Exhausted at 8 pm? Awake at 2 am… hanging out until your alarm clock rings at 6 am? Yes, I too have had nights like these. When it happens I usually have veered from my regular good sleeping habits. No one can follow a strict good sleeping guide every day, but if you follow these suggestions on most nights, you will sleep more soundly.
1) Routine: Going to bed and getting up about the same time every day really does make a difference in how well you sleep at night. When you have regular sleep and wake up times your body’s circadian rhyme will adjust to the times you set. It will send sleep-inducing hormones to your brain around the time you normally go to sleep, and your body temperature will rise just before you need to wake up. Yes, there is some genetics involved in who is an owl and who is a lark, but a regular sleep and wake time can make a difference in the quality of your sleep.
2) Transition Time: Most people can not get home from work or an evening activity and go straight to sleep. You need to transition: bathe, have a snack, read a little, watch TV, knit, whatever, quiet activity works for you as a signal to your brain that it is time to go to sleep. When you plan evening activities remember to try and come home at least, an hour before you actually want to go to bed. Do the same quiet activity every night and the association between the activity and sleep will help you relax more quickly and get you to bed on time.
3) Finish Dinner 3 hours before bedtime. Allowing time for digestion before lying down has been shown to relieve acid reflux, and snoring to name a few problems that can occur if you go to bed too soon after a meal. A small carbohydrate snack if your stomach is truly growling can help you sleep more soundly, but a big bowl of pasta is only going to make you restless if you eat it just before going to bed.
4) After dinner drink water. Instead of snacking or drinking alcohol after dinner, train yourself to drink water. Being well hydrated will improve your sleep. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom cut off your liquid consumption one to two hours before you go to bed.
5) Have only one alcoholic drink with dinner. Alcohol makes you feel relaxed, and it can help you fall asleep initially, but your sleep will not be as deep. You may wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back to sleep. Alcohol’s effect on sleep is very individual. I would recommend keeping a food and drink journal to figure out after what time of day you need to cut off alcohol consumption.
6) Keep caffeine consumption to a minimum. It can take up to 24 hours for your body to clear caffeine from your system. So the coffee you drank at noon, can keep you from falling to sleep at 11pm. Again caffeine like alcohol effects everyone differently. Keep track of how many caffeinated drinks you have in a day, and at what time you drank them to see if consumption correlates to bad sleep nights. I find that I can’t drink coffee after 12pm, and I can’t have black or green tea after 3:30 pm or it will keep me awake at night. If I am tired in the afternoon after these times, I try to drink water. Not being well hydrated can make you feel sleepy.
7) Expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. Get outside, take a walk or sit near a window in the morning. Sunlight wakes us up and helps to set our circadian clock to a sunrise sunset schedule.
8) Get some exercise. If you work at a desk all day your mind may get exhausted but your body really isn’t tired. Your body can keep you awake at night because you haven’t exercised it. Try to at least, go for an hour walk at the end of the day. Do an exercise video when you get home from work, or incorporate exercise into your breaks during the day at work.
9) Turn the heat down. A few hours before you are planning to go to sleep turn the heat down in your house to 65 degrees or less. You want your body temperature to go down at night, this triggers sleep. We wake up when our body temperature rises.
10) Keep a notepad by your bed. Random thought of things “to do” can keep you from falling to sleep at night. Jot down anything that comes into your mind, so you can free it from worrying that you won’t remember that “to do” thing you thought of before bedtime.