Sleep can be remarkably elusive. Few things in life are more frustrating than being exhausted and yet unable to fall or stay asleep. Oh, to be able to slumber like you did when you were younger!
The physical and emotional health benefits of a good night’s sleep are well researched and documented. So are the negative effects of its lack, such as higher risks of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and depression. Even the development of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia have been linked to sleep deprivation.
You know the amount and quality of sleep are crucial to good health. Counting sheep usually doesn’t cut it, so you may want to try something else. Here are five ways you may finally be able to get the sleep you need.
1. Address Symptoms of Health Conditions
Poor sleep leads to some serious health issues, but certain health issues themselves will inhibit your ability to sleep. If the latter is the case, talk to your doctor about treatment for what’s keeping you awake.
Sleep apnea — the periodic cessation of breathing during sleep — is one of the most common causes of sleep disruption. Fortunately, it is also one of the most easily treatable. Using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine while asleep will keep you breathing normally. Wearing the best CPAP mask for you will allow you and your bedmate to get a good night’s rest.
Digestive problems, eczema, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, mental illness, menopause, and PMS all have symptoms that disrupt sleep. The good news is, there are medications that can alleviate those sleep-sapping symptoms. It might just take a little trial and error to find the right ones that work for you.
If it’s a health condition that’s keeping you up at night, address that first. If it’s also something else, tackle that cause as well. Whatever you do, don’t just assume it’s something that can’t be fixed.
2. Rev Up Your Days
It makes sense that what you do during your waking hours can affect the quality of the sleep you get at night. To improve that quality, kick up your daytime routine. Increase the amount of fresh air and exercise you get and eliminate napping.
Although fresh air any time of day will improve your sleep, try to get both sun and stars. Sunshine keeps your circadian rhythm chirping on schedule. And some fresh air before bed may have you sawing logs faster.
Like fresh air, regular exercise provides a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. It also tends to wear you out, which in turn supports the muscle relaxation beneficial for sleep. Expending that energy may be why kids tend to sleep so soundly, so exercise like one.
You should also avoid napping during the day so you’re more tired when you hit the hay. If you’re a napper and not a restful nighttime sleeper, that could very well be the problem. Replace that power nap with a power walk and see what it does for your slumber.
3. Put Down the Screen and Back Away
Too much screen time is a gaping gateway to sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, since the onset of the pandemic, more and more of us get more and more of it. It’s time to turn away from the screen and toward better rest.
Light in general and blue light in particular interfere with the body’s internal clock. Melatonin secretion plays a vital role in regulating your circadian rhythm, but exposure to light suppresses it.
Blue light actually stimulates mental sharpness, which is why it’s great during daytime and working hours. Plus, the more you get during the day, the better you’ll sleep at night. Just remember you need to reverse the process in the two to three hours before bedtime.
Eliminate use of screens during those hours and dim the lamps and overhead lighting. A little mood lighting might just put you in the mood for sleep.
4. Redecorate the Bedroom
This method for better sleep doesn’t really require picking out a new comforter or throw pillows for your bedroom. But it does involve changing up what’s in it. Think “cave” more than “carnival.”
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for only two things — sex and sleep. Observe this rule over time, and your body will respond only to those two things when you crawl into bed. It won’t be confused by all the other sleep-depriving distractions.
Make your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable. Get rid of the television, the laptop, and the stack of books on the bedside table. This space is not your cinema, office, or library.
If you must use your cell phone for an alarm, set it, click the screen to black, and silence notifications. Read those texts and watch those cat videos during the daylight hours. Reserve this space for its intended uses only.
5. Stick to a Schedule
Not to belabor the point about kids and great sleep, but schedules are part of that magic. Most kids go to bed at the same time at night and awaken at the same time in the morning. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is because they’re programmed for routine.
Adults should use the same premise to improve their sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and rising at the same time every morning is healthy. Your body and your sleep-wake cycle become accustomed to the routine and more responsive to it.
Most things in life are on a schedule, from office hours to public transportation to annual health checkups. There’s no madness to that method. It’s just another way to tell your body when it should rest and when it should rise.
This doesn’t mean you have to crawl into bed or rise and shine at the same hour every single day. You will have some late nights and want to sleep in some days just because you can — and that’s OK. Just don’t make no routine your usual routine.
Start giving these five ways to sweeter dreams a try. You might find out that if you mind these Ps and Qs, you’ll get better Zs.