Many of us know how crucial sleep is to our daily lives and how a lack of sleep can cause major short- and long-term issues. We know that we need self-care and can’t help others if we don’t care for ourselves. Yet we’re all busy. We all have loads of priorities. We’re going to make some questionable sleep decisions sometimes, in the face of a last-minute deadline or social opportunity. Perfection only exists on Instagram. When placing sleep at the top of our priority list, here are our nine favorite sleep tips: clear-cut, actionable things you can do to get to sleep more easily. Be gentle with yourself: if you can fold in even two or three of these into your schedule, that’ll probably help.
Make Sleep a Ritual
By making your sleep routine a consistent time with consistent wind-down habits, you allow your circadian rhythms to naturally regulate your sleep and waking. You also take control of stressors like novelty, uncertainty, and ego threat that can trigger your fight-or-flight reflexes when you’re trying to rest. Making sleep a priority will benefit most areas of your life, but it may require a bit of intentional time management and planning.
Screens & Sleep
You may have heard that blue light from screens can fatigue your eyes and trick your brain into thinking it’s a sunny day. In addition to shutting off screens 30-60 minutes before bed, consider setting your phone and desktop to automatically switch to night mode as bedtime approaches.
What’s more, one exciting thing about our connected world is that we don’t know what news or entertainment experience or opportunity we are going to get when browsing online. This uncertainty is like a slot machine for our brain’s rewards system, lighting up our excitement when we’re trying to dim the lights.
For that reason, consider buying an alarm clock so you can charge your phone outside of your bedroom while you sleep. If that seems too radical, throw your phone into Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb. The goal is to minimize needless interruptions while you're trying to get some shuteye.
Consider the Big Picture
Take stock of the sensory cues you’re giving yourself as you glance around your bedroom. Unfinished projects, piles of papers, beauty products, video game consoles, and sports equipment can remind you of all the activities in your life – perhaps some of which you do in your bedroom. To the extent that you are able, try to reserve your bedroom – or at least a portion of the room right around your bed – for rest rather than for studying or socializing.
You also want to think about your energy budget throughout the day. Studies suggest that exercise can increase the quality and duration of sleep by (obviously) tiring us out, but also (less obviously) by reducing adverse effects of stress on our health.
Write Down Sleep Stealers
If you find that you perseverate – that is, obsess over stressful thoughts – at night, consider writing down what you need to remember or think about early in your nightly routine. It will help you give yourself permission to rest by unloading what's inside your head into a space that's safe, secure, and away from prying eyes. It restores a sense of control as you write out what's been knocking around in your mind all day. This also gives some guidance on your priories for the next day.
Snack Smart for Sleep
Eating before bed, especially processed carbs, can feel extraordinarily comforting, though high glycemic index foods are best eaten four hours before bed. To keep you settled in for a long sleep, consider a sleep prep snack of a small portion of protein along with a glass of water – say, low sugar yogurt, a handful of nuts, or celery with peanut butter. Consider your caffeine intake throughout the day: caffeine in essence artificially stresses you out. You may be able to do yourself a favor and swap out a 3pm coffee run for decaf or some juice.
Sleep Stories (audible & visual)
Non-fiction may invite you to problem solve, evaluate arguments, and make inferences based on what you know about the world. Much non-fiction is an invitation to engage on some level. On the other hand, fiction is an invitation to accept a world passively. It’s probably also one of the few things you can do for yourself in a day that you don’t ‘have’ to do…so leave aside homework reading for when you’re a bit more alert. The story-telling mode of fiction can help us tilt our focus toward that curious, indistinct dream logic we’re all after. Look, this one’s a little light on scientific grounding, but my theory on it is intuitive and it works for me. As a means to drift off into dreamland, pick up either a physical work of non-fiction or listen to a storytelling podcast designed to send you to sleep. There are loads out there.
Breath-focused mindfulness and body scan meditations are great options to settle your thoughts, reassure them they don’t need to race around, and help you feel that peaceful acceptance that ushers you to dreamland. Similarly, YouTube holds a plethora of yoga routines specifically designed to prepare your muscles for rest.
Take a Bath or Shower
In addition to easing muscle tension and providing a natural transition between one chapter of your day and another, a shower an hour or two before bed can give your body temperature cues that it is time for sleep. Apparently, our body temperature cools a bit while we sleep, so as we cool after a warm shower, our bodies tap into the desire to lay down and rest, preferably under a cozy blanket.
Melatonin – The Sleep Hormone
If you need a bit of extra help, melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally makes to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Of course, it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you. If given the go-ahead, do some research to discover which formula works best for you, from deciding when to take it and dosage. Possible side effects are milder than those of many other sleep aids, and melatonin is not known to be addictive. Taking more than the recommended dose can work at cross purposes: some folks experience a rebound effect of wakefulness with too much melatonin. Try slow-release melatonin for a steady release throughout the night.
We hope that these tips will get you some much-deserved Zzzs if you're lacking or some new ideas to add to your already-blissful sleep routine.