We all know sleep is good for us, yet many of us still treat it as an afterthought. Sleep helps us to consolidate memories, recover from the day’s stressors, and strengthen our immunity. It’s also good for problem-solving and creativity—there’s a lot we “work on” while we’re sleeping. Despite this, many of us struggle to prioritize quality sleep. From working late hours to catching up on some “me time” and binging Netflix before going to bed, there are lots of ways we regularly wreck our sleep, even if we don’t mean to.
When we do focus on sleep, many of us focus on sleep quantity—that recommended eight hours of sleep per night—but might still feel tired when we wake up. That’s because we’re missing out on ways to improve our sleep quality—or how interrupted our sleep is. We might be getting all the sleep we need on paper, but if we’re waking up dehydrated or to go to the bathroom (some of alcohol’s common side effects), or falling out of sleep multiple times a night (due to babies, toddlers, dogs, or just being a light sleeper), it can be hard to feel rested in the morning.
Here are three simple things you can do to improve your sleep.
- Prep Your Bedroom. Sleep researchers advise making your bedroom like a cave: cool (approximately 65 degrees), quiet, and dark. If you live in a bright, noisy city, accessories like eye pillows and earplugs can help. But, cautions sleep researcher Dr. Kin Yuen, you don’t want to go overboard on sleep accessories. “If you need four factors to be completely perfect to produce one good night’s sleep, it is not likely that’s going to happen every single night.” Doing so only raises the bar on our ability to get good sleep. You’ll also want to keep devices out of reach—the blue light from our phones, tablets, and computers disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, making us feel that it is earlier than it actually is.
- Prep Yourself. The best sleep requires more than just a cool, dark room. You have to mentally get in the zone, too. To help you ease into relaxation mode, design a bedtime routine that you can stick to every day. Keeping your bedtime at the same time every night helps your mind and body anticipate rest—it knows what to do by the time it hits the pillow. Some people prefer an elaborate bedtime routine (an hour of bubble baths, fine mists, and the like), while others prefer something more simple. My routine is fairly straightforward: I change into my PJs, brush my teeth, and then curl up in bed with a good (physical!) book (nothing too gripping—not page turners or thrillers—but something I can be immersed in for the next 20 minutes). At 9:30 (yes, I’m a grandma) it’s lights out for me. Sleep researchers recommend waking up at the same time everyday, too, to reinforce your sleep and wake schedule. (Sleeping in, it turns out, can mess with our circadian rhythms and make us feel jet lagged, like we’re operating on someone else’s schedule.) Researchers also suggest ditching caffeine, late night exercise, and alcohol to avoid sleep disruptions and improve our quality of sleep, which helps us to feel less groggy on wakeup.
- Prep Your Story. If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, you might have glibly called yourself an insomniac, or come to self-identify as someone who has trouble sleeping. According to psychologists, this kind of labeling is likely not helping your cause. Sometimes our self-perception can get in the way of getting good sleep. If you see yourself as the type of person to have insomnia, you’ll bring that sleep anxiety into bed with you, making it difficult to fall asleep and thus reinforcing this negative self-image of yourself. A better approach is to de-identify the situation from yourself. If you have trouble sleeping, so what? This doesn’t make you an insomniac, or a person for whom sleep doesn’t come easily. It just happened, but it doesn’t need to define you. Be aware of what sleep story you are telling yourself. What would happen if you changed that story to be more positive? What if you were the best sleeper you knew? What anxieties could you release by seeing yourself as a better sleeper?
Some sleep changes are easier to make than others. Buying sleep accessories can be done at the click of a button, but for most of us, they are not the key to help us get some shut eye. Better to think about how we can design our evenings in support of rest, and how we can begin to see ourselves as someone who not only values sleep, but is good at. With these tips, you’ll be on your way to sleeping better.
Adapted from Rest Easy: Discover Calm and Abundance through the Radical Power of Rest by Ximena Vengoechea.