How to sleep better
Getting adequate, good quality sleep can go a long way to supporting our bodies and immune systems to heal, rest and recover. Here are some basic sleep-promoting tips:
- Maintain a regular routine, as much as possible. Try to be in bed before 11 pm, if possible, given shift work or other responsibilities (earlier is even better). It is said that each hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours of sleep after midnight! In other words, if we can sleep earlier, our bodies will have better quality rest!
- Minimize caffeine intake. Coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, etc. all have caffeine. Many people feel the caffeine doesn’t affect their sleep, yet complain about having difficulty falling asleep, waking up easily or often during the night, or sleeping shallowly. Some people may be affected by caffeinated drinks even when they are consumed in the morning. Cigarettes, alcohol and some prescription medications may also interfere with sleep.
- Sleep in a cool room. It’s better for sleep to use a heavier blanket and sleep in a cool room than to turn up the heat and sleep without a blanket. In the summer, a fan or light air conditioning may be helpful as well.
- Sleep in a dark room. The more light the curtains let in, the more our brains get the message that it’s not really night time. Use thicker, opaque curtains or blinds that don’t let any light through, if possible. If not, a sleeping mask may help (make sure the mask is not tight and doesn’t put any pressure over the eyes). These can be purchased at most dollar stores or drugstores.
- Avoid screens for the last 2-3 hours before bed. The part of our brain that cues the desire to sleep gets its information from the amount of light or dark our eyes see. That’s why we should avoid looking at lit screens like cell phones, tablets and TV’s later on the evening. Likewise if we wake up in the night, try to avoid using screens (read a book instead).
- Get out into the sunlight in the morning. Living indoors can be confusing for the part of our brain that decides when is the morning and when is the evening. If our sleep-wake rhythm is completely off, it may be helpful to make a habit of going out for a morning walk so that our brain gets the information that it is the morning.
- Address other issues that may disrupt sleep. These can include:
- uncontrolled pain
- sleep apnea
- night urination
- restless sleeping partners
- noise (including from children, neighbours, partner, pets, etc.)
- undiagnosed anxiety or depression
- Some of these issues may require a rearrangement of space or responsibilities at home, adjustment of lifestyle (such as drinking less in the evening, using a white noise machine or earplugs to block out noise, etc.), while other issues may need help from our health providers.
- Get adequate exercise during the daytime. Exercise is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle, and many people find they sleep better when they exercise during the day. The best time is before 2 pm. Try to avoid exercising late into the evening, as an evening workout can keep some people up later.
- Wind down for sleep. One of the most important aspects of sleep hygiene is gradually relaxing the body and mind, to get it ready for sleep.
- Try out different routines until you find one that works.
- Some things that help may include
- Taking a bath. Epsom salts are especially nice.
- Doing some stretching or yoga
- Reading a book
- Listening to music
- Cuddling with a loved one or pet.
- Lower the light levels in the room as the evening goes on.
- If it helps to let go of our worries and to-dos, we can make a list of things to attend to tomorrow and set it aside.
Falling asleep: The “military method”
This article discusses a sequence you can try as you’re falling asleep. Here’s how to do it:
- Relax the muscles in your face, including tongue, jaw and the muscles around the eyes
- Drop your shoulders as far down as they’ll go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time
- Breathe out, relaxing your chest followed by your legs, starting from the thighs and working down
- You should then spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind before thinking about one of the three following images:
– You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you
– You’re lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room
– You say “don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds.
The technique is said to work for 96 per cent of people after six weeks of practice.
Acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese herbal medicine is excellent for insomnia. I myself experienced severe insomnia until I received regular Chinese medicine treatment for it over the course of several months. Since then, I’ve slept much better and it’s made all the difference in my energy and mood.