How to Get a Good Night's Sleep
Its late. The lights are off. The house is quiet. You’ve snuggled into bed, pulled up the covers, and assumed your usual sleeping position. The steady breathing of your spouse, or pet, as the case might be, signals he or she is sound asleep. It’s later. You turn over. You turn over again. Your usually comfy bed grows less comfortable with the passing hours.
Why can’t you fall asleep?
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night. Occasional difficulty sleeping is probably not anything to worry about, and most people are able to overcome it with these good sleep habits:
- Stay on schedule. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, no more than an hour later or earlier—yes, even on the weekends!
- Get up. Once awake, get out of bed. Too much waking time in bed can lead to insomnia.
- Get outdoors, especially first thing in the morning. Sun exposure within the first 30 minutes of sunrise regulates your body’s natural rhythms.
- Be active. Get plenty of exercise—do it in the early morning sunshine, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone. An intense workout right before bedtime, though, can perk you up.
- Have fun. Studies have shown that people who did fun and interesting things during the day slept better than those who didn’t.
- Avoid long naps, especially late in the day. If you’re too drowsy to make it through the day, take a 10- to 20-minute nap in the early afternoon, preferably lying in a darkened room.
- Eat light in the evening. Avoid eating a heavy meal before bedtime. Try to consume the bulk of your calories at breakfast and lunch—this practice helps with weight management too!
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Reserve your bedroom for sleeping. Don’t work, pay bills, watch TV, or use your smartphone in bed.
- Turn the houselights down. Use low light for an hour or so before bedtime to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. If your housemates object, wear sunglasses.
- Take a bath. A warm bath can be deeply relaxing. Add some herbs or essential oils, like chamomile and lavender, to promote sleep. But a very hot bath can be stimulating.
- Develop a routine. Doing the same things at bedtime—brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc.—also signals to your body to wind down.
- Pray. Make prayer a part of that bedtime routine. Prayer can calm your mind like nothing else, as you entrust the day’s worries to the Omnipotent.
- Get comfortable. Make sure your bed is not too hard nor too soft and that your pillow is the correct type for your sleeping position—thinner for back-sleepers, thicker for side-sleepers.
- Keep it dark and quiet. Don’t underestimate the impact of these simple things; buy heavy curtains and earplugs if you have to! It seems innocuous, but the blue-spectrum light emitted by gadgets like TVs and smartphones interferes with melatonin production. Some studies suggest a link between this “light pollution” and breast and prostate cancers.
- Don’t worry. The stress of insomnia can make the problem worse, so try not to obsess about your sleep loss. Getting up and doing something can be more helpful than tossing and turning for hours on end.
Keep in mind that alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can cause insomnia. Certain herbs, supplements, and even medications like cold medicines and diet pills might also interfere with sleep. Use sleep medications cautiously. Some are habit forming and compound the problem in the long run. Others, such as over-the-counter medications containing antihistamines, can cause memory problems with long-term use, especially in the elderly. The best natural sleep aids are valerian and melatonin. Valerian is a sedative herb that has been used for centuries. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Both can be found at natural foods stores.
If you’re doing all the “right” things but Mr. Sandman still isn’t bringing you a dream, consult with your doctor. Chronic insomnia, lasting longer than three weeks, is associated with a number of medical issues: obesity, thyroid disorders, depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, stress, and physical pain. If your sleep difficulties are affecting your day-to-day functioning, and/or are accompanied by any of these conditions, it’s probably time to get help from a health professional.