Why can’t anyone seem to sleep well anymore? One reason is that most of us are unwittingly doing virtually everything in our power to prevent sleep from happening. Between our overly-wired up lifestyles and all kinds of work and life stressors, it’s easy to understand why few of us are resting easy these days.
On this blog I’ve often written about sleep because people always ask me how to do it better and where to find a simple plan that will make their problem go away. In that cut-to-the-chase spirit, I’ve arranged my top tips into a step-by-step guide to help you sleep better tonight – and set the stage for more restful nights to come.
So, here goes: My sleepy-time plan assumes a 7-hour sleep window, with an actual under-the-covers, in-bed with the “lights out” time of 11:00 pm, and a rising time of 6:00 am. You can shift the start and end times to work with your schedule, as long as you allot yourself a 7-hour sleep slot, which is roughly the average number of hours most adults need to function day to day. And remember, going to bed and getting up around the same time, 7 nights a week is one of the most important things you can do to establish good sleep habits. This reinforces a consistent sleep rhythm and reminds the brain when to release those all-important sleep and wake hormones.
If you’re ready to commit, then let’s set the alarm – and start the clock on your next trip to Dreamland:
1:00 pm: Yes, believe it or not, sleep prep begins now, as sleep patterns are influenced by the light you receive during the day. So either get outside during the day if you can, or if possible, do some exercise. Exercise increases the amplitude of daily rhythms and tells the body to promote deeper sleep cycles. To help with sleep, the best time to exercise is at least 4 – 6 hours before bedtime because for some people, exercise too close to bedtime can disrupt their sleep cycle.
3:00 pm: Put down the coffee and take in no more caffeine today. That afternoon cup of Joe can interfere with your ability to sleep for up to 8 hours after your last sip, so skip it if you want to sleep better tonight.
6:30 pm: At dinnertime, keep meals simple. To save prep time during the week, try doing the bulk of your cooking on the weekends. No time on the weekends? Then keep a few bottled (not canned) jars of pole-caught tuna fillets, olives, capers and red peppers on hand. Toss with organic mixed greens and raw, chopped veggies, so you can assemble a healthy dinner in a flash.
6:45 pm: With most of our breakfasts eaten on-the-go and our lunches wolfed down at the desk, dinner is the one meal most of us can actually make time for. To truly enjoy your dinner, eat slowly and consciously, savoring the food. Think of dinner as a delicious prelude to sleep – a calming ritual to help you start unwinding from a stressful day.
7:45 pm: Now’s the time to put down your fork – to help prep your belly for bed. Try to finish eating at least 3 hours prior to bedtime to insure that the digestive process tailing off before you crawl under the covers.
8:00 pm: Last call for liquids. Cut yourself off at least 3 hours before bed – to extend your bouts of uninterrupted sleep, particularly if you tend to get up to relieve yourself in the middle of the night. Another tip to reduce overnight bathroom trips: avoid sugars, grains and carbs at night.
9:00 pm: With apologies to Timothy Leary, it’s time to turn off and tune out – as in completely power down anything with a screen, including computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, TV’s, Gameboys, etc. Powering ‘em all down will help calm and soothe your over-stimulated brain, thus signaling to your noggin that bedtime is near. Remove any distractions (mentally and physically) that will prevent you from sleeping
10:00 pm: By now you’ve wound down your gut and brain. What’s next? Your nervous system. Turn off or dim all unnecessary lights and curl up with a soothing read, avoiding newspapers, thrillers or other genres that might set your pulse racing. Next, try a short meditation to ease the body into a sleep-friendly state or listen to calming music.
10:30 pm: Now you’re in the home stretch, so give your body an extra nudge to help you sleep. Consider a few calming minerals, amino acids or herbs. My favorites include: magnesium; amino acids L theanine, 5 HTP; taurine; lemon balm; passion flower; chamomile; magnolia and valerian root. You can also try my Be Well Sleep Formula, which contains many of these, together in capsule form.
11:00 pm: Kiss your mate goodnight, slip on an optional but very helpful sleep mask, then it’s lights out and off to sleep.
If 11:45 pm rolls around and you’re still awake, get up and out of the bedroom. Keep the lights dim and try a calming activity, like reading or knitting (remember, no electronic screens!) for an hour or so before returning to bed.
For more sleep tips, check out My Top 10 Sleep Mistakes and Their Solutions.