Nearly half of all adults experience sleep difficulties on occasion. From falling asleep, to staying asleep, to getting enough sleep, it seems a lot of us are failing to get our sleep needs met on a regular basis. Not getting enough sleep or enough restful sleep can lead to irritability, problems concentrating, and various physical ailments as well. Sleep is vital for our bodies and our minds to properly function each day, but our needs change as we age. Babies, for instance, require much more sleep than adults. No matter what stage of life you are in, it’s important to establish a consistent bedtime routine and develop healthy daytime habits to get the rest you need.
Strategy #1: Consistent Routine
Our bodies thrive on consistency and they are easily adaptable. Going to bed late one night can cause someone problems falling asleep at the regular time the next night. Having a consistent bed time, even on the weekends, will help your body develop its circadian rhythm and make sleep come easier on a regular basis. Developing bedtime rituals will also help prepare your mind for sleep. It is recommended that the 30-60 minutes before bed be free from work, mentally or visually stimulating activities, or screens of any kind. Instead, try reading or meditating to calm your mind and body.
Strategy #2: Set the “Mood” in the Environment
Bright lights, loud noises, and other disturbances can affect the time it takes for us to fall asleep or even stay asleep. Dimming the lights an hour before your scheduled bedtime will gently ease your brain into sleep mode. Reducing the noise in the environment is also important for achieving restful sleep through the whole night. Noise is most disruptive during the second half of the night and during the first two stages of the sleep cycle. If noise isn’t easily reduced, apps for white noise or a fan can be utilized to drown out the inconsistent sounds. Lastly, temperature plays a role in our restful sleep as well. Between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for a room’s sleeping temperature.
Strategy #3: Take Care of Your Body with Diet and Exercise
Ever notice how well kids sleep after a time of physical activity? Adults are no different, but our sedentary lifestyles don’t promote the body’s natural need for exercise. While exercising right before bed can be counterproductive, 4 to 5 hours before seems to be best. Allow at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise to experience the benefits of deeper, more restful sleep later on.
Coffee breaks too early or too late in the day can disrupt our brain’s natural circadian rhythm. Caffeine causes the brain to produce more of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, which will make us more tired when the caffeine wears off. Try limiting the first coffee or other caffeinated beverage to one to two hours after you wake up and the last at least four hours before bedtime. Alcohol is also known to cause sleep disruptions throughout the night.
Strategy #4: Choose the Right Pre-Bed Snacks
A big bowl of ice cream right before bed time isn’t doing you any favors. Pre-bedtime snacks should exclude sugars and other simple carbohydrates, as these are quickly absorbed and provide almost instant energy—the opposite of what you need! Complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, whole wheat bread, and nuts are digested slowly and won’t cause such sudden spikes in your blood sugar levels.
If you often struggle obtaining quality sleep, examine your bedtime routines and what you tend to consume before sleeping to see if there is anything you can naturally change before resorting to other sleep aids. Good sleep is possible if we become aware of our daily habits and make the necessary changes.