We now know why we need those critical 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Chronic sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Plus, it’s quality sleep that allows the lymphatic system to cleanse our brains of the toxic byproducts it accumulates throughout the day.
But even with this knowledge, sleep can be hard to come by for many. Some factors contributing to poor sleep may be outside of our control. But there are a few things we can all put into practice that may help us get better sleep, more often.
Set Up and Stick To a Schedule
Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day (even on weekends) to reinforce the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The more consistent you are with sleep and wake times, the more ingrained those times become in the brain—and the more likely you are to feel naturally ready for sleep when bedtime arrives. Your body likes routine; so does your sleep cycle.
Stimulate Mind and Body During the Day
Getting outside and exposing yourself to natural light helps keep your circadian rhythm in balance which, in turn, helps stabilize your internal body clock schedule. As soon as you wake up, go outside and spend 15 minutes in the morning sun.
Incorporate Exercise Daily
Exercising moderately for as little as 20 minutes a day—a quick cardio, brisk walking, or bodyweight strength moves—has been shown to promote better sleep. Setting up a daily exercise routine has been shown to gradually increase sleep function—the key being daily.
A handful of workouts may make you tired—exhausted, even—but that doesn’t necessarily correlate to better sleep. Regular, daily exercise, though, does seem to create a slow and steady improvement in sleep. Pro-tip: strenuous exercise is not a good idea right before bed. Instead, try yoga at night if it’s the only time you can get in a sweat.
Put a Time Limit on Screens
About 60 minutes before bed, power down your device(s). Whether watching TV or checking your phone, start to power down your screen time. Blue light (from screens) has the same effect as daylight, making your body believe you should be awake. Likewise, alerts or notifications can cause a dopamine release, putting your body in a heightened state of urgency.
Choose a Bedtime Ritual
Power down your mind by journaling or reading. Process your thoughts, declutter your mind and be done with your day by putting pen to paper and journaling out your thoughts and feelings from the day. Reading, on the other hand, can help to reduce stress levels by 68%, lulling you into a faster and deeper sleep.
Other rituals—like meditation or breathing techniques—are also effective when it comes to winding down for the day. Choose whichever one is most calming to you!
Do the Cognitive Shuffle
The goal behind this technique is to quiet the racing mind by consciously overloading it with nonsense. Here’s how it works:
- Once in bed with all the lights off, pick a word at random. Choose one that holds no emotional attachment and doesn’t repeat too many letters. Bear is a good example.
- Then, think of a list of words that begin with your chosen word’s first letter.
- Gradually spell out the chosen word (e.g., “bear”). For each letter of the word, think of a word that starts with that letter. Then imagine the item represented by the word.
- Repeat this for each letter until you run out of words. For example, the first letter is "B." Words that start with the letter "B" are basketball, baby, bubble, etc. For each word try to imagine a calming or pleasant scene, for instance a relaxing bubble bath for the word "bubble."
Sleep Well to Live Well
Sleep is one of the single most important aspects to overall well being. Falling into bed at night should be your reward for a day well-lived. Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes are all you really need to snooze better and, in turn, improve your health.