7 Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
by Kristy Harvey Guest Blogger
There has been much debate on how much sleep one should be getting. Most experts on the issue seem to settle on six to eight hours each night, but everyone is different. When lacking in sleep, we often become cranky, irritable, and unproductive. In addition to feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sleep is essential to staying healthy.
Many people sleepwalk through their days, mindlessly carrying out routines, grabbing unhealthy food on the go, and fooling ourselves into thinking that multi-tasking will help save them time. The truth is that if we start the day well-rested, we not only have more energy, but we can make better choices throughout the day.
Here are 7 tips for getting a better night's sleep:
1. When the body is tired, rest. Learning to listen to the body is a useful skill that can be cultivated through mindfulness practices. As we hurry through our days checking off items on our to-do lists, we tend to get so caught up in what we have to get done that we don't stop to listen to what our bodies are telling us.
Feeling sleepy? Grab a cup of coffee. Headache? Take an aspirin. Moody? Try an antidepressant. Sluggish? Have an energy bar or a sugary snack. There are many ways to medicate ourselves in order to keep soldiering forth, but at what cost? Caffeine, sugar, medication, and other vices are meant to be used sparingly, but in our sleep-starved society, they have become staples that we depend on just to make it through the day.
I've noticed that when I've slept well, I am less likely to reach for a quick pick-me-up. I can sense when I am physically or mentally tired, and that's when I know it's time to take a break. If it is not convenient to take a nap, I find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths. This removes me from my daily schedule and reconnects me to my body. Then I can better assess my energy level and make better decisions regarding the rest of my day. Rather than self-medicating, I can re-prioritize my day and let go of any items that are not absolutely necessary. This helps me conserve my energy for things that are really important, like getting to bed on time.
2. Make sleep a priority. In order for me to be at my best, I make it a point to go to bed early and set my alarm for as late as possible. I strive for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. While that isn't possible every night, I set myself up for success. Sleep becomes the last item on my daily to-do list. It may seem obvious, but I actually schedule it. Just looking at my schedule throughout the day and seeing sleep on the list makes me think of sleep as a priority.
Like most people, I have many social obligations: work gatherings, meetings, birthday parties, holiday gatherings. While I appreciate a full social calendar, I am also aware of how I feel when I have not had enough sleep. I would rather feel well than attend every event to which I am invited. I turn down invitations when they interfere with my sleep schedule. If there is an event that is not to be missed, I will go, but I will leave in enough time to get home and in bed on time. This allows my social connections remain in tact without sacrificing sleep.
3. Naps are magnificent. When I have a full schedule, I look for blocks of time that are otherwise unclaimed, and then I schedule a nap. Power naps are great. Twenty to thirty minutes of sleep can work wonders when I've been burning the candle at both ends. I have come to savor my nap times. With a full day of work followed by errands and then a possible party to attend, I know that I would need to fit in a nap in order to be my usual pleasant self later in the day.
4. Buy the best bed you can afford. I have a Sleep Number, and it is the best money I ever spent. Sometimes I require a firmer mattress and other times I like to feel like I'm floating in a cloud. The bed I have allows me to adjust the firmness at my whim. When I moved across the country with only what would fit in my car, I made sure that my mattress was one of those items. I simply deflated it, rolled it up like a burrito, and stuffed it in my back seat. It survived the 2,000 mile trip, and I have slept well every night since.
Whatever bed you choose, indulge in the softest sheets and blankets you can afford. I didn't think thread count mattered until I bought my first set of 800 thread-count sheets. What a difference! Soft sheets and blankets turn my bed into a sanctuary.
5. Keep the bedroom dark and cool. I recently invested in some black-out curtains for my bedroom. When I am able to sleep in or squeeze a nap into my schedule, the curtains block out a majority of the light, tricking my brain into thinking it's night-time and therefore making it easier for me to fall asleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night is bad enough, but it's even worse when you're drenched in sweat. I like my bedroom to be a little on the cool side, anywhere between 65 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some may like it even cooler, which is great if you have a special someone or a furry baby to cuddle with.
6. Do Yoga. Yoga is my sleep aid of choice. I'm not talking about Power Yoga, but gentle stretches coupled with Pranayama, or yogic breathing. By connecting with my body and breath at the end of the day, I can focus on slowing down. Deep slow breathing automatically calms the nervous system and invites relaxation.
There are many styles of yoga that promote improved sleep. Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a fantastic practice that incorporates deep breathing and the mindful practice of scanning the body to become aware of areas of tension. By bringing our attention to the body, we can give the mind abreak and consciously relax our muscles. Restorative Yoga is another deeply relaxing practice. Using props, such as pillows and blankets, we can allow the body to rest deeply while focusing on the breath and calming the mind.
7. Indulge in a ritual bath. Bathing is a sacred act. Most homes are outfitted with showers for the convenience of saving time. Baths require patience. There is a decadence to bathing. Try adding bubble bath or essential oils and epsom salts. Light a candle or two. This is not a time to multi-task. Let the ritual of the bath be enough. Relax and enjoy few moments of quiet before bed.
How will you know if your sleep is improving? Keep a sleep journal for a week. Note what time you go to bed and what time you wake up. Rate your energy level on a scale of 1-10 when you wake up and jot down how you're feeling. Not into journaling? There are a lot of sleep monitoring apps available for download on the smartphone of your choice.
There are less scientific ways to tell if you're getting better quality sleep. For me, I notice that I am happier, more vibrant, and more productive. If you are having trouble noticing any changes, ask someone close to you. Often we only become aware of our behaviors when others point them out to us. Sleep well!