When my daughter was young, we put her on a sleep schedule. The same time each night, we’d begin a bedtime routine that started with pj’s and teeth brushing and book reading and ended, finally, hopefully, with her sleeping through the night.
The same thing can work for grown-ups and it’s worth trying, because just about everyone I know needs more sleep than they are getting. We are tired, people, and lack of sleep can do funky, crazy things to our brains (like shrink it) and bodies (like compromise immune function).
But a consistent sleep-priming routine can help you settle down and rest easy.
Here are some things to include in your routine to help you sleep better.
1. Turn off all devices. Starting two hours before bed, shut down the smartphones, computers, televisions sets and other electronics that emit blue light waves. This light throws off our natural rhythms and make it harder to sleep. Powering off the devices will also help you power down so you can rest.
2. Eat early and wisely. If you are an evening snacker nibble on a few crackers and a slice of cheese, or another small protein/carb combo at least two hours before bed. Also lay off caffeine and alcohol in the evening hours.
3. Turn down the lights. When darkness falls, turn off (or at least dim) the lights in the house. Our bodies are sensitive to the natural day and night light patterns called circadian rhythms. When the sun rises, the light helps us wake up and become alert and our bodies secrete cortisol. When darkness falls, our bodies are infused with sleep-inducing melatonin. But here’s the rub: artificial lighting throws off those biological rhythms, suppresses the release of melatonin, and makes it hard to sleep. A habit of darkness at night and exposure to natural light during the day will help.
4. Release the niggling negative thoughts. After you’ve created a sleep-promoting environment, choose a relaxing activity like meditation, a hot bath, deep breathing exercises, journal writing or something else that allows you to release pent up emotional stress.
Sometimes, I practice mindfulness while brushing my teeth and washing my face as a way to release bad feelings and promote calm. No matter which you choose do use this time to quietly observe, without judgment, your thoughts and concerns and then release them. This will keep you from ruminating into the early hours.
5. Go to bed. Finally, after you’ve gone through your sleep routine, head to bed, turn off the light and lie down. Even if you don’t feel like sleep, it’s important that you develop the habit by lying down in bed and getting up at the same time, every single day. It may take a few days, but soon your body will catch on that it’s time to sleep when you lie down in bed.
In this hectic, heavily-booked culture we live in, a sleep schedule may seem like a cumbersome way to get rest. But anything that will help you sleep better will also improve your physical health, daytime productivity, mental resilience and even your relationships and could just be the simplest way to boost overall health and happiness.