Why is sleep so elusive for so many? Well, a big part of the problem is that many people are unwittingly sabotaging their natural ability to fall asleep. So how to get the job done without costly prescriptions and peculiar side effects (like sleep-eating and sleep-walking)? The drug-free key is to start setting the stage long before you climb under the covers. Here’s how:
- It’s called a bedroom for a reason.
There are only two things you should do in bed, and they both begin with the letter “S,” as in sleep and sex. Conduct all other activities, i.e. watching TV, working on your laptop and reading, elsewhere. Your bedroom should be a peaceful, distraction-free oasis that’s completely conducive to unwinding, resting and ultimately, sleeping (not to mention sex).
- Take a cue from the vampires.
In other words, embrace the darkness. Though we may not realize it, even with the lights out, most of our bedrooms glow with the flicker of seemingly innocuous little lights blinking, flashing and distracting our sleep – charging phones, flashing caller ID boxes, sleeping laptops, light-up alarm clocks and night lights to name a few. My advice? Banish them from the bedroom or cover the lighting mechanisms with a bit of electrical tape.
- Chill out, literally.
Another simple way to improve sleep? To mimic our body’s own natural rhythm of cooling for sleep, lower your bedroom thermostat. A sleeping temperature of 60 to 65 degrees is best for most people, even in the dead of winter. Lower temperatures encourage the production and release of sleep hormones.
- Break up with Starbucks.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant with a typical half-life typically of 7 hours, which means that half of it is still coursing through your veins 7 hours after you drink it! So yes, that 3 pm latte can disrupt your ability to fall asleep – because caffeine blocks sleep neurotransmitters, over-stimulates the adrenal glands and throws off your circadian rhythms. The solution? Start slowly weaning yourself off all coffee, caffeinated beverages. And don’t forget those hidden sources of caffeine such as soft drinks, tea, even decaf coffee, some herbal teas, chocolate and OTC medications like Anacin and Excedrin.
- Hold the hi-balls.
Though there’s nothing wrong with occasional glass of wine with dinner, in general those with problems sleeping should avoid alcohol, as it can be as disruptive to the body’s sleep rhythms as caffeine. While alcohol has an initial sleep inducing effect, as the body breaks it down, it can lighten and disrupt sleep by causing frequent and early awakening.
- Set the stage.
Ease into a night time routine. Turn down the bedroom lights an hour or so before lights out. Meditate or listen to calming classical music at low volume or try my favorite restorative yoga pose to chill out, Reclining Belt Pose. Take the time to slowly “power-down” your mind and body so you can drift happily into the good sleep you deserve.
For my answers to frequently asked questions about sleep, check out these 2 blogs that I wrote awhile ago: