This is the second of a two-part article on good sleep. In Part One we examined some of the science behind sleep, and why crappy sleep might make it extra difficult to lose weight.
In this article we’re going to cover some strategies for getting on the right track and on your way to sleeping better every night. (We briefly mentioned some of these strategies in a prior post, but now we’re going to cover them in more depth, and give you some additional techniques as well.
In broad terms, there are two huge ways to go about improving your sleep. You can change what you put into your body, and you can change the environment in which you’re trying to sleep.
Improve Your Sleeping Environment
Let’s first talk about the room you sleep in. Your bedroom should be as inviting and supportive to a good night’s sleep as possible. This includes a number of different elements:
- Get the Television Out of the Room. It might not be the easiest habit to break, but it’s certainly the cheapest thing you can do. Not only is the light from the TV going to prevent your body from transitioning into sleep, watching television in bed is also a mental distraction. Try to keep your bed just for sleeping. (Well, that and for hanky panky!).
- Get Your Room to a Good Temperature. In general, you want your bedroom to be a little cooler than what you’d want for just sitting or hanging out in. Even a little bit of extra air flow (from, say a ceiling fan or even a free-standing floor fan) can have a great cooling effect.
- Consider a White Noise Source. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up every time you hear the slightest noise, then consider getting a white noise source for while you sleep. This might be a small device like [this one] you can put near the bed, or even an app for your smartphone (if you sleep with your phone near you).
- Get Rid of the Light. Once you’re ready for sleep, make sure your bedroom is a dark as possible. Be sure to cover or re-position any small light sources like clocks and smartphones. Even the slightest bit of light can disrupt your sleeping patterns. It’s ok to read in bed for a bit before you fall asleep, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, there’s a difference between reading in bed for 10 or 15 minutes and reading for an hour or two. If you need to read for an hour or two before your mind calms down enough for sleep, then do most of that reading somewhere other than the bedroom. And when you read at night, use a light source that’s only as bright as you need to read.
- Use Light to Help You Wake Up. Since light triggers your body into wakefulness, you can use it to help you get up in the morning. Since most of us have schedules that don’t exactly line up with sunrise time, you might consider a “sunrise” alarm clock like [this one].
Optimize Your Eating for Sleep
What you eat and drink, as well as when you eat and drink, can have a huge impact on how well you sleep. Your body goes through a natural progression throughout the day (the circadian cycle), and whenever you eat something you’re essentially delaying the process by which your body winds down and readies itself for sleep.
- Eliminate the Evening Snacks. You should avoid eating or drinking anything after dinner (although having a glass of water is fine as long as it’s not going to have you getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom), and absolutely stay away from snacking right before bed time.
- Watch Your Alcohol Intake. Alcoholic beverages including a simple glass of wine, can disrupt sleep. You may find that you sleep more lightly or that you wake more often during the night when you’ve had a drink. Personally, I tend to wake up around 1 or 2 o’clock and I struggle to get back to sleep. Alcohol can impact your body’s ability to regulate temperature and it can dehydrate you. If you do drink in the evening, try not to drink three to four hours before you go to bed and drink plenty of water to make sure you’re hydrated. Pay attention to how alcohol impacts your sleep.
- Don’t Overeat at Dinner. You might notice that after a big Thanksgiving dinner, you have no problem falling asleep. Even though that’s true, and getting a good night’s sleep is important, it’s only one piece of living a healthful life. Eat a sensible dinner that otherwise fits into your other health goals, and if you have a glass of wine or cocktail in the evening, aim to have it with dinner, rather than after.
- Cut Back on the Coffee. I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, riiiiight…” But don’t worry, I’m not necessarily talking about giving up coffee (I don’t think I could do that!). I’m only talking about trying to have that last cup as early in the day as possible. Even if you don’t feel jacked up from having a coffee in the afternoon or after dinner, it can definitely make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
- Pay Attention to Any Potential Food Sensitivities. The most significant impacts on sleep may very well depend on individual foods that you have some type of sensitivity to. For many people that’s gluten or dairy or corn, for others it might be too much animal protein, or even a particular spice or seasoning.
Figure Out What Works for You
As with trying to improve your life in just about any other way, it’s important to develop a strong sense of self-awareness. When you pay closer attention to what you eat, how you move, and stresses you face throughout the day, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to discover the things that may be giving you problems. Keeping a journal can make the process of gaining awareness go much more smoothly. A sleep tracker can also provide you with valuable information. I use the Pillow app on my Apple Watch to track the quality and quantity of my sleep.
As you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep through simple lifestyle changes you’ll begin to notice the positive impact. Your energy and vitality can improve. Your ability to manage stress, find joy, push the limits during your exercise routine and to make better choices for yourself become easier. Your sleep matters!