One of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to get plenty of rest. But if you’re like just about everybody else out there, this is definitely easier said than done! Believe me, I know. I struggled with this for a long time – some nights I had trouble falling asleep, sometimes it was trouble staying asleep. Then other times I had trouble falling back asleep when I would wake up after just an hour or two. But there are things you can do to try and smooth out all of these wrinkles that interfere with your rest and I’m going to take you through them step by step.
Step 1 – Figure out how much sleep you actually need Ideally, this should be done when you have at least 5 days off from work and can wake up whenever you want. If you happen to be on vacation right now, perfect! Because you’re going to want to learn what time you wake naturally, without an alarm. If you happen to not be on vacation right now, just spend a week going to bed a little earlier without setting an alarm, and making a note of (approximately) what time you fell asleep and exactly what time you woke up. After 4 or 5 days, calculate the average and voila! You have the ideal number of hours you need to be fully rested. This should fall somewhere in between the 7 to 9 hour range.
Step 2 – Set a bedtime and stick to it Now that you know how many hours of sleep you need, set your bedtime and stick to it! I know, I know… there are nights you feel exhausted and want to fall into bed at 9 p.m., other nights you stay out too late and just aren’t tired at any particular time. But trust me, having a set bed time is one of the most important factors in getting yourself into a pattern of good, restful sleep. Your body will thank you for it!
Step 3 – Have a pre-bedtime routine Turn off all electronic devices an hour before your bedtime. We’ve all heard by now that the blue light these devices emit interfere with your body’s natural production of the sleep hormones it needs in order to begin the process of shutting down and preparing for sleep. The routine you develop for this last hour will help that happen, also. So take an hour to prepare for sleep. If you need a little snack, the best food to have at this time is a small bowl of cereal. Then change into your pjs, wash your face, brush your teeth, apply your moisturizers. Finally, climb into bed with a good book. I find this is the best way to force your mind to stop going over all the things we think about or worry about, all those mental lists you think you have to make for the next day, going over the next day’s schedule in your head, etc. The book forces you to focus on the story you’re reading and nothing else, helping you (hopefully!) drift into a good, restful sleep.
Step 4 – Don’t stay in bed tossing and turning If you’re having trouble falling asleep, just lying there, looking at the clock every so often, trying to force yourself to sleep isn’t going to work. If you’ve gone through all the previous steps and still find yourself awake 15 or 20 minutes after turning off the light, try turning the light back on and returning to your book. Or have a glass of warm milk. Maybe put a few drops of lavender oil on your hands and take several long, deep breaths inhaling the scent. Or try all of these things. Whatever you do, do not turn that TV on or pick up your tablet or cellphone! This will only serve to cause your mind to continue waking even further and that’s the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish. The same applies to those times you do fall asleep but wake again after an hour or two.
Step 5 – Resist the urge to sleep in on your days off For those of you who think that’s what days off were made for, this is going to be a tough one! But believe me, if you stick to your routines every day of the week, your body will have a natural sleep pattern that it falls into and wakes from smoothly, day after day. Suddenly sleeping in one day will disrupt this pattern, causing you to not be able to get to sleep at your normal time the following night and suddenly you’re back to not being fully rested and feeling groggy the next day.
There are, of course, other things you can try if you do all of these things and it just isn’t working. Talk to your doctor and find out if the problem might be insomnia. There are also over-the-counter medications you can use that aren’t habit forming but you still shouldn’t take them more than a few nights in a row, but I’ve tried these and they really do help you fall and stay asleep on those nights nothing else is working. Also you could try going the natural route, with the lavender oil I mentioned earlier (make a lavender scented sachet to tuck under your pillow!) or maybe try some Valerian root, which you can find at any health food store. Just make sure you follow the directions exactly with any of these products.
Let me know in comments if my tips here are working for you, or if you have any other tips of your own to share. Sweet dreams, everybody!