You’ve put in a hard day at work, battled rush-hour traffic, cleaned the house, solved your friend’s problems over the telephone, cooked a big dinner, prepared your things for the next day, and finally, finally crawled wearily into your sheets. You’ve been waiting all day for this moment – when you can let everything go and get some well-deserved rest … but something’s not right … your mind is racing, your body aches and the minutes on the clock keep edging forward.
Sound like a familiar scenario? Hopefully not, but if you have trouble getting good Z’s, don’t worry – there are things you can do to lull yourself to dreamland. When it’s time for some shut-eye, here are some helpful hints to get a full, restful night’s sleep:
- Try to keep away from caffeine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. The pick-me-up you drink in the afternoon may still be pumping through your system when you’re ready to wind down. And the night-cap you sip after dinner, though it may induce drowsiness, can also contribute to restless sleep. If you have already indulged and are having trouble getting to sleep, try eating some carbohydrates such as bread or crackers with a glass of warm milk to soften the effects.
- Nix the cigs: though a cigarette before bed may seem a good way to calm the nerves, nicotine is actually a stimulant and may keep you tossing and turning throughout the night. Plus, cigarette butts and bedding do not make a good mix.
- This may sound obvious, but slow down before you turn back the sheets! Put on some soothing music, take a warm bath, read a magazine – do whatever it takes to make you feel relaxed. Sipping herbal tea and sniffing herbal aromatherapy scents can also help put you in the mood to snooze.
- Keep your bedroom comfortable, quiet and dark. Keep your sleep space clean and tidy, with pleasing colors and décor. Try to minimize distracting noises and light. Wearing an eye mask, though it may feel silly, is a great way to shut out all extraneous light and let the brain know it is time for sleep – light of any kind affects the body’s circadian rhythms, which govern sleep patterns. Also, as much as you may love Fido and Snowball, it’s best to keep pets off the bed – they can tend to move around at night, waking you up.
- It may be ever so tempting, but do resist the urge to nap during the day. If you sneak an extra hour of sleep during the middle of the day, it may throw off your sleep schedule quite a bit. When you feel drowsy in the day, turn on some peppy music or wash your face in cold water – do whatever you can to hold off on napping – later you’ll sleep like a log.
- It’s important to eat and exercise at the right times. Everybody has a different rhythm … but while you shouldn’t go to bed hungry, generally sleeping on a full stomach often leads to indigestion. Also, while a good work-out can lead to wonderful sleep later on, raising the heart rate right before bed can keep you awake. Practice moderation and timing – if you give yourself a few hours after eating and exercising before hitting the sack, chances are you will sleep easier.
- While you’re too old for a curfew, do try to institute a before-bed routine. Just as your morning shower, breakfast, and jog get you ready for the day, a night-time routine lets your body know it is time to slow down and shut down. Whether it’s doing some stretches, soaking in the tub, or listening to calming music, any consistent relaxing activity will help you to uncoil at the end of the day and prepare your body for rest. And though you may love checking your email last thing at night, it’s better to stay away from the computer right before bed; the light and activity are stimulating.
- Though the bed is the comfiest place in the house, it’s best to reserve it for sleeping. Try to keep from watching TV, doing work, or talking about emotional issues while in bed. The bed should be a quiet and calming space – using it as a place for other things can create associations that may keep you up.
- If you have constant trouble falling asleep, try using visualization and breathing techniques to help you relax. There are many sources online with suggestions for how to quiet the mind for sleep. One example is to breathe deeply and to count each breath, imagining all the tension leaving you with each exhalation. Yoga practices also involve a lot of relaxation exercises that can do the trick.
- Make sure you enjoy your bed! It’s the one place you should always look forward to being. Some like a firm, supportive mattress, while some prefer it soft and fluffy. Whatever your preference, make your bed the perfect sleep spot for you. The right pillows, blankets and sheets can go a long way toward providing a superior night’s sleep. If you’ve still got that lumpy, stained hand-me-down from your college days, perhaps it’s time to pick up something that will be a little more sleep-inspiring.