Getting yourself to bed and making time for sleep is often, in itself, a challenge. But it seems that insult is added to injury when at last you slip between the sheets only to find that you can’t fall asleep . . . or can’t stay asleep. Read on for the basic principles of creating a sleep-friendly environment, set to help you sleep better and wake up feeling rested.
1. Kick the caffeine habit and limit alcohol
Most of us need to avoid caffeine after around noon to 3.00 p.m. in order to sleep better. Avoiding drinking alcohol for at least three hours before bedtime can also help prevent waking up in the middle of the night.
2. Get active during the day
Exercise of any kind improves the ease and quality of your sleep. From simply taking a walk or practising yoga, to more vigorous workouts like running and spinning. Exercising outdoors in the morning has been proven to more beneficial as the daylight keeps your biological clock on track – awake and active during the day and sleepy at night.
3. Dim the lights and quieten the sounds in your home for an hour or two before bedtime
Light pollution is just one of the ways that modern life exacerbates our poor sleep patterns by altering our circadian rhythm – the biological clock that tells us to sleep when it’s dark.
Dim the lights in your home and do your best to avoid smartphones and tablets entirely for two to three hours before bed. Even the blue light given off by your electronics suppresses melatonin - the hormonal signal of sleep and ‘night’ in your internal clock.
4. Have a small snack before bed
While it's rarely a good idea to eat a large meal close to bedtime, having a small snack a few hours before going to bed can be helpful for some. Turkey is rich in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which can help you to sleep better. Similarly, casein, the protein in milk, can also be sleep-inducing. Avoid simple carbohydrates (think sugar, white flour, white rice) just before bed, as they can cause spikes in your blood sugar, which later drops while you are asleep and can cause you to wake up.
5. Take a hot bath or shower before bed
This can be relaxing and will also raise your body temperature. As your temperature cools, your body naturally becomes sleepy, helping you to sleep better naturally. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room and using a fan in hot weather can also serve the dual purpose of creating white noise, which can also be an aid for some.
6. Love what you sleep on
If your mattress is uncomfortable, it will interfere with your sleep. If you wake up in the morning in more aching and tired, consider replacing your mattress. Many mattresses release toxic chemicals, particularly when new, so consider a more ecological mattress made from cotton, wool, or latex.
7. Try to go to sleep by 10.00 p.m.
In the Ayurvedic healing tradition, the most restful hours of sleep are those prior to midnight.
Remember that our bodies are accustomed to going to bed soon after sundown and waking with the sunrise, so the closer we align ourselves with this ancient body clock, the better sleep we will get.
8. Make your bedroom your sleep sanctuary
The room in which you sleep should be dark, quiet, cool, and free of electronic devices. This includes your mobile phone, because it continues to transmit signals while you sleep. Having your phone near you while you sleep is akin to leaving your work computer open on your bedside table – beckoning you with all of its unanswered texts and emails. It keeps your mind in stress mode – which is not compatible with deep rest.
9. Consider using essential oils such as lavender or lemon balm
You can use these in your bath, on your skin in a lotion or oil, or dropped onto your pillow for their sleep-inducing qualities.
10. Do not do anything in bed except sleep or make love
If you have no difficulty with insomnia, reading in bed can be a great way to unwind. If you do suffer from insomnia, however, it is best to read in a chair outside the bedroom and then to go to bed when you are drowsy. Train your body that the only thing that happens in bed is sleep – or sex. Especially because sex is a great sleep-inducer. Ideally, you should not do work, or anything stressful, for at least an hour before bed. Leaving two hours to relax or do simple household tasks or spend time relaxing with your loved ones is ideal.
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