In today's busy world, getting the sleep you need is nearly impossible. Yet without it, the stress and pressures of work, kids, friends, work, after-school activities, bills, work... it all leads to zombie-like beings plodding through the day looking for their next caffeinated pick-me up.
To make it worse, even when you DO get that chance to crawl into bed, you're not getting the amount of sleep you need, let along the quality of sleep needed to effectively tackle the coming Monday. This problem is so bad in fact that the CDC has linked insufficient sleep to chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression!
Unfortunately, our technology isn't helping any, and what you do at night before bed could actually be preventing you from achieving the kind of sleep and rest your body craves. As such, here are a few things you should do at night to wind down in order to help you slip off into dreamland.
1. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE (and anything else with a screen).
I know. This one is hard. If not nearly impossible. What better time to look at cat memes and see what Grandma Mimi has been cooking than at 11:00pm? (other than at work that is?) But studies show that staring at a bright light / screen (this includes your phone, TV, computer, tablet, light-up kindle, etc) can actually stimulate your mind to "wake up" rather than fall into the necessary sleep stages required for a good night of rest. The light of your phone will also discourage your ability to have and remember dreams, which is bad news for you lucid dreamers out there.
As hard as it may be, do something relaxing before bed that doesn't involve checking FB or e-mails. (Your work will still be there in the morning, trust me). Instead, dim the lights, take a warm bath or shower, listen to some soothing jazz, read a book (the kind with the actual pages... remember those?) and then go to bed when you are tired. It may take some time, but you'll get used to it!
2. BE CONSISTENT
Speaking of doing something relaxing before bed, create an actual bed-time routine and sleep schedule, and then stick to it. (Harder if you have kids, but you could always lock them in a closet). In fact it's better if you go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on days you don't normally go to work, than if you go to sleep at a bunch of different times throughout the week / weekends. (Sorry all you party animals...)
A consistent schedule and routine helps to reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycles, and will improve cognitive performance the next day. Doing the same things each night will also tell your body it's time to wind down, and since you turned off your PHONE, your eyes will start to droop the moment Nora Jones begins singing.
(Note: once you're in bed, if you don't fall asleep within 15 minutes or so, get up and do something else relaxing before going back to bed. Staying awake in bed while trying to fall asleep will actually make it harder to nod off!)
3. YOU SLEEP WHAT YOU EAT
Not that you needed another reason to go on a diet, but it is important to pay attention to what you eat and drink, especially before bedtime. Don't go to bed hungry or too stuffed, and avoid nicotine and caffeine (duh), as these things take hours to wear off and can mess with your sleep cycle.
What's more, if you're looking to experience some vivid dreams or go Lucid at night, lay off the booze. Even though it may make you feel drowsy, drinking alcohol at bedtime will actually reduce the frequency and density of your REM cycles, which in turn means you wont dream as much (or remember them). A better choice is a nice warm cup of relaxing tea, so say goodbye to that favorite night-cap!
4. OWN YOUR SLEEP SPACE
Your room needs to be ideal for sleeping. This means creating a room that is inviting and comfortable to sleep in... a room that is cool, dark, and quiet. Do this by picking up the laundry and clearing clutter off the nightstand. (It may be psychological, but it works). And for god's sake, wash your sheets! And make the bed in the morning! Doing so makes it more inviting to get into that night. (That's the best part about getting into a posh hotel bed, after all).
Cut out any unwanted noise by using earplugs, or create some "white noise" by turning on a fan. Light a candle, or use other sensory objects to promote a calming atmosphere. Invest in a better mattress or pillow. Literally, there are thousands of ways to create the environment you need to sleep well, so do what it takes create that sleepy sanctuary you love!
(Oh, and while I'm all about spooning, if you share a bed make sure there's enough room for the two of you at night, or else your partner's sleep problems will soon become your own).
5. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR DAY (and sleep longer).
While crap happens, do your best to manage the stress levels of the day. Stress will negatively effect your sleeping habits, so doing what you can to manage stress will make going to to bed more relaxing, and you'll enjoy a more restful night of dreaming.
It's also good to stay active during the day. If you work a computer job, get up periodically throughout the day and look at something other than your computer screen. Physical activity and exercise can also promote better sleep, it help you to fall asleep faster, and it will also move you into deeper sleep cycles. So go to the gym like your friends have been telling you to. (Timing is important, though! Exercising too close to bedtime will energize you and you will be unable to fall asleep).
Finally, plan to sleep longer! Adults actually need 7-9 hrs of solid sleep each night to stay healthy, so give yourself a break! It's ok to sleep in once in a while.
That said, it's also important that you don't constantly over-sleep. As you are developing your sleep and bed-time routine, force yourself not to sleep 11-12 hours. Get a good 8-10 hours of rest, and then get up. Sleeping till lunch will not only screw up your sleep patters, you'll feel groggy later in the day and make it impossible to got to bed at a good time that night.
So there you have it!
What do you do wrong (or right) when getting ready for bed?
Any other suggestions to add?
Let us know in the comments! (and then go to sleep).
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