Sleeping well is just as important as eating right and getting enough exercise, but sometimes, that can be easier said than done. Having the right kind of nighttime routine can make a huge difference.
“I can’t sleep.” With over 70 million Americans suffering from some kind of sleeping disorder, this is a pretty common complaint. Luckily, maintaining the right night routine can enable healthy, restful sleep. Avoiding habits that disturb your sleep cycle can also help you sleep better for longer.
Sleep is Vital to Good Health
Sleep is a basic human need. Your body needs restful sleep in order to function, just like it needs oxygen, food, and water. While you sleep, several biological processes take place that are vital to your health: proteins are built, your immune system stabilizes itself, cells regenerate, and your brain processes and consolidates the information it took in during the day.
That means having a sleep deficit does severe damage to your body. But by making a few changes to your nighttime routine, you can help your body and mind drift off to sleep more easily.
A Nighttime Routine Can Help
Everyone needs eight hours of sleep a night, right? Maybe not. It turns out that your sleep quality is much more important than how long you snooze for. Different people need different amounts of sleep; some of us need only six hours of sleep a night, while others feel awful if they get any less than eight, nine, or even ten. Albert Einstein reportedly slept for twelve hours a night; Napoleon only four.
Whether you have a bona fide sleeping disorder, or you’re just going through a stressful time in your life, having a sensible nighttime routine and maintaining good “sleep hygiene” can make a big difference.
A circadian rhythm is called a rhythm for a reason: to get the most restful sleep, you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends).
This aspect of your nighttime routine may not sound easy but in terms of improving your sleep quality, it is astoundingly effective. Biological clocks exist to tell you when to sleep and when to wake up: try to work with it, not against it.
Your bed should be the most comfortable spot in your home. Make every adjustment to make sure it is exactly the way that you like it: find the perfect mattress, buy as many pillows as you want, get the softest, most luxurious blankets. If stuffed animals, dreamcatchers, ceiling stars, or scented pillows are your thing, go for it. When it comes to your bed, be as decadent as you want.
Make sure other environmental factors are also just right. Your room should be comfortably cool, dark, and quiet to help make sure you can sleep through the night in peace.
Tip: Having trouble falling asleep in the summer heat? Check out our article on how to cool a room without AC.
3. Exercise During the Day
Don’t worry; you don’t have to become a gym rat to improve your sleep. Doing a quick morning workout or taking a stroll for an hour in the afternoon is enough to help you sleep better.
If you do happen to plan a more intense workout into your day, try to make sure you don’t do it too close to bedtime. Exercise activates your metabolism, and your body needs time to come back down afterward before it is ready to rest. Your nighttime routine should be relaxing, not stimulating.
4. Eat Light in the Evening
For the same reason that you should avoid intense exercise as part of your nighttime routine, you should also avoid big meals. Your body can’t relax when the furnace that is your metabolism is in full swing. Make it a rule for yourself to avoid eating anything substantial within two hours of the time you plan to go to bed.
5. Remove Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine From Your Nighttime Routine
Drinking caffeine too close to bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep, and will degrade your quality of sleep if you do manage to doze off. When it comes to caffeine, your nightly routine should start in the early afternoon: it can take up to five hours for just half of your caffeine intake to be processed by your body.
Yes, alcohol makes you tired and can help you fall asleep, but just like caffeine, it won’t help you get restful sleep. On the contrary, regular alcohol consumption is associated with the development of sleeping disorders like insomnia.
And nicotine? Yep, this chemical will also keep you awake. Hours after your last cigarette, nicotine can still disturb your sleep. Studies have indicated that nicotine suppresses REM sleep and induces insomnia symptoms such as sleep fragmentation and decreased slow-wave sleep. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, but if you can’t get yourself to kick the habit, at least try to remove it from your nighttime routine.
6. Meditation, Breathing Exercises and Relaxation Techniques
Practicing specific breathing exercises or adding a short mindfulness meditation session to your nighttime routine can make a difference in your sleep quality. Clearing your mind and focusing on your breath helps you relax and get in the right mental place for a good night’s rest.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a particularly well-known relaxation exercise, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. A variation of pranayama, an ancient yogic technique, this exercise has been developed to bring on a state of deep relaxation. To start, breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Then, hold your breath for seven seconds, before slowly exhaling for eight seconds. Do this for four breaths, eventually working up to eight.
7. Include Music in Your Nighttime Routine
To help yourself relax, try playing soft, peaceful music as you go through your nightly routine. Randomized controlled trials have shown that classical music is an effective intervention in reducing sleeping problems, so think more Mozart and less Shostakovich. Start your playlist as you are getting ready for bed, and let it continue as you are falling asleep. Make sure that you set the music to fade out slowly at the end: an abrupt end to the sound could wake you up again.
8. If You Can’t Sleep, Don’t Stay In Bed
Yep, you read that right. At some point, lying in bed trying to fall asleep becomes stressful and self-defeating. If you just can’t sleep, get back out of bed and do something that isn’t too strenuous, like reading or journaling, until you start to feel tired.
9. Remove Electronic Devices from Your Nighttime Routine
Start your nighttime routine by putting all of your electronic devices away. The blue light emitted from the screens of our laptops, phones, and televisions promotes wakefulness by signaling your brain in the same way that sunlight does. Your brain thinks that it’s daytime and that it needs to be alert, and so the production of melatonin (your body’s natural sleep aid) is suppressed.
10. Take A Nap
A nighttime routine can help you sleep better, but you can also take measures during the day. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep during the night and feel fatigued during the day, try taking a power nap. This can help make up for your sleep deficit, and help bring your body back into balance. But remember not to sleep for too long; otherwise, you’ll end up feeling lethargic instead of refreshed. About 20 minutes is the optimal nap-time length.
11. Last Resort: Natural Sleep Aids
If you still just can’t sleep, it might be time to consider a natural sleep aid like valerian root: The herb is commonly used to treat anxiety, depression, and menopause, which can also work as a natural sleep aid. You can use the dried root to make a relaxing tea.
12. Sleep Lab
Chronic lack of sleep can lead to serious long-term health problems. If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t sleep, don’t hesitate to visit a sleep laboratory to undergo a sleep study. You will usually be asked to come in two hours before bedtime, and while you sleep, electronic sensors will collect data that doctors can then use to figure out the best way to help you.
This article was translated from German to English by Christie Sacco. You can read the original here: Abendroutine: 12 Tipps, die dir helfen, besser zu schlafen
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