Over half of American adults say they have sleep problems on a regular basis. You don’t have to be one of them.
The things you do just before bed can determine whether you toss and turn or get a good night’s sleep. Learn to create your own bedtime rituals that will have you waking up every morning feeling refreshed and restored.
Bedtime Habits for Your Body
Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” - Thomas Dekker
1. Turn down the lights. Exposure to light causes your body to produce hormones that increase alertness, while darkness does the opposite. Turn off the TV and computer screens at least an hour before bedtime, and draw the shades.
2. Slow down. Many individuals find that exercising late in the day disrupts their sleep. Devote your evenings to gentler activities, such as knitting or reading to your kids.
3. Have a snack or treat. Certain foods and beverages promote sleep. Eat a light snack with protein and healthy carbohydrates, like an unsweetened whole grain cereal with milk. Treat yourself to a cup of chamomile tea. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
4. Apply a fragrance. Lavender is an age old remedy for insomnia. Keep a lavender plant on your nightstand. Sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil on a cotton ball and slip it inside your pillowcase. Vanilla has similar effects.
5. Give yourself a massage. Indulge in a self massage. Use one foot to rub the other. Soak your hands in warm water. Gently rub each finger from the base to the tip. Move your thumb in circles on the palm of the opposite hand.
6. Warm up. Raising your body temperature induces drowsiness. Take a hot bubble bath or slip underneath a heavy blanket.
7. Get into position. Sleep positions can work for or against you. If lying on your stomach is causing back troubles, place yourself on your back as soon as you get into bed. It will gradually become automatic.
8. Treat aches and pains. It’s hard to relax when your feet or shoulders are sore. Cover achy areas with a heating pad or hot water bottle.
9. Block out noise. Intrusive noises are everywhere, from car alarms in the city to crickets in the country. Turn on a fan or listen to a white noise machine to help you block out the noise.
Bedtime Rituals for Your Mind
10. Suspend daily concerns. What if you get to bed on time, but lie awake worrying about your credit card bills or tomorrow’s meeting at work? Resolve to let go of distractions so you can sleep better.
11. Meditate or pray. Meditation and prayer may be just what you need to guide your mind towards sleep. Relax and focus on virtuous thoughts.
12. Engage in monotony. For some people, boredom is the preferred solution. Before getting into bed, organize your sock drawer or read through the manual that came with your car. If you’re still feeling wired, count sheep or recite multiplication tables to yourself.
13. Play a lullaby. Music is so effective at putting babies to sleep that there’s a whole category of songs for this purpose. Music is an approach you can still use when you get older. You might like Mozart or soft jazz.
14. Create a trigger. Our minds and bodies are closely connected. Any object or practice can make us drowsy if we learn to associate it with sleep. Put on a pair of soft flannel pajamas when you’re ready to retire for the night. Go ahead and hug your teddy bear.
Good quality sleep protects your mental and physical health and enables you to enjoy life. Rely on bedtime rituals that will help you doze off faster and stay asleep all night long.
We Need our Sleep
Sleep is not just a waste of time, it is a very active time and we need it for things like memory and learning. During the day we acquire information, but at night we sort that information. People complain about sleep deprivation, but now with the 24/7 society and information overload we need our sleep more than ever." - Dr Neil Stanley
Sleep and sleep-related problems play a role in a large number of human disorders and affect almost every field of medicine.
For example, neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system. As anyone who has had the flu knows, infectious diseases tend to make us feel sleepy.
This probably happens because cytokines, chemicals our immune systems produce while fighting an infection, are powerful sleep-inducing chemicals. Sleep may help the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an attack.
Problems like stroke and asthma attacks tend to occur more frequently during the night and early morning. This could be due to changes in hormones, heart rate, and other characteristics associated with sleep.
Sleep also affects some kinds of epilepsy in complex ways.
REM sleep seems to help prevent seizures that begin in one part of the brain from spreading to other brain regions, while deep sleep may promote the spread of these seizures. Sleep deprivation also triggers seizures in people with some types of epilepsy.
Meadows R, Venn S, Hislop J, Stanley N Arber S. (2005) Investigating couples’ sleep: an evaluation of actigraphic analysis techniques. Journal of Sleep Research 14 377-386
Melatonin American Academy of Family Physicians
Jet Lag Disorder Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
Interactive Sleep Quiz National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute