Life’s too short to be tired all the time. And you’re too busy to spend one more minute in bed than you have to.
The obvious solution to these realities is to maximize the quality of your sleep, squeezing as much rest and energy out of every hour in your bed as you can. Of course, there’s no substitute for adequate sleep time, but healthy, successful people know that a few simple actions can ensure they wake up rested and ready to go. That’s why they always do these things before they turn in for the night.
1. Set a Schedule
The first and best step you can take to start getting better sleep is to set a fixed schedule and stick to it—even on weekends and holidays. For the best results, don’t try to fight your personal rhythm. Some folks are programmed to stay awake later, others to wake bright and early. Respect your body’s preferences if at all possible.
Struggling to keep to your plan? If “staying on track with a calming bedtime routine is virtually impossible for you, consider setting yourself an alarm—to go to bed,” suggests The Huffington Post.
2. Check Your Pre-Bed Diet
You’re not designed to digest and sleep at the same time, so do your best to make sure you either indulge in that heavy dinner early in the night or stick to lighter foods if you’ll be eating later.
Feeling peckish around bedtime? “Several foods promote rest by helping to optimize the release of melatonin. Turkey and warm milk contain tryptophan (the precursor to melatonin), while honey contains orexin, which reduces alertness. Marmite, almonds, chamomile, and oatcakes are also good, and bananas have high levels of serotonin and magnesium,” The Good Sleep Guide author Sammy Margo tells the UK Telegraph.
3. And Your Beverages
You’re no doubt aware you need to be careful about not consuming caffeine later in the day if you want to get a good night’s sleep, but did you know alcohol can also disturb it? That nightcap might make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it’ll make the second half of your night less restful. So have that glass of wine early enough that it’s out of your system by the time you turn out the light.
4. Power Down Your Gadgets
The blue light emitted by your computer and other gadgets can keep you up, so switch them off a good hour or two before bed (this will also help you clear your head of the day’s concerns before you hit the hay).
Or try F.lux. It’s a free app that “makes the color of your computer screen resemble the current time of day, helping your body recognize that bedtime is drawing near,” explains Dr. Michael Terman, the co-author of Reset Your Inner Clock: The Drug-Free Way to Your Best-Ever Sleep, Mood, and Energy.
5. Set the Scene
Your body’s ideal sleeping environment is cool, dark, and quiet, so do your best to eliminate noise and light from your room (and hey, you can save some money turning down the thermostat, too). If your home is loud at night, “use a fan, an air-conditioner, or a white noise app or machine. You can also try ear plugs,” suggests WebMD.
A comfy bed is also obviously essential. That might mean splurging on a better mattress or pillows (science says that your pillows probably need replacing every 18 months thanks to an accumulation of dust mites). And apologies to your furry friends, but if you’re aiming for the ultimate sleep experience, they’re going to need to find their own places to snooze away from your bed.
Your sleeping subconscious is a powerful tool that can help you make difficult decisions and dream up innovative ideas. But in order for it to do that, you have to ask it for help and take time to listen to its answers. You can make time for a little free writing, or simply take a few moments to reflect on the issues you’re facing, the day that’s passed, or your hopes for tomorrow. Or, try a simple meditation practice.
Whatever method you choose, your goal is to have a clear mind before you settle into bed. “Take some time in the evening to work through the day, make lists to do tomorrow, and clear your mental desktop of the stuff that you still have to think about. Then go to bed,” Michael A. Grandner of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania tells The Huffington Post.
7. Adopt a Bedtime Ritual
Your body and mind need a signal that it’s time to sleep, so develop a series of relaxing actions you can perform each night that act as your own personal off switch. Reading is good, so is taking a hot bath—“[t]he rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness,” explains Harvard Med’s Healthy Sleep website.
Just avoid that quick pre-bed work email check or any other potentially stimulating or stressful activity. It can raise your cortisol levels, making it harder to get tired.
This is especially important if you spend a good portion of the day hunched over a computer, or otherwise in postures that leave you with a lot of tension.
Health suggests this bit of quick in-bed yoga: “Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent and dropping toward the floor. Place your arms, palms up, by your sides, keeping your shoulders back and your chest open. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose while slowly counting to four, then exhale while counting back down to one. Continue for 10 minutes, or as long as it takes you to feel fully relaxed.” Or, try this more extensive series of poses from Shape Magazine.
9. Don’t Stress
A regular schedule is great, but don’t be a slave to your plan or stress out if you’re not sleepy at the “right” time. If you’re not drifting off after 15 or 20 minutes, get up and engage in a little more of your preferred pre-bed relaxation activities.
Whatever you do, don’t obsess over the time. “Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you,” suggests the Harvard sleep site. Or, if you want a higher tech solution, you could always buy this clock.
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