With our world seemingly crumbling around us, a lot of people are having difficulty sleeping. Whether it’s worry about economic upheaval, financial strain, or just uncertainty about the future, reports of difficulty getting to sleep and poor sleep quality are skyrocketing.
As a nation, we spend more than $3.5 billion a year on prescription sleep medications. More than 60% of adult Americans have trouble sleeping several nights a week. Failing to get a good night’s sleep can impair our job performance, lead to ill health, and leave us generally irritable.
There are several simple behavioral adjustments that can help solve these problems. First, you will generally sleep better if you are warm. Cold temperatures delay the release of melatonin, which aids sleep. If you need to, take a warm bath or shower before bed. Make sure you have enough clothes on, or a warm comforter.
Next, try to eliminate every possible light in your room. Studies have shown that we sleep best when we are in total darkness. If you have light coming through a window, an alarm clock, a cell phone blinking, a TV or radio in the room, cover them up.
It’s important also to maintain a regular sleep schedule. People who maintain a rigid bedtime report falling asleep faster and sleeping better than those whose sleep schedules are varied. Your body has a hard time getting on a schedule if you are adjusting your bedtime by even as little as 30 minutes a day.
Get up at the same time every day. Sleep experts report that when people sleep in, on a weekend or a day off, they actually have more trouble getting a good night’s rest the next day. As long as you’re getting a solid eight hours a day, your body is getting what it needs; any more than that and you’re going to confuse your internal clock.
You should also avoid big meals in the evening. When your body is working hard to digest a large meal, you don’t sleep as well. Consider having your main meal at lunch time, then eating a light meal at night. Alcohol, caffeine and meats are especially bad late in the evening.
If you are a regular coffee drinker or drink other caffeinated beverages, avoid them after lunch. Many people feel groggy in the afternoon and develop a habit (or is it a dependency?) on these drinks, which may help in the afternoon but often times cause problems at bed time. If you are groggy in the afternoons, try one of two approaches.
The first option is to take a power nap. Studies have shown that a 10-15 minute ‘cat nap’ can give you a substantial boost without leaving you feeling groggy. Avoid the temptation to sleep for 20 minutes or longer, because your body will try to enter deep sleep, and then you’ll feel awful the rest of the day.
The second option is to exercise. Exercise has many benefits, of course, but one of the little-known benefits is that it will tire your body out, ensuring that when you lie down to sleep later in the evening, you’ll be ready for sleep. It will also give you a boost of energy for the rest of the afternoon. Many professionals now use their lunch hour to exercise, allowing them to skip on the caffeine drinks in the afternoon.
A low level of ‘white noise’ helps to calm your mind and drown out other noises that might catch your brain’s attention during the night. Maybe it’s an air filter, a fan or a humidifier, but something that creates a low level of soft, constant background noise will help to calm your mind.
Resist the urge to read or watch TV at bedtime, or in bed. Your bed should be for sleeping! Don’t train your body and mind to use the bed like a couch, and don’t get your mind active or working on ideas when you should be slowing down and training your mind for sleep.
Finally, don’t forget prayer before bed time. We all have a lot to be thankful for, and I can think of no better way to finish the day than with a reflection of all that we should thank our creator for, and all our transgressions that we should put before Him and ask forgiveness for. Nothing helps a good night’s sleep than a clean conscience.