Tossing. Turning. Sneaking peeks at the clock. Calculating how much sleep you’ll get if you can just fall asleep right now. Finally drifting off into slumber, only to be awakened by your alarm clock’s harsh ring just a short time later. Dragging yourself out of bed, and into another day of fatigue.
If that hits a bit too close to home, you probably have started to think of sleep as an elusive foe, or something that sounds good in theory, but just doesn’t work for you. What would you say if someone told you that actually, quality sleep depends on good habits, and those habits are easy to learn? What if by adopting a new, simple habit each night for two weeks, you could start sleeping better – not just for one night, but every night? Sound too good to be true? Well, read on, because here’s your 14-day countdown to restful, restorative slumber that will leave you looking forward to bedtime instead of dreading it.
Day 1. Get to Bed 15 Minutes Earlier
When it comes down to it, sleep is a numbers game. To remain healthy, adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night – closer to eight if you want to feel and function at your best. If you’ve been shortchanging yourself on rest, start off tonight by getting into bed just 15 minutes earlier than the night before. Continue to push your bedtime back by 15-minute increments until you are logging a full seven hours or more each night.
Day 2. Check the Thermostat
Room temperature is strongly related to the quality of sleep. If you want to wake up feeling your best, set the thermostat somewhere between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit before retiring for the night – that’s the ideal range to support your body’s natural dip in temperature during the sleep cycle.
Day 3. Count Your Blessings
Keep a small notebook and pen in your nightstand, and start a nightly gratitude journal habit. It might sound corny, but taking a few minutes to reflect on your day and then jot down the three best things about it calms your mind, improves your mood and lets you drift off to the land of nod on a high note.
Day 4. Take a Peaceful Moment
A busy mind is a wakeful mind, so make it a habit to spend at least a minute or two quieting your pre-sleep brain with a session of prayer, silent meditation or simply counting your breaths. This activity, combined with a gratitude journal, combats the common tendency to use bedtime as a free-for-all worry session.
Day 5. Switch It off
One of the most common causes of poor-quality sleep in our technology-obsessed world is the glow of a lit screen at bedtime. This includes cell phones, tablets, laptops and the TV. The bluish glow of these electronic devices prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Make it a habit to switch off your electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
Day 6.Snack Smart
A small snack before bedtime helps keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night, which in turn keeps you resting comfortably. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to wolf down chips or a steak dinner right before hitting the hay, however. The ideal bedtime snack is small and balances protein with carbs. Try a bowl of cereal with milk, or peanut butter smeared on a cracker.
Day 7. Make It Routine
If you think a bedtime routine is only for toddlers, you’re cheating yourself out of a powerful weapon in the battle against insomnia. A simple routine – it doesn’t have to be much more than following a nightly pattern of washing up, laying out tomorrow’s clothing, having a small snack, and then writing in your gratitude journal – quickly trains your mind that sleep is coming.
Day 8. Exercise – But Not Before Bedtime
Breaking a sweat most days of the week helps you sleep better, but not if that sweat happens too close to bedtime. Exercise raises your body temperature and stimulates your nervous system – both of which create wakefulness, not tiredness. Ideally, you should avoid vigorous exercise within three hours of your bedtime.
Day 9. Be Smart About Caffeine
You already know not to enjoy your double latte right before heading to bed, but you might not realize that caffeine can linger in your system for up to five hours. So play it safe by switching to decaf by the afternoon.
Day 10. Dreamtime Playlist
You probably have playlists for exercise, work and drive time, so why not create one for sleep, as well? Choose several of your favorite slow jams, classical pieces, dreamy jazz tunes or even electronic ambient music – as long as the beat is slow, the lyrics soft or nonexistent, and the tunes relaxing (this isn’t the playlist for toe-tapping, head-bobbing songs), listening to music while you drift off to dreamland is a good way to wind down. Nature sounds, such as rain, waves, crickets or running water, are a similar option.
Day 11. Plan Tomorrow Today
Before sliding into bed, write out the next day’s to-do list – this can be part of your nighttime routine. Not only does this make you more efficient in the morning, it’s another good way to quiet your busy mind so you can get to sleep.
Day 12. Check Your Meds
Many prescription medications – and some OTC meds, as well – list insomnia as a potential side effect. Some of the most common offenders are blood pressure medications, antidepressants, statins, antihistamines and asthma meds. If your doctor okays it, simply switch to taking your pills in the morning. Problem solved.
Day 13. Lights out
The best sleep happens in a completely dark bedroom. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have such a room; instead, we are bombarded with light creeping in through the window, light from the living room where family members are still awake, or light from glowing clocks or other items in our bedroom. Block it out with a sleep mask. These inexpensive cloth masks do a good job of masking light, and if you choose a satiny, pretty mask, you’ll even add a touch of glamour to your repose.
Day 14. Watch the Weekends
Many people scrimp on sleep all week long, and then make up the debt on the weekend by sleeping in until noon. It might feel good, but ultimately, that’s a habit that interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm, throwing your sleep cycle off even further, and leading to a vicious circle of sleeplessness followed by sleeping in. If you really want to sleep well, you need to stick with a regular bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. That doesn’t mean you have to be overly rigid, but try to keep on track. If you do miss out on sleep one night, make up the debt by going to sleep earlier the next night, not by sleeping in later the following morning.