7 Fixes for Restful Sleep
When you get into bed, does it take you a long time to fall asleep? Or does it feel like you only fall asleep quickly until 3 a.m. when you start tossing and turning? Does your body feel tired, but your mind is still active? If any of these describe you, you’re in need of some sleep hygiene practices!
According to the Sleep Foundation, 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. have chronic sleep disorders. With that said, adults from 18 to 64 years old need seven or more hours of sleep, but more than one-third of adults in the U.S. sleep less than seven hours per night on average (Suni, 2023b). The most common signs of poor sleep hygiene are difficulties falling and staying asleep, and fatigue and fogginess when awake throughout the day.
A good night’s sleep is our secret weapon to success. Remember during our childhood, teachers suggested that we get a good night’s sleep and eat a nutritious breakfast on the morning of a big test? There’s a reason for that. Having a restful sleep empowers us to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day and whatever we're about to face. It acts as a reset button for our brain, removing all the toxins we build up during our wake state. Sleep helps us create new memories, retain information, concentrate better, and respond more quickly and effectively to emotional stimuli. Sleep is an all-or-nothing state: if your brain isn't entirely asleep, then it’s entirely awake (Suni, 2023a; "Headspace", n.d.).
It is no question that when someone lacks sleep, exhaustion causes that person to respond poorly to emotions and external stimuli. Our amygdala controls this process, our emotional regulation and processing part of the brain, which comes online during REM sleep. Without proper sleep, we may have difficulties controlling our emotions and managing our anxieties or negative feelings/moods, decreasing our experiences of positive emotions ("National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke", n.d.). I mean, we need the energy to deal with negative emotions and anxieties when they pop up; how can we do that if we're sleepless?!
Creating better sleep may be done by adjusting some habits. We can't expect our bodies to go from completely active to inactive in a matter of minutes. Our bodies expect us to wind down, getting ready for sleep gradually! Here are some ways to improve sleep hygiene:
Create or re-create a consistent sleep schedule Keeping a regular sleep schedule that spans across the weekdays and weekends is hard but necessary in adjusting your sleep hygiene habits. This requires going to bed and waking up at the same time every day of the week and on weekends. Readjusting the sleep schedule allows your body's internal clock to wind down gradually and prepare for rest at the same time each day ("Headspace", n.d.; "National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke", n.d.)!
Develop a relaxing bedtime routine Whatever you decide to do before bed - whether it's reading a book, taking a warm shower, meditating, listening to podcasts or music, or sleep-inducing sounds (e.g., nature sounds) - make sure that it is relaxing and allows you to fall asleep gradually ("Headspace", n.d.). Consider any other things you could integrate into your routine. Maybe using calming essential oils (i.e., eucalyptus) or stretching before bed? It's important to note that playing video games and using TikTok may disrupt sleep hormones, as dopamine and oxytocin are released instead of melatonin. Increased dopamine (our instant-gratification chemical) and oxytocin (our love hormone) are typically sky-high when waking up. By using these platforms, we are tricking our bodies into believing these hormones are happening in the morning, ultimately keeping us awake instead of preparing us to wind down and produce the melatonin needed for sleep.
Unplug If screens are so embedded in our daily routine at all hours of the day, wouldn't it make sense to use them at nighttime? Well, screens and sleep are not a good mix. Reducing screen time before bed, at least an hour before your head hits the pillow, is critical for getting restful sleep. The incoming emails, texts, calls, and Instagram holes you accidentally find yourself going in before bed will keep your mind online. An online mind does not lead to the offline state of sleep!
Create a comfy space Make your room as comfortable as possible. Create your ideal sleep environment by considering factors that could affect your sleep: mattress and pillow comfortability, incoming light from windows, how dark you want the room, the temperature in the room, and sound (such as sounds of nature or complete silence).
Consider your workout routine Sometimes our daily lives are so hectic that we try to fit our workout in wherever we can. However, studies show that although there is no universal time of day that is best to exercise for sleep, evening exercise may negatively affect sleep quality for people who wake up early in the morning. To prepare for sleep, our body temperature drops and our heart rate slows, so our brain waves also slow down. If nighttime exercise raises these things, our bodies may not be ready for sleep when we are tucked away in bed. If you are working out at night, moderate-intensity exercise may have fewer negative effects on sleep, but only if the workout ends at least 90 minutes before you start your bedtime routine. Keep in mind that aerobic exercise and exercise outside in the sunlight may be best done in the morning or afternoon, as it readjusts our body's internal clock to release melatonin earlier in the night. Studies show that regular exercise can help with overall improved sleep over time. It may take a few weeks to get our bodies used to the exercise routine for it to create longer-term effects on our sleep quality (Pacheco, 2023).
Limit caffeine intake Caffeine can stay in our system for hours after we consume it, and it can disrupt our sleep patterns. Therefore, it is important to limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. Alcohol limits our ability to oscillate between non-REM and REM states during sleep. This may make us feel more restless, thus causing us to wake up feeling more tired ("Headspace", n.d.; Pacheco, 2023).
Cut out catnaps Sometimes a nap is needed. Even some companies have created quiet rooms for power naps for employees to use in the middle of a workday. However, a power nap is short but sweet, only lasting about 20-25 minutes, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to go. Any naps that are longer than that may disrupt your sleep later on in the night, as you are confusing your deep sleep cycles and internal clock. So, if naps are not working for you or causing you to feel restless at night, consider avoiding naps overall ("Headspace”, n.d.; Suni, 2023a).
If you have tried improving your sleep hygiene habits and are still experiencing sleep problems, it may be worth talking to a healthcare professional. They can help diagnose and treat any underlying sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, that may be affecting your sleep quality (“National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,” n.d.). If you have trouble sleeping, there are things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Creating a consistent sleep schedule, developing a relaxing bedtime routine, unplugging from screens, and making your sleeping space as comfortable as possible are all excellent ways to start. Remember, winding down before bedtime is essential, so try reading a book, taking a warm shower, meditating, or listening to calming music. Also, be mindful of how video games and social media may affect your sleep hormones. And if you work out regularly, consider the time of day you exercise. These small changes can make a big difference in your overall sleep quality and help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the day!
Headspace. (n.d.). Sleep Hygiene Tips. https://www.headspace.com/sleep/sleep-hygiene
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Brain Basics: Understanding
Pacheco, D. (2023, March 3). What’s the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Sleep? Sleep
Suni, E.. (2023, March 17). Nutrition and Sleep. Sleep Foundation.
Suni, E.. (2023, April 4). Sleep Statistics. Sleep Foundation.