Sleep Better Now: 5 Habits to Revolutionize Your Rest

Sleep Better Now: 5 Habits to Revolutionize Your Rest

For my entire life, I have had trouble sleeping. My mother used to tell me that I couldn’t sleep even while I was in the womb. I didn’t sleep through the night for the first two years of my life and my whole childhood was plagued by insomnia. By the age of twelve, I was sitting up from dusk ‘til dawn and drawing concern because I was falling asleep in class. I started taking sleeping pills by age fourteen and couldn’t function without them for years. At seventeen I started working night shifts because I thought that was the best option for an insomniac. As it turns out, working through the night and still not being able to sleep is so frustrating that you can turn into an absolute emotional wreck.

Perhaps you’re not an insomniac; you just want to feel better rested. These tips are still for you: especially so, actually. These are not cures for insomnia, only tips on how to encourage your body to do its job properly.

Image of a person opening a door to an organized bedroom to promote a healthy sleep space

  1. Sleeping Space

Most of the battle with sleep is a mental game. Our brains are complex and sneaky. We don’t realize how much impact some of the smallest habits can have on our subconscious mind.

To understand how our habits affect our subconscious in terms of sleep, I like to compare the concept to algorithms on the internet. Wow, zero to sixty, right? Actually, it’s rather simple. Some algorithms tend to track the things that you search and view in order to tailor content and advertisements to your needs and interests. This is why you may be looking at used car sales one moment, and the next moment, your Facebook newsfeed seems to have a lot of sponsored posts for Toyota. It’s also the reason why you receive helpful search results. When you search something, the results you receive have been generated based on what is relevant to you based on your language, location, and interests. Algorithms in technology mirror the associations we make in our brains. This is why it’s important to be conscious of how you use your sleeping space. Your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. Avoid eating, reading, watching television, using the computer, and playing on your cell phone in bed. Lying in bed at night is like searching, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” and when you spend a lot of time eating, watching television, etc. in bed, your brain is giving you those activities as your top results. “Sleep” ends up in the second or third results page and I bet you also have a habit of rarely looking at those.

Your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. Avoid eating, reading, watching television, using the computer, and playing on your cell phone in bed. Lying in bed at night is like searching, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” and when you spend a lot of time eating, watching television, etc. in bed, your brain is giving you those activities as your top results. “Sleep” ends up in the second or third results page and I bet you also have a habit of rarely looking at those.

  1. Coffee and Water

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before: drink more water. Specifically, have at least one glass before bed. Keep a glass of water beside your bed so you’ll have no excuse not to do it. Having a glass of water before bed helps your body stay hydrated through the night. Your body will be able to relax better when it’s hydrated.

During the day, stop drinking caffeine before 3 pm. Caffeine stays in your system for at least 7 hours, preventing your body from naturally becoming tired in the evening. If you think you can’t get through the afternoon/evening without caffeine, eat an apple or two. Apples provide natural energy and won’t leave you staring at the clock, watching the time tick away while you try to fall asleep.

  1. Magic Hour

I call the hour before starting your nightly routine the “magic hour” because everything you do will affect your quality of sleep. Two hours before you want to be asleep you should be thinking about how you’re going to wind down. Ideally, this means limiting the use of technology, not eating large amounts of food, and avoiding stress. Also, try to finish any tasks you want to be completed before you get to the magic hour. Once you reach the magic hour, you should absolutely not be watching television nor using a cellphone or a computer. Even with low screen brightness and special settings, electronics are proven to stimulate your brain in a way that makes it difficult to wind down for sleep. Reading actual paper books and manually writing something like a journal are the two best activities to do before bed in order not to overstimulate your brain.

The magic hour is all about relaxation. This is the time to let go of the energy you’ve been creating to get through the day. You should be actively trying to release tension in your body and calm your mind. Some great things to do during this time are:Image with an open book in the foreground and the background entirely out of focus, washed with green, yellow, and brown tones

–    Taking a bath

–    Going for a walk

–    Drinking tea (decaf!)

–    Chatting with friends and family

–    Knitting/crocheting/sewing/etc.

–    Reading a book

–    Journaling/ making artwork

At first, you may feel as though you should be doing “important things” if you’re used to working until bed, or you may feel bored if you’re used to watching television and surfing the internet. After a little while, you’ll realize how healthy it is to take time this time for yourself and to do it without over stimulating your mind.  Over time, you’ll rest better and you’ll feel proud about the things you accomplish through your magic hour activities. Whether it’s finishing a book you’ve been meaning to read, finally maintaining a journal, or building some muscle from walking every day. It’s a win-win situation.

  1. Nightly Routine

Similar to the sleeping space, we often underestimate the power of routines. Even if you’re not a particularly logical person, your brain still likes order and routine. The human brain loves patterns; that’s why we form habits and addictions. In the case of our sleeping spaces, our brains often accidentally form associations which are a hindrance to us, whereas with nightly routines, we can use patterns to tell our bodies that it’s time to sleep. When we form a nightly routine and keep to it, our bodies will naturally want to complete the sequence. That way, nights when we don’t feel tired and we worry that we won’t be able to sleep, we can do our routine as usual and our minds will realize that it’s bedtime, subconsciously at the very least.

Your nightly routine should be relaxed and comfortable, including some or all of these things:

–    Stretching/yoga

–    Changing into comfortable sleeping clothes

–    Hygiene rituals (brushing teeth and/or hair, showering or washing your face, etc)

–    Drinking water

–    Doing bedtime meditation

 

  1. Bedtime Meditation

Now, you’ve done all of your preparation and it’s time to lie down and sleep. If you’re anything like me, this is the point where your head reaches the pillow and your eyes fly wide open. Hello, second wind. Usually, this is the point where I’m thinking to myself, “I have never felt more awake in my entire life.” When I experience this cruel plot twist, this is what I do:

Step 1: Focus on the present. I think of everything that’s still running through my mind, acknowledge it, and tell myself that I will think about it tomorrow. Once I’ve said I will think about it tomorrow, I push it from my mind and move onto the next thought. It takes practice and focus to really put the thoughts to rest but it gets easier the more you try it.

Step 2: Practice self-appreciation. I think of a few things that I did well that day and I pat myself on the back for it. I give myself some compliments and cut myself some slack.

Step 3: Meditate. Focus on breathing, usually breathing in and out to the count of four, sometimes with a 2-second pause between each inhale and exhale. Think to yourself, “I can feel my feet between my blankets, warm and cozy. I can feel my calves becoming heavy, pressing into my mattress. I can feel…etc.,” focusing on each part of my body from bottom to top, breathing evenly as I go. Again, it takes practice to be able to keep your mind focused, but it gets easier as you do it more often. If you have trouble focusing on your internal monologue, you can download mindfulness apps which have guided meditation audio tracks.

If you’re still not able to sleep, after roughly half an hour, get up and do something. Get out of your bed and read a few pages of a book. Have a light, nutritious snack. Drink some more water. Then, go back to bed, and try again. Lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep will only wake your mind up more.

Image of a person sleeping with their feet in the foreground and the rest of their body covered in a blanket

If you use these simple tips on a regular basis, you’ll find yourself sleeping better in no time. It feels like a lot of effort for a while, and you may fall out of the habit on weekends and with vacations, but even just incorporating some of these things into your lifestyle will make a big difference in the long run. If you take anything away from this article, let it be the concept of letting yourself relax. Life is a crazy ride; give yourself some credit, cut yourself some slack, and get some shut-eye.

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