I was always a poor sleeper. I had a hard time getting asleep, my evenings were restless, and if something woke me up in the middle of the night, there was no way I could get back to sleep. As a result, I often felt exhausted throughout the day. That’s rarely the case anymore. With seven simple steps I have found the secret to getting my most restful sleep ever.
Sleep is one of the most vital aspects of good health, yet it’s also one of the first things people overlook when life gets hectic. Some even think that living on little sleep is a sign of superiority. We’ve all encountered the guy who boasts about sleeping barely four hours a night. Then there are others who believe you should just put up with it, drink some coffee, and get on with your day because tiredness is an unavoidable part of life.
The scary truth is that inadequate sleep can result in serious health risks. As Robb Wolf explains in his book The Paleo Solution, just one night of missed sleep can make you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic. Cumulative sleep deprivation can result in unhealthy weight gain, illness, premature aging, low sex drive, lack of focus, low testosterone levels for men, increased PMS for women and many more undesirable consequences. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that sleep deprivation is rare. Just a half hour of missed sleep every night can quickly become a health hazard.
So how do you know if you’re sleep deprived?
1. Do you need a coffee to get going in the morning?
2. Do you regularly hit the snooze button?
3. Do you feel tired throughout the day?
4. Do you wake up feeling more exhausted than when you went to bed?
5. Do you have problems falling to sleep or staying asleep?
6. Do you get sick regularly?
7. Do you have extra weight around your midsection despite exercise and a healthy diet?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re probably not getting enough sleep and your health is suffering because of it. The good news is that by making some simple changes, you can quickly recover from your sleep deficit.
Here are seven simple steps to having your most restful sleep ever
1. Turn out the lights
A dark room is essential to good quality sleep, but that means more than simply turning off your bedside lamp. Clock radios, televisions, computers and phones all have glowing lights that negatively affect your sleep. Get rid of these light sources or cover them up. You would be surprised at how disruptive a small amount of light can be to your sleep.
If you live in a city or if you plan to sleep past sunrise, you should also black out your window. When my husband and I began living together he insisted that I install a black out blind on our bedroom window, and I’m glad he did. Completely blocking out any light source in our bedroom was the single most beneficial step in helping me to sleep well.
2. Turn down the volume
Even if a noise doesn’t completely wake you, it can prevent you from achieving a deep and restful sleep. Get rid of ticking clocks, turn off alerts on your phone (even vibrate mode) and never sleep with the television on. Some people will argue that a white noise machine helps them sleep in a noisy space, but it cannot compare to the benefits of sleeping in a silent environment.
Read also: How To Improve Your Sleep Hygiene?
3. Shut the fridge
A late night snack is a sure way to disrupt your sleep. If you eat before bed your body will be working hard to digest food and you will not experience good quality sleep. Ideally you should try to eat no less than three hours before bed. If you are hungry and must eat before hitting the sack, keep your late night munchies small and healthy.
Coffee or other caffeinated beverages should definitely be avoided in the evening hours. If you’d like a warm drink before bed, non-caffeinated tea can help you relax and may benefit your sleep. In general, a healthy diet can play a key role in getting quality sleep.
4. Wind down
It’s important to wind down before hitting the sack, both physically and mentally. Imagine doing an intense workout and then climbing directly in to bed. Chances are you’d be so energized that it would be difficult to fall to sleep. The same applies for our minds. You can’t expect your mind to immediately shut off and go to sleep without having the opportunity to wind down.
Ideally you should stop watching television, working on your computer, or doing any mentally taxing tasks an hour before bed. If you want to read, choose fiction and don’t read on a backlit display such as a computer. E-ink readers or traditional paper books are best.
Even better, put aside the book and take the time to sit and talk with your partner, relax or simply enjoy some silence. Interested in meditation? It can be one of the best ways to wind down before bed while simultaneously relieving stress, calming your mind and relaxing your body.
5. Create a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine
Allow an hour or two before bedtime to relax and ease the transition from wake time to sleep time. Take a bath, read a book, watch TV, or do relaxation exercises (the rise and fall in body temperature induces drowsiness). A warm bath or shower an hour or two before bed has been demonstrated to calm both the body and mind, reducing both heart rate and blood pressure in one research. Heat helps you de-stress by relaxing tense, fatigued muscles. Work, discussing emotional concerns, and other stressful, stimulating activities should be avoided.
Stressful physical and psychological activities can lead the body to secrete cortisol, a stress hormone linked to increased alertness. If you have a habit of bringing your issues to bed with you, consider writing them down and then putting them aside.
Read also: Best Essential Oils for Good Night’s Sleep
6. Schedule it
Most of us have heard of circadian rhythms – the built in schedules on which our bodies are meant to operate. Ideally our bodies would like us to sleep from sunset to sunrise, but that is rarely the case in our modern lives. Instead we work and play well beyond nightfall and often force ourselves to wake with alarms regardless of how rested we feel.
While we can adjust our circadian rhythms to a certain extent, there is no doubt that we function best when we are on a regular schedule. Regardless of what time you plan to go to bed and to wake, try to keep it consistent. Your body will thank you.
7. Get active
Our bodies evolved to hunt, gather food and work for our survival. The concept of sitting in front of a computer or a television all day long is something very new to us as a species. As a result, many people are not active enough throughout the day to encourage deep sleep in the evening.
Become active and you’ll see a marked improvement in your quality of sleep. And remember that being active doesn’t necessarily mean pumping iron at the gym. All activity is beneficial, whether that means playing with your kids, going for a walk or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
So how much sleep do you need?
It varies. Most people require 8 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night, but only your body knows for sure. The best way to determine how much sleep you need is to experiment. Go to bed earlier and earlier every night. Once you find yourself walking up feeling rested without the need for an alarm, you’re probably getting enough sleep.
While the above steps are ideal for achieving adequate sleep, life doesn’t always cooperate. Raising young children and doing shift work are just two challenges that wreck havoc with our sleep schedules and there are many more. However, being faced with challenges like these doesn’t mean you should ignore all of the recommendations above. Use as many as you possibly can. For example, even if you can only hit the sack for a few hours at a time, doing so in a completely dark and sound free room will help you get the most beneficial sleep possible during that time.