Getting a great night’s sleep is critical to the quality of the next day. Everything from making good food choices, to concentration and productivity, depend on a restful night.
Although you're reminded of the importance of sleep often, the quality of sleep you get may often feel like it's outside of your control. Focusing on the aspects you can control - the behaviors around bedtime - is a great place to start.
1. DARK & COOL ROOM
Keeping your bedroom as dark as possible will help to avoid any lights from outside. This is especially important if you live in towns or cities where light pollution is likely to be much worse than in more rural areas. You can do this quite easily with blackout blinds or curtains. Keeping your bedroom cool is more difficult. The ideal temperature is between 60-67°F. Colder than this may make it too chilly, and a room temperatures above is likely to cause restlessness. If opening a window makes it too noisy, you might consider a fan in the bedroom, or air conditioning, to maintain a steady temperature during the night.
2. NEUTRALIZE SOUNDS
If you’re using a fan to keep your bedroom fresh, this will double as a white noise machine. White noise contains all frequencies at equal intensity. This has the effect of masking loud sounds from your environment that could stimulate your brain and make it difficult to sleep. Dedicated white noise machines are inexpensive but probably unnecessary as many phone apps offer white noise options. The meditation app “calm” has a wide selection, including soothing nature sounds, but there are a wide variety of options available, including free YouTube videos.
3. CONSISTENT ROUTINE
Keeping a consistent routine around when you go to sleep and wake will make it easier to synchronize your biological clock. Sticking to this schedule as much as possible, including during the weekends, will help you to adjust to your routine. Think of getting to bed and waking up at the same time every day; in the hour leading up to your bedtime include the same activities every night so your body will know that you're getting ready for the night's sleep.
4. FOOD, ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE
Avoid eating a heavy meal before bed because while your body is working to digest that meal, it might make it harder to get to sleep. You may feel uncomfortable, and that could push the time you fall asleep back. For similar reasons, you might want to consider avoiding alcohol before bed. Alcohol makes it difficult to enter deeper stages of sleep, so when you wake in the morning after drinking, and it feels like your sleep quality was poor - this is why you’re so tired. Caffeine has a half-life of 3-5 hours. Which means if you drink a double espresso at 3pm, you could still have a single shot of espresso in your body at 8pm. Having a cut off time for caffeine which is 6-10 hours before your bedtime ensures that it’s out of your system before you try to sleep.
5. LIMIT ELECTRONICS
Electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones emit blue light. The light makes it challenging to go to sleep because it limits the amount of melatonin your body produces. Melatonin is a hormone which is involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is what helps us to feel sleepy. Although devices have “night shift” settings which limit the amount of blue light they produce, it is still stimulating to be using gadgets at night. It’s more effective to avoid their use within an hour or two of bedtime. Keeping your phone out of the bedroom is also advisable. If you need your phone for an alarm, you can buy a dedicated alarm clock for less than $10.
6. DON’T EXERCISE RIGHT BEFORE BED
Exercise gives us energy and wakes us up. Try to keep your training for the morning, or even late afternoon/early evening, so as not to disrupt your bedtime routine. Try experimenting with the optimal time for your body clock to see what works best for you.
7. GET OUT OF BED
If you’re struggling to fall asleep, or you are woken during sleep and can’t return for 5-10 minutes, get out of bed and try a calming activity such as a breathing exercise or meditation. This should not include electronics but aims to keep the bedroom for sleep only. By lying in bed, tossing and turning, potentially feeling anxious about being unable to get back to sleep, it can create anxiety about bedtime that carries over into other nights. By focusing your energy and effort into these activities that you have some control over, it makes getting a good night sleep something that you can manage.