We all want to get a healthy amount of sleep. Quality sleep helps us be the best we can be, both personally and professionally. There are quite a few things we can do to improve the quality (and, if needed, quantity) of our sleep. These include changes to the physical sleeping environment, rituals before going to bed, changes to daily activities, nutritional modifications, and some simple activities to help us fall asleep in the first place.
Being Comfortable Gives Your Sleep More Quality
First of all, if you don’t have a good mattress and pillow, you’re going to have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. This can be a difficult matter for many people, since mattresses are very expensive. One thing you can do to soften the financial blow of a good mattress is haggle with the salespeople (it works) or getting them to throw in freebies (mattress protectors, memory foam padding, fancy pillows, etc.). Definitely shop sales and demand free delivery. Don’t believe the hype either – the most expensive mattress isn’t necessarily the right one for you. Test lots of mattresses starting with the least expensive, and buy the one that feels the best to you. Remember, a mattress is an investment in your health and happiness and will last you eight to ten years. As for pillows, a nice, firm memory foam pillow can be helpful in eliminating neck pain and shoulder tension, while some prefer fluffy down pillows. Just try lots of different pillows until you find what’s right for you.
Your Daily Routine Affects your Sleep More Than you Realize
What we do during the day has a lot to do with how well we sleep. The more exercise we get, the easier our bodies take to resting at night. When you tire your body out, your mind relaxes more easily. In this time of exponentially advancing technology it is important to remember that the less time we spend looking at a screen later in the evening (whether computer, television, smartphone, or tablet), the easier it is for our minds to fall asleep at night. Try logging off and powering down at least an hour before bed, and do things that relax your body and mind such as stretching, reading a book, or cuddling with a loved one or a pet. On the same note, do not place any electronics in your bedroom that have a screen (other than your phone, if you are using it as an alarm clock). Just having that extra stimulation in your bedroom can prevent you from falling asleep. Bedrooms should also be completely dark when falling asleep. If this is impossible (for example, there is a neon sign outside your window), try buying a padded mask that covers your eyes, or simply throw a sheet over your face to block out the light.
Nutrition plays a role in sleep quality, too. It may seem obvious, but the less caffeine and other stimulants we consume, the better we will sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, try eliminating any caffeine use after 2 p.m. You can also drink milk before bed, as it contains tryptophan, a natural relaxing agent. On an interesting note, the claim that warm milk is best for falling asleep is not true, as the warmth actually speeds up your metabolism. Cold milk will help you fall asleep faster than warm milk, as it drops your body temperature. If you don’t like milk, are lactose intolerant, or simply want a stronger effect, you can buy tryptophan supplements that come in easy-to-swallow capsules. These work best if you also take a supplement called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which helps your brain convert the tryptophan into serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that causes the relaxation effect. These supplements have the added benefit of improving overall mood, and are frequently used to manage symptoms of depression naturally. There are other health supplements available to help induce sleep, most notably melatonin and valerian root. Be sure you read the warnings and directions on any supplement you are taking, as there are sometimes important instructions (for example, it is not advisable to drink alcohol at the same time as taking valerian root, since both can compound liver damage).
For some people, staying asleep is not a problem, but falling asleep in the first place feels impossible. There are a few things you can do to fall asleep more easily. First, maintaining the same ritual every night tells your mind that it is time to fall asleep. For example, my nightly routine is virtually the same every night – take the dog outside, take my 5-HTP and tryptophan, brush my teeth, wash my face, stretch for a few minutes, set my alarm, and get into bed. If creating and maintaining a nightly ritual doesn’t always work (sometimes a particularly stressful day or week can pose an extra challenge), there is an extremely helpful exercise one can do while lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. This exercise helps to clear the head of any pesky thoughts that are keeping one awake. First, you should lie in a comfortable position, preferably flat on your back. You are going to relax every single tiny muscle in your body, starting with your toes. Think individually about each toe, the ball of your foot, your heel, the top of your foot, your ankles, your calves, your knees, and so on. Work up your body extremely slowly, making sure that all the muscles remain completely relaxed. If you feel tension in your feet, start over, and keep working upwards. Generally, you will be asleep before you reach your knees. This exercise has the effect of grounding you completely inside your body, and turning off any thoughts of the outside world. Best of all, no one, not even your partner in bed next to you, needs to know you are doing it, as it is completely inside of your head and body.
Speaking of your partner, in some cases, we can’t sleep because of something our counterpart is doing – snoring, tossing and turning, sleep-talking, etc. Working with your partner to solve these problems could help both of you sleep better. Perhaps a nasal strip or simply sleeping on their side would help them stop snoring; sometimes, a more drastic approach (such as quitting smoking or surgery) is needed. Sometimes, couples decide to sleep in separate beds, or even separate rooms; not very romantic, but the separation does show respect for each other’s health and happiness when one person is negatively impacting the other’s sleep.
I hope that at least one of the ideas I’ve presented will be useful to readers. Even one simple lifestyle change can have a huge impact on sleep quality and quantity, and improve our moods and relationships. Goodnight!