One third of your life will be spent sleeping. On average, that’s the equivalent of 26 years. That’s right, for 26 years of your life, you will be asleep. At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. But for many of us, our nights are more often spent lying awake in bed, unable to fall asleep.
We spend our nights tossing, turning, thinking, stressing and then stressing even more, because on top of our regular stress, we’re now stressed that we can’t fall asleep! (Sorry if that sentence stressed you out).
If you’re one of these people who are struggling to get a good night’s rest, you’re not alone. In a recent poll, 60% of adult Americans reported having trouble sleeping nightly or nearly nightly. The reasons for our sleeplessness will be different for every person. But one thing is for sure, sleeplessness is something that a large majority of people struggle with. And unless we get a handle on it, many of us will experience negative side effects. So as a public service to a sleep deprived world I have the following tips for you:
DON’T LOOK AT ANYTHING WITH A SCREEN BEFORE BED
Melatonin is the hormone your brain produces at night to make you fall asleep. But it turns out that the specific light emitted by devices with screens, such as your phone, TV or tablet, directly interfere with the production of melatonin in your brain. Your brain can’t make melatonin while you’re looking at your phone screen. This means that you’re not going to get drowsy enough to fall asleep while you’re playing Candy Crush.
The modern conveniences of our world are often modern hindrances to our well-being. Yes, our bosses like to text us at night, and we like to watch our favorite re-runs before bed. But these things have a direct physiological consequence; in this case, interfering with the production of the hormone we need to sleep. So, don’t look at screens at least 30 minutes before bed.
COVER ALL LIGHTS BEFORE GOING TO BED
Like the previous point, light in our bedrooms makes it difficult for our brains to create melatonin. This is obvious when it comes to windows and lamps; melatonin is only produced in darkness, when our retinas are not being stimulated by light. However, you may be surprised at other types of light which also interfere with our brains, even while we are already asleep.
Digital alarm clocks, for example, the ones with the bright red or green numbers, emit enough light to interfere with your melatonin production. And even if you fall asleep, the light can cause you to fail to enter a proper sleep stage, and therefore even though you fell asleep, your sleep probably won’t feel very restful.
Before going to bed, make sure all light in your room is covered or at least turned away from you; including alarm clocks or those annoying little blinking lights on some cell phones.
SET A ROUTINE BEFORE GOING TO BED
If you want restful sleep, your body needs a routine. Your natural sleep patterns, circadian rhythms, are on a clock – even if you aren’t. Going to bed at exactly the same time every night, and getting up at exactly the same time every morning, will make a significant difference in the quality of your sleep.
JOURNAL BEFORE GOING TO BED
For many of us, anxious thoughts and worries make it difficult to fall asleep. We rehearse events, problems and concerns over and over. One way to combat this is to journal before going to bed.
Not only is this something to do which doesn’t involve a screen. It is also a healthy way to get thoughts out of our heads, and onto paper. There is a mysterious transfer that takes place when we write stressful thoughts down. In a very literal sense, we are displacing worries and troublesome thoughts to a new location. Leave your worries in your journal for the night, and forget about them.
This activity will give you the opportunity to process your day, and if you write long enough, it will probably make you tired as well. One more thing, if you’re feeling down, write about the things you are thankful for. This will give you a positive perspective and a feeling of contentment before falling asleep.
STAY OUT OF YOUR BED, BEFORE GOING TO BED
Your mind makes associations which you are not even consciously aware of. Your brain needs to associate your bed with sleep. Some people spend a lot of time in their bedrooms and use their bed as a couch; this is especially the case in situations such as college dorm rooms. But if you’re spending all day in bed, or using your bed like a couch, your mind is not going to associate your bed with a place of restfulness, peace and sleep.
Only lay on your bed when you are planning on going to sleep. And if you are hanging out in your room during the day, try to sit in another chair, instead of sitting on your bed. This will cause your brain to enter into a more peaceful and restful place when you finally do get in bed at night.
DO A RELAXING ACTIVITY BEFORE GOING TO BED
Journaling has already been suggested as a healthy pre-bed activity. But if that’s not your thing, find something that relaxes you and causes you to become drowsy.
For some people, breathing exercises are calming and centering. For others, muscle relaxation may release stress and relax your body. Others may want to read or meditate before bed. Whatever works for you, incorporate it into your pre-bed routine; just make sure it’s not something with a screen.
I know from personal experience how frustrating sleep problems can be. But I also know that trouble sleeping doesn’t need to be a permanent problem. For most people, implementing these tips will bring relief. But if these tips don’t work for you, I encourage you to see a sleep specialist as there may be a physiological issue which requires attention.