A really good night’s sleep can have you waking up feeling ready for anything. Unfortunately, for many adults, getting a good sleep is a rare luxury saved for weekends and holidays. The alarm goes mid-way through a nice dream, our hand outstretches automatically to hit snooze, hoping to squeeze in just a few more minutes of sweet, sweet sleep. But it’s time to face it my friends. That few extra minutes is not adding to your energy. Research tells us now that the snooze button only makes things worse. In fact, so many people struggle with sleep that sleep doctors actually exist (Don’t believe me? Google ‘Somnologist’). It’s a good idea to seek their advice if you are having consistent difficulty falling or staying asleep, or are just not waking up feeling rested on an ongoing basis. But before you do, here are a few recommended bedtime practices that might just make all the difference
Keeping a regular sleep schedule maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up easily. Interruption of the body’s sleep-wake cycles, also called the circadian rhythms, is probably the most notorious barrier to good sleep (other than becoming a new parent :-). This also includes the weekends (unfortunately!). No matter how much you feel like you deserve it, do not change your regular morning wake times on Saturdays and Sundays. If you you must pay off the lack of sleep, make time for a short daytime nap. Keyword ‘short’ (less than 2hrs).
Create a good sleep environment
Making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment is one of the best ways to get sleepy in the night. Keep the lights dim, ensure room temperature is right and of course, your bed is comfortable. Treat your bedroom like a sacred space where everything from the day is left out. No last-minute work on your bed and definitely no television or phone-use. Eliminate any disruptive noises; a dripping faucet or ticking clock can leave you wide-eyed and frustrated.
Create a transition routine
Stress and overstimulation before bed are said to be the main causes of delayed sleeplessness. Declare the hour before bed to be your peaceful period and fill it with activities that cue the brain to slowly disengage. Stretching or a light yoga routine, knitting, reading, and listening to relaxing music are some great ideas to get the sleep creeping in. But like all things, experiment and find what works just for you.
Put the phone away
Declaring the hour before bed to be your peaceful period also involves putting your phone on silent and out of arm’s reach. Not just for social media scrolling, but you should avoid phone calls and messaging just before bed. Hold off on those conversations until the next day. Research shows that LED screens(such as the screens of smart phones and tablets) give off what’s known as blue light, which may inhibit the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and disrupt our circadian rhythms (yes, those notorious circadian rhythms again!). This may be because blue light emits wavelengths similar to daylight, which can make our bodies think it’s daytime.
Watch your snack
Research has found that going to bed with an uncomfortably full stomach can stimulate brain waves, which can result in nightmares. We’re guessing the more unhealthy the food, the more disturbing the dreams. Even if you’re lucky enough to not have a nightmare, the effects of a large meal before bed to your waistline are just as frightening. How about having something high in vitamins like a fruit? It’s been proven that eating a high concentration of antioxidant vitamins C and E helps regulate neurotransmitters in the brain, which are linked to healthy sleep cycles. Bananas, in particular, are said to help promote sleep because they contain the natural muscle-relaxants magnesium and potassium.
One powerful pre-bed routine is to spend some quiet time with your thoughts. If you find it hard to just look into nothing, try writing down whatever runs through your head. Even better, keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you appreciated about the day. You’re less likely to dwell on negative thoughts that can keep you up at night.
Don’t force it
Falling asleep is a routine, yet a mystifying process. The more you focus on it, the less likely it is to happen. As much as your routine is tailored to invite sleep in, it’s best approached with an air of detached disinterest. If you get into bed and you find that you have no inkling of sleep, you would rather get out and do something of what you prefer as your transition, than lie there resenting your brain for being uncooperative.
Words: Wambui Murithii Illustration: Nzilani Simu