An essential element to maintaining a happy, healthy body and mind is sleep. But the sad truth is that many of us just don’t get enough of it. According to The National Sleep Foundation, adults—young, middle-aged, and old alike—should, at the very minimum, get 7 hours of sleep a night. And while many are aware of this important recommendation, the majority still struggle to meet that need for a variety of reasons, such as stress and busy schedules. That, however, doesn’t have to be the case—according to Rebecca Lee, Registered Nurse and founder of RemediesForMe.com, it just takes a few simple changes. Follow her five tips to finally get the restful sleep you need and deserve:
1) Create the optimal sleeping environment.
“The right environment can help you fall asleep faster and wake less often during the night. If you have trouble sleeping, take steps to remedy anything that stimulates you, makes you uncomfortable or interferes with sleep.” She goes on to list a few related factors that can make or break your sleeping environment, such as noise, light, and temperature. “If you live on a busy city street and find it hard to sleep due to traffic and other environmental noise, invest in a white noise machine. Earplugs and an eye mask can also help you fall into a deeper sleep and stay asleep.” And in regards to light and temperature, she recommends you make your bedroom as dark as possible and your room a cool, comfortable temperature.
2) Say goodbye to electronic screens before bedtime.
Lee offers a few additional tips regarding light and sleep quality: “Light is one of the major factors that can affect our natural circadian rhythm. Light from our electronic devices are known as blue light. Blue light tricks the brain into thinking that it’s daytime and interferes with the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Melatonin tells our bodies that it’s time to go to sleep and aids in sleepiness. The best ways to reduce blue light exposure are: use amber-colored glasses, change the color of your light bulbs, and download apps or programs that automatically change the amount of blue light that is emitted from your device and electronics.” Furthermore, “to trigger melatonin production, keep house lighting dim after sunset. And aim to stop using all devices an hour before bedtime,” she says.
3) Exercise during the day.
“The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll on sleep and exercise using a sample of 1,000 American adults. Participants were categorized as vigorous, moderate, and light exercisers or non-exercisers. More than three-fourths of exercisers said their sleep quality was good in the past 2 weeks, compared to slightly more than half the non-exercisers. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers said they rarely or never had symptoms associated with insomnia. In contrast, half of the non-exercisers said they woke up during the night and nearly a fourth had trouble falling asleep almost every night.” This data supports the fact that, “exercise can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. It helps to reset the body’s clock, increasing daytime alertness and sleepiness at night. It also promotes sleep by naturally reducing stress and anxiety. Research has shown that exercise increases both total sleep time and the amount of deep, slow-wave sleep.”
4) Set a caffeine and alcohol curfew for yourself.
“Both caffeine and alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, even if consumed 6 hours before bedtime. If you want to sleep soundly through the night, don’t drink caffeine after 5 pm, and limit yourself to one small alcoholic beverage.” Lee goes on to explain the specifics of the two beverages and their negative effects on sleep: “Caffeine can increase the time it takes to fall asleep and the number of episodes of nighttime wakefulness. It also reduces slow wave sleep in the early part of the sleep cycle and REM sleep in the later part. Alcohol decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and increases deep slow-wave sleep during the first half of the night. However, it also increases wakefulness in the second half of the night. Furthermore, it delays the onset of REM sleep and, at moderate and high doses, reduces the total amount of REM sleep.”
5) Make the conscious effort to relax.
“Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. Anxious thoughts and worries can trigger the release of stress-hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the mind and body for fight or flight by increasing arousal and alertness. People who lose sleep due to anxiety can become caught in a vicious cycle because insufficient sleep makes them less able to cope with stressful situations and more prone to develop stress-related disorders. If you are unable to sleep due to stress, relaxation techniques that can slow a racing heart and distract you from your worries can help you fall asleep more quickly and increase your quality of sleep.” A few techniques that may prove effective, according to Lee, include listening to relaxing music, learning progressive muscle relaxation, and practicing yoga.