Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
We all have those nights when we toss and we turn and the neighbor’s dog is too loud, and it’s too hot and we’re thirsty. Assuming an absence of legitimate disorders or conditions (like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia) there are simple methods to combat the struggles of sleeplessness. Everyone knows that trying harder to fall asleep just makes sleep more slippery. A good night’s sleep is all about preparation and planning, not sheer willpower. Here are some great ways to catch those elusive Z’s.
"Everyone knows that trying harder to fall asleep just makes sleep more slippery."
1. Turn out those lights!
Our bodies are naturally accustomed to being awake when there’s light. Melatonin is a hormone that contributes to us powering down when the lights are out. Until very recently in human history, there was nothing to do when it’s dark but sleep, so our body is quick to recognize these opportunities. Screen time or a bright alarm clock face can disrupt natural circadian rhythms, making our sleep more shallow and difficult to enter into.
2. Drown out the noise!
Ideally, you could eliminate all noise. However, when it’s your neighbor’s dog or your partner’s breathing, it’s a little difficult to eliminate the noise without significant (or morally questionable) effort.
Earplugs and muffs can be irritating and uncomfortable when you’re trying to sleep, so as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. White noise machines have started gaining popularity because… They work! “The idea of adding more noise in your bedroom to help you sleep may sound counter-intuitive, but it works because white noise blends the external sounds (barking dog, traffic etc) into the overall background noise, so your brain pays less attention.” (1)
3. Monitor your diet!
There are certain things we all (hopefully) know not to consume before bed. Caffeine is an obvious one. Sugar is also generally agreed to be a no-no. On the flipside, there are studies that show that carbs a few hours before bedtime can actually help us sleep. (2)
While it’s important to do research to learn more about the obvious no-no’s, it’s also beneficial to make connections as to what meals when cause you personally to stay up at night. If you’re really struggling to sleep, keep a meal tracker and track which meals lead to the best sleep.
4. Get a hold on that pesky cortisol!
Previously mentioned was a hormone that helps us sleep at night: melatonin. Melatonin’s high strung brother is cortisol. This hormone is released from the adrenal gland in response to stress. It is also released in the morning to get us out of bed, giving us drive and focus. (3) This relates in a number of ways to sleep. First, if you’re waiting to work on a stressful task until late at night, expect sleep to elude you. The cortisol levels in your body go down as the day goes on, but getting them working late at night essentially is telling your body “WAKE UP!” Second, the human body is adapted to perceive exercise, especially high intensity exercise, to be a life or death situation. (Think of cavemen running from dinosaurs or something similar.) Therefore exercise late at night may tire you out but still cause you to toss and turn.
If you sign up to play football and wait until the game starts to learn how to play the sport, it’s far too late. The same goes for sleep. If you’re waiting until you’re laying in bed to worry about your lack of sleep, you’ll just toss and turn some more. It may take effort and preparation, but there are few things more rewarding than getting a good night’s sleep.