can sleep. It also helps to be spiritual, release these issues to God, and trust him to help you.
Have you ever noticed how good it feels to take off your shoes and put your feet in the grass, or walk barefoot at the beach? That direct connection with the earth brings free electrons into your body, which act like antioxidants to minimize the effect of free radicals, allowing your body to heal and restore itself more efficiently. And aside from the science behind it, it just feels good. Before industrialization and the modern age, our ancestors had the privilege of being grounded 24 hours a day, while hunting, gathering, resting, farming, sleeping etc. You can bring these benefits into the bedroom by investing in a set of grounding sheets/blankets.
Enjoy some sunlight and align your body with the rhythms of the earth
Exposure to sunlight throughout the day, and especially early in the morning can help set our internal body clock. When it starts getting dark outside, think about creating a relaxing routine to get you ready for bed, mentally and physically – like taking a nice shower, reading a good book, giving your partner a massage (or getting one). You know the expression “early to bed, early to rise …” Our bodies have been programmed for thousands, millions of years to be awake during the day and go to sleep soon after dark. Even though we now have artificial light and electronics to stimulate us and keep us awake after dark and all through the night, your body still likes going to bed soon after dark. It’s not just the quantity of sleep that matters, but when you get it. Eight hours of sleep will benefit you more from 10 to 6 than from 12 to 8 or 1 to 9. Those first few hours of sleep soon after dark are the magical period Shawn Stevenson calls “money time” when growth hormone is at its peak.
Get your exercise and move your body
Exercising your body during the day will help it sleep well at night. The best times to exercise for its sleep benefits are either morning or early evening. Strenuous workouts too close to bedtime will prevent your body from winding down in time for sleep.
Go easy on caffeine and alcohol
Too much caffeine during the day, or caffeine at night, will keep you from falling into peaceful slumber. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it reduces the quality of your sleep.
Sleep, exercise and a healthy diet are like the three pillars of a three-legged stool that supports a healthy lifestyle. Each one supports the other. When you exercise, you sleep better. When you sleep well, you have more energy to exercise and you also make healthier eating choices. A healthy diet can also help you sleep better. A deficit in any one of these areas will weaken the whole system. Don’t skimp!
Visit a sleep specialist
Finally, if you have stubborn sleep issues that don’t improve with your efforts, consider an appointment with a sleep specialist that could help with diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, one of the most common. If you are located here in Scottsdale, make an appointment with Dr. Ruchir Patel, director of the Insomnia & Sleep Institute of Arizona.
Much thanks to Shawn Stevenson, health coach and author of Sleep Smarter, for inspiring many of the ideas in this blog. Check out his book for more in-depth discussion of these topics and more.
Note on earplugs: My personal favorite for more than 20 years has been Flents Quiet Please Foam Earplugs. Roll them between your fingers into a tight cylinder, open your jaw as wide as possible to open up the ear canal, insert them into your ear, allow them to expand for about 20 to 30 seconds and then close your jaw. Be careful not to force them in or push them in too far which may damage your ear. When you roll them up tightly and open up your jaw, they should go in without forcing. When removing them, open up your jaw again and pull slowly. Be careful: speaking from experience, earplugs can be addicting if you use them every night. Save them for the roughest nights.