I often hear friends and family complaining about not sleeping well, and that's a pain I know all too well. I struggled with insomnia for many years, and it not only made me extremely tired, but it also affected my weight, mood, and my food choices. I want to share some simple but effective tips for better sleep that helped me form better sleeping habits and start sleeping soundly consistently.
1) Set and stick to a consistent sleep schedule
I know what you're probably thinking. Who wants to get up on the weekends as early as they do during the week? I was never a morning person. I'd sleep until 11am or later on the weekends because I was staying up most of the night. I looked forward to sleeping that late. But seriously, setting a sleep schedule helped me so much that I actually ended up turning into a morning person. The reason for doing this is to help your body align with its natural rhythm. This not only makes it easier for you to fall asleep, but it makes it easier to wake up. The easiest way to start a schedule is to decide what time you want to go bed and wake up each day, and stick to those times within an hour or so of each other. It takes some time for the body to adjust, but when it does, you will notice the difference.
2) Limit caffeine consumption
This one seems obvious until you really start examining your food and drink choices. Are you a coffee person? How many cups do you have? Do you get tired in the afternoons and reach for a soda or more coffee? Many people don't realize how much caffeine they are actually consuming. One cup of coffee is 6 ounces, and guaranteed no Starbucks is selling you a 6 ounce cup of coffee. Caffeine makes you more alert and energized, but it also interferes with our sleep even if consumed several hours before bedtime. That's how the vicious cycle starts; you're tired, you have coffee, you don't sleep well, you wake up tired again, you have coffee, and on and on it goes. The body becomes addicted and dependent on the caffeine, and many people experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop. If you aren't willing to part with coffee completely, aim to reduce the amount you are having and don't have any less than 6 hours before you go to sleep. If you fall into that afternoon slump, choose water and a handful of nuts instead. Staying hydrated can keep energy levels up, and healthy fats help stabilize blood sugar which can keep from feeling tired. Some of us are more sensitive to caffeine that others, so it is important that you find out how much you can handle without it affecting your sleep.
3) Stay out of the bedroom
...Until it's bed time. This was probably the BIGGEST help for me, and it's so simple. I was so used to doing homework in my bed, watching TV, reading, etc., and it took me forever to realize how much of an effect it was having. If you often have trouble sleeping, especially falling asleep, and you spend a lot of time in your bedroom, I encourage you to experiment with ONLY spending time in your bedroom at bedtime. Look at your phone, watch TV, read, and whatever else in another room. By doing this, your mind will eventually start associating your bed with SLEEP, and you'll fall asleep much quicker once you climb into bed. It used to take me over an hour to fall asleep, and now I am out less than 5 minutes after my head hits the pillow.
4) Have a night time routine
This goes along with staying out of the bedroom. We want our minds and bodies to align with a natural rhythm, and having a specific routine or set of nighttime rituals can help out a lot. For example, an hour before bed I shower, wash my face, put on a comfortable night shirt, do some light stretching and meditation, and then climb into bed. After a hot shower and calm stretch, my body and mind are both ready for rest. Your routine could be a lot shorter and simpler, as long as it is something that you enjoy doing as a form of self-care. It not only will help you sleep, but will also help you unwind and de-stress as, well as develop a better relationship with your body.
5) Avoid the snooze button
This one may be difficult at first, but it really does help in the long term. Again, we want a natural rhythm to develop, and hitting the snooze over and over again is not going to help! If you wake up 20 minutes before your alarm, that's FINE! Enjoy those extra moments. Get up and do something relaxing for yourself with that extra time instead of snoozing and waking up groggy.
6) Limit liquids at night
While it is extremely important to stay hydrated, it's equally important to drink water at the right times if you have issues with waking up to go the bathroom during the night. The majority of your water intake should be in the morning. Drink less in the afternoon, and even less in the evening. Try drinking two big glasses of water first thing after you wake up. Our bodies are dehydrated in the morning and drinking water on an empty stomach wakes up our digestive systems and gets things moving. Drink large amounts of water in between meals instead of sipping small amounts throughout the day if you have a small bladder like me, and at night time pay attention to when you take your last sip. Take note if you had to get up in the middle of the night. Eventually you will know what time should be your cutoff for liquids. For me, it's two hours before bedtime.
7) Limit sugar consumption
Almost all processed foods and condiments have added sugars, so many of us are consuming much more than we may realize. Sugar has similar effects as coffee and is just as addictive. Read labels carefully and choose to buy products that have no added sugar. If you consistently have soft drinks, try to slowly decrease the amount and frequency. Fruit juice should also be avoided, as it has the same effects on the body as soda. Whole fruit is the exception here; eat it in abundance because it is loaded with fiber that allows the sugars to be slowly absorbed by the body while providing the body with vitamin, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
8) Sleep promoting essential oils
I am a HUGE fan of essential oils because they have so many uses and are completely safe. If you like hot baths, try adding a few drops each of peppermint and lavender oils. Inhale slowly and deeply for a soothing effect. You can also put these oils in a diffuser near your bed, or even rub a few drops onto your hands and spread them across your pillow. These oils will help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is what your body needs in order to achieve restful sleep.
9) 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
As little as two minutes spent practicing a breathing technique can help your body get ready for sleep. My favorite is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which you can learn to do HERE. It can also be used upon waking or anytime during the day when you feel stressed or anxious. There are many benefits in using this technique regularly!
10) Physical Activity
Our bodies are designed to MOVE. If you have a long commute to work and you sit at a desk once you're there, dedicating time for physical activity is essential to your health! When we don't get enough activity in our minds get restless and we can have trouble falling asleep. Exercise improves the function of both the body and mind. Even just taking a walk outside for 15 minutes every night is a great start! Find an activity that you ENJOY doing, and do it for that reason. When we exercise for fun rather than to lose weight or "stay in shape" we are much more likely to stick with a consistent routine. My favorite ways to move are yoga, walking, weight lifting, and running, and my quality of sleep is significantly better on days that I workout!
Most of all, be PATIENT. Developing a healthy sleeping routine may take some time, and it will be different for every person. I really hope that these tips can help you get a good night's rest. Please leave a comment if you try any of these tips, and let me know what worked for you and what else you have tried in the past! Sweet dreams :)