8 Simple Steps to Better Sleep
By: Amy Maricle
This is part one of a two-part post on improving the quality and length of sleep. This week I will address “sleep hygiene” or how to prep for sleep, and next week I will address what to do when you try to fall asleep and can’t.
If you have trouble sleeping like I do, you know how incredibly frustrating it can be. At the end of the day, you are tired. You want to crawl into bed and go to sleep. Unfortunately, instead of just “falling” asleep, you are frustrated by various obstacles. Perhaps your mind is busy with your worries, your to do list, or an incessant song running through your head.
Sometimes even when your mind is calm, your body isn’t. You feel your heart is beating too fast, your breathing is too quick, your temperature is not right, or you just can’t get comfortable. Does any of this sound familiar?
You Can Improve Your Sleep!
When clients come in complaining of sleep trouble, I have a lot of empathy for them. I know how it is! I have found through the years that many of my clients are lacking information about simple ways to help themselves sleep better, without the use of medication. This post addresses the habits that can lead to good sleep. In part 2 of this insomnia series, I address what to do on any particular night you are tossing and turning.
While my own sleep is not perfect, I have learned a lot about how to set the best conditions for sleep, and this has helped me, and some clients, tremendously.
Good Self-Care Is Important for Better Sleep
Be aware that your emotions and stress level can impact sleep, and unfortunately, the less you sleep, the worse you tend to feel emotionally. Practicing good self-care on a regular basis is an important way to keep feelings in check, and therefore, improve sleep. Read more about self-care, managing stress, and some ways to wind down.
Rule Out Medical Issues That Interfere with Sleep
A first step when you have sleep troubles is to visit your doctor to rule out any medical issues that may be impacting sleep. Once you rule this out, then you may want to take a look at what’s called your “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene is the set of habits you maintain throughout the day that affect sleep. This post is part one of a two-part series.
In this post I will address good sleep hygiene habits, and in the next, I will talk about what to do when you can’t fall asleep.
8 Steps to Better Sleep:
Good Sleep Hygiene Will Help You Wake Up Feeling Refreshed
1. Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom.
Keep the lights low, colors soft, and the temperature comfortable. Keep your bed free of anything other than bedding. Do not store things on your bed. (I know this might sound crazy to some, but I have friends who sleep with books, clothes, and their folded laundry!)
If a pet sleeps with you, consider shifting Fido to his own bed on the floor. Trying not to disturb a sleeping pet, listening to the noises they are making, or having to adjust your position around them can significantly disturb sleep.
2. Make your bed for sleeping and sex, nothing else.
Do not eat in your bed, have conversations in bed, write, or do work. Signal to your body that when you get into your bed, it’s time for sleep.
3. Develop a consistent sleep-wake schedule and avoid naps.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps your body develop a consistent rhythm that it will follow. Go to bed when you are tired. Don’t go to bed wide awake.
If this means that you push back your normal bed time by an hour and a half, but you sleep better, then you will ultimately be more rested. In time, you may be able to gradually go to bed earlier.
4. Wind down and get things off your chest.
Journal, talk to someone you love, or do art to get some of the stress and anxiety out before the day is through. Proactively “flushing” stress and anxiety an hour or two before bed can help minimize nighttime wakefulness. You spend all day being busy, busy, busy.
It makes sense that once you slow down, your mind goes over what transpired in the day and what you need to do the next day. You don’t want to be doing this reflection in bed. Give yourself an opportunity to slow down in the evening so that you are prepared for sleep at bedtime.
5. Follow a soothing bedtime routine.
Avoid engaging in heavy discussions, doing work, or getting too active with house chores close to bed time. These activities may tell your body to override the sleep drive in order to get things accomplished.
Once the stress chemicals start flowing, it takes a lot more work to get yourself back into a state where you are relaxed enough to fall asleep. Instead, you might read something enjoyable, take a bath, or do light stretching, then put on your pajamas, wash your face, brush your teeth, and get into bed.
6. Follow the sun.
I don’t mean you should get too much sun exposure or start tanning. You should, however, get some natural light exposure during the day, especially in the morning.
Light is one of the major triggers for your body’s sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhthyms. Use this knowledge to your advantage, and get some natural light exposure during the day, and avoid bright lights after dark.
Keep bedroom lights low, and don’t turn on the bright lights in the bathroom as you are getting ready for bed. Also avoid exposure to screens for at least an hour before bed (TV, computer, iPhone, iPad, kindle, etc.)
7. Exercise most days of the week, early in the day.
Avoid exercise 2 – 3 hours before bed. Exercise has well documented benefits for overall mental health and sleep.
8. Limit caffeine during the day and don’t drink any after 1pm.
Don’t undo all your good efforts by having a coffee or iced tea at 4pm, or having something chocolately for dessert. (Remember that chocolate contains caffeine too!)
More Information on Sleep Hygiene:
Understanding Sleep Cycles and Circadian Rhythms:
How’s your sleep been lately? Do you have good sleep hygiene? What works for you when you have trouble sleeping? Even better, try out some of the sleep hygiene techniques and let us know what happens in the comments section. Nitey nite!
Work with Amy:
Curious about how art therapy might work for you? We can do a free phone consultation to figure out how I can help. To learn more, go to my therapy page, call: 508-964-2029, or email: email@example.com.
“…avoid exposure to screens for at least an hour before bed…” Guilty! This is such a good reminder. I also read in bed, which I’ve got to stop doing. Thank you for this very useful list!
But how on earth do you keep the cat from sleeping with you? I mean, it *is* her bed. You’re just borrowing it, right? 😉
I am thrilled to have your voice on here! Your small art works are so lovely, I have enjoyed your website.
Yes, the screens suggestion is such a challenge for all of us these days. I find if you play with it, you might find that the computer is worse than your phone, for instance. As you pay attention, you will learn more about what you can and cannot tolerate before sleep.
And about your GATA, of course it’s her bed. I think for this one you will need to speak to your vet, maybe? I set a rule from the beginning about no doggies in my bed, so that’s easier than trying to enforce something retroactively. You may want to think of some alternatives or work around this one somehow. Would she let you borrow the majority of it and sleep on a special kitty bed on the corner of your bed?
It’s great to have you here. Thanks so much for dropping in!
I’ve been mulling your kind reply, and I have to say I’m going to fail at this aspect of your advice. I’ve realized it’s a happiness trade-off for me. Sleep in exchange for a purring cat.
I suspect it’s a little like the research I read somewhere that shows that spouses sleep better in separate beds (i.e., alone). But they don’t give up sharing a bed!
But I’m getting better about the screen thing, now that you’ve pointed it out. And no more reading in the bed! 🙂
I LOVE that you have come back to tell about how you are tailoring this advice to fit your particular needs. I know that some people, for instance, read in bed and do find that this helps in the long-run. I think a lot of it is doing what you are doing – reading the collective wisdom and then figuring out how it applies to you. Being this thoughtful about your sleep and self-care is half the key. I really appreciate you sharing that. Thank you.
And I totally get it about the happiness and comfort your purring cat provides!