Getting a full night’s sleep (eight hours, for most people) is an integral part of being physically, mentally and even emotionally healthy. There is nothing more important to our overall health than getting a regular good night’s rest; even one night of diminished sleep can greatly impair practically all our body’s systems and our ability to function, until we get caught up on the lost sleep.
We know that maintaining a regular bedtime schedule, even on weekends, is important. Here are some more things to do, which will help promote relaxation and sound sleep at bedtime:
- Turn off electronics such as television, computers and cell phones. It’s a myth that dim light or soft noise will help us sleep better. When it comes to our brains, darkness and total silence work best. If total quiet and darkness are not an option, try wearing a black sleep mask and use ear plugs (the silicone kind work best).
- If you didn’t get a full night’s rest, try hard to stay awake and not nap during the day, as even short naps will disrupt your ability to go to sleep at night. If you can’t stay awake, try to nap in the morning, as it will interfere less with your night-time sleep. A little coffee, physical activity or mental stimulation will help you stay awake during the day. But if you do use caffeine, don’t drink it in the afternoon, as it can affect your ability to fall asleep many hours later, as well as interfere with the deeper stages of sleep.
- Consider your mattress: is it comfortable? Or is it time to replace it? You can also experiment in terms of firmness vs. softness, as some people are more comfortable on a firmer mattress, while others do better on a softer one. To soften a mattress that’s too hard, add a layer of egg-crate foam or memory foam on top. The comfort of your mattress will definitely affect the quality of your sleep, and you will wake up with fewer aches and pains in the morning if you’re on a good mattress. Replacing your mattress periodically also insures that you minimize dust and other allergens that accumulate in all mattresses over time.
- Avoid stiff necks by experimenting with pillows, using firm or soft ones to suit you best. The pillow’s height matters, too. You don’t want a pillow that’s too tall when you sleep, or it will encourage bad posture and produce a stiff neck. Depending on your preferred sleep position, you may not need a pillow at all. If you sleep on your stomach, for instance, you may do best just folding a small towel and using that as your pillow.
- Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is cozy. Most people do best at about 65-70 degrees.
- Avoid rigorous exercise in the hours before bedtime, as it can actually give you more energy and make it harder to fall asleep. However, gentle exercise, such as stretching or yoga, is fine before bed and will help relax you.
- Avoid watching TV or movies that will overstimulate you as bedtime nears (watching news just before bedtime, for instance, may not be a good idea); what you read before bed should be relaxing, as well — no suspense novels!
- Banish furry friends from your bed; lovable as they are, a dog or a cat on your bed can disrupt your valuable sleep.
- Use dim lighting in your home in the evenings — lamps with shades or diffused lighting, as opposed to an overhead light; this will help your mind/brain be calm as bedtime nears.
- Avoid alcohol within 2 to 3 hours before bedtime (and drink in moderation). While alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, it will cause you to wake up during the night (it’s a nervous-system disruptor), as well as prevent your brain from going into the more restful and revitalizing stages of the sleep cycle.
- Nicotine is a stimulant also; avoid cigarette-smoking for optimal night-time sleep.
- Warm milk with cookies or a banana and milk will settle your stomach and promote sleep.
- If worries are on your mind, try writing down on paper the topics that are distressing you at the moment, as well as possible solutions to them.
- When all else fails, see your doctor about getting a prescription sleeping aid; but these medications should be used only occasionally, as they can be habit-forming.
By Jamells Andrews