In an age in which many focus (as they ought to) on making healthy decisions throughout the day, it is surprising how few take active steps toward making the night as healthy and productive as possible. Sleep comprises roughly a third of our lives, yet many know close to nothing about it, much less how to maximize its restful and restorative effects. Despite what many assume, sleep is an active process, optimized by following a few simple tips on sleep:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule. Decide on a wake time and try not to stray from it by more than an hour. If you like to nap in the afternoon, take that nap around the same time -- and for a set amount of time -- every day. Finally, go to bed when your body tells you it is tired. (This time might vary slightly based on how strenuous your day has been, but will probably be fairly consistent.) Your circadian “clock” uses signals (hormones) to prime your body for the activity it expects you to engage in at that time of day. If you are driving during your typical naptime, the “sleepy” signals could pose a danger for drowsy driving.
- Use your bed for sleep and sleep alone. In doing so, you will train your mind and body to associate your bed only with sleep, helping to cut down on the time from when your head hits the pillow to when your are fast asleep. You should also do your best to fall asleep only in your bed.
- Optimize your napping. Naps should be shorter than 45 minutes or longer than two hours. Naps for durations that fall in between these times will usually result in you waking up from a deep sleep. This could, in turn, leave you feeling even more exhausted than you were before your nap.
- Don’t lie awake in bed. If you are struggling to fall asleep or awaken in the night and cannot fall back asleep, leave your bed and do something sleep-inducing until the urge to sleep returns.
- Establish regular meal times. These will affect your circadian cycle, influencing the times at which you feel awake and sleepy. Furthermore, many of us find it difficult to fall asleep soon after a large or heavy meal. Eat strategically.
- Establish a regular exercise routine. Some find that exercising in the morning helps them feel awake all day; others prefer to exercise in the afternoon. Do what feels right for you, but avoid exercising within two hours of the time you intend to go to bed.
- Give yourself some time to “wind down” at the end of the day. Relax by doing something like reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, or meditating. Avoid activities that necessitate bright light or looking directly at a light source. Even watching TV or staring at a computer monitor can trick your brain into thinking it is too light outside for bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Keep the temperature at a comfortable sleeping level, buy blackout curtains if light hinders your sleep, and keep noise to a minimum.
- Keep a careful eye on what you put in your body. Caffeine makes many of us unable to sleep. If you are sensitive, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Alcohol is also known to disturb sleep. It has the potential to limit quantity and certainly disrupts the quality of these important hours of rest.
- Don’t watch the clock! Putting too much stock in the time can make your mind whir and fret. This can be destructive, leading you to squander potential sleep time.
Whether you suffer from insomnia or are merely trying to stay a bit more awake and alert throughout the day, these simple bits of advice can help make your night as healthy and productive as the rest of your day.