Does sweet sleep seem like a myth to you? Do you want to know how to get enough sleep – a solid seven to eight hours of blissful, restful, rejuvenating shuteye? Do you even remember what that's like? Studies have shown that most people are suffering from some level of sleep-deprivation.
Maybe you are going to bed too late and getting up too early. Maybe you have a hard time falling asleep or wake up several times throughout the night. Maybe you think that you are sleeping soundly yet still find yourself tired and sluggish in the morning.
It's about quantity and quality. And, science has proven that sleep deficit does a lot more than just make you cranky. It affects your weight, your health, your mood, and even your ability to perform everyday tasks. A good night's sleep is the foundation for a healthy mind and body.
There's a saying, “Sleep is for the weak”. That's true. But, not in the way this phrase intended. The reason people are weak is because they don't get enough sleep. And, how can they become stronger? You got it......more sleep!
So, how do you do it? In today's fast-paced world, our minds and bodies are so busy that peaceful trips to dreamland can seem like a fantasy. If you want to know how to get enough sleep – or how to improve sleep – here are a few things you can try. But, keep in mind that everyone is different, so you will have to experiment to find what works best for you.
1. Stick To A Schedule. When it comes to diet and exercise, experts say to “shake it up”. It's good to keep your body guessing. But, the opposite is true for sleeping. Predictability is the key to a good night's rest. You want to develop a sleep-wake cycle that will train your brain to follow a pattern. That means going to bed and getting up at the same time. Everyday. Even on the weekends. One of the best ways to fall asleep, and stay asleep, is to establish a schedule so your mind and body know when to shut down and when to wake up.
2. Exercise. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can help you sleep better. And, a lack of physical activity has actually been shown to cause sleep difficulties. However, since exercise can also boost energy, try not to workout too close to bedtime. You want to give your body at least 2-3 hours to recover.
3. Watch Your Eating Habits. Try to avoid eating large meals too late in the evening. Have dinner earlier or keep it light. When you eat, your blood sugar goes up, and this can keep you awake. Or, if you do fall asleep, once your blood sugar drops again, you may wake up and have difficulty falling back to sleep. If you do find that you need a snack after dinner, choose something high in protein like yogurt, nuts, or tuna. These foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid which causes your body to make the sleep chemical, serotonin. Stay away from carbs or sugar in the evening. These are energy foods and will be more likely to hinder sleep.
4. Have A Routine. Sometimes a good night's sleep can depend on how well you prepare ahead of time. Certain activities can be a signal, or a way of telling your mind and body that it is time to sleep. Find a pre-sleep routine that works for you and then try to do it every night. Some ideas could include:
5. Limit Fluids. Yes, you need to drink your 8 glasses of water each day. No, you shouldn't do it in the evening. Some doctors recommend drinking a glass of water right before bed because it helps your body detoxify, but if you find that you are waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, then you should limit the liquids.
6. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed. Alcohol may actually make you sleepy, but it is also a diuretic. That means either dehydration or a full bladder will likely wake you up in the middle of the night. Alcohol has also been connected to fragmented sleep, restlessness, and nightmares.
7. Avoid Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you awake. This affects some people more than others so listen to your body.
8. Quit Smoking. Like caffeine, nicotine is also a stimulant that has been associated with sleep difficulties. Plus, some people may even wake during the night due to withdrawal symptoms.
9. Manage Stress. Everyone has a certain amount of stress in their lives, but sometimes the worries of the day can affect how well you sleep at night. Determine to leave things like frustration, irritation, anger, anxiety, or the pressures of deadlines and demands outside the bedroom door. Find a way to manage your stress, because you will never get a good night's sleep if you can't learn how to relax your body and calm your mind.
10. Get Enough Light. Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body regulate its sleep-wake cycle. Your pineal gland produces melatonin when it's dark as a way of telling your body that it is time to go to sleep. Light stops this process from happening. So, you feel awake when it's light and tired when it's dark. That's the way it's supposed to work, right? But many aspects of life today, especially modern technology, can interfere with this system. A lot of people work in dark or windowless environments which can cause sluggishness (because your body is making melatonin when it shouldn't). And, to make matters worse, spending hours in front of a television or computer screen in the evening can cause light stimulation which may prevent the production of melatonin. As you can imagine, this really hinders your ability to sleep. To keep your sleep-wake cycle in sync and optimize melatonin production, here are a few things you can do:
11.Turn Off Electronics. As already mentioned, lighted electronic screens can tell your brain that it is still daytime so it needs to stay alert. So, at least one hour (but 2 is better) before bedtime, turn off these stimulating devices and do something that will help you unwind, such as reading a book or taking a relaxing bath. Even if your work doesn't involve using electronics, it is a good idea to put it away as bedtime approaches so you aren't trying to sleep while your brain is still in “thinking mode”.
12. Make Your Room Dark. While you need light during the day to keep you awake and alert, darkness signals your pineal gland to begin making melatonin. So, the darker the better. If you have sleep difficulties, even the light from your alarm clock can cause disturbances. Wear an eye mask if you must, but make your sleeping area as dark as possible.
13. Use Your Bed For Sleep, Not Work. Climbing into bed should signal your brain that it's time to sleep. But, if you regularly take your work to bed with you, it can get confused. Your body won't know what to expect and this may affect your ability to fall asleep.
14. Nap Smart. The goal is to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but occasionally this may not be possible. So, if you need a short nap to make up the difference, then take one. But, keep in mind that anything longer than 1/2 hour may cause you to enter REM sleep, which is the deepest level of sleep. When you are awakened during this stage, you will probably feel groggy and even more tired than you did before your nap. Set your alarm for 15-30 minutes. Studies have shown that a short “cat nap” is better for restoring energy than a longer snooze.
15. Keep Room Temperature Comfortable. If your bedroom is too hot or too cold, you may wake up because you are uncomfortable.
16. Maintain A Healthy Weight. While sleep disorders can affect anyone, excess weight can increase your risk of developing certain conditions such as sleep apnea.
17. Shut Out The Sounds. If possible, block out any noise that may disrupt your sleep. Some people find a fan or another source of “white noise” to be helpful.
18. See A Doctor. If you have tried everything and are still having difficulty sleeping, it may be time to visit a professional. Sometimes, sleep problems can be caused by medical issues such as hormone imbalances (often due to menopause or thyroid conditions), sleep apnea, depression, or diabetes. If lack of sleep is affecting your life, you may want to talk to your doctor about medical treatments that may be helpful.
While the emphasis has always been on diet and exercise, getting enough sleep should also be an important part of your fitness program. If you are having difficulty sleeping, try some of the above suggestions to help you get in touch with your sleep-wake cycle so you can enjoy a restful night of good quality sleep. Sweet dreams!
Other pages that might interest you:
I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.