In part I of this series, the benefits of getting enough sleep, ideally 7-9 hours each night, were discussed. However, many people frequently struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. Here are some effective ways to maximize your quality of sleep:
- Turn off your screens and monitors. Cell phones, tablets, TVs, and computers all emit blue light. Blue light is a wavelength that is part of the visible light spectrum. UV rays from the sun let us know that it’s daytime and that we should be awake. When the sun goes down, it let’s our bodies know that it’s time to transition to bedtime. However, blue light can mimic UV light and tell us to stay awake and alert when we should be winding down. It’s best to avoid using your electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime. Various blue light blocking glasses and screens are also available so you can continue to use your electronic devices at night but still allow your body to transition to sleep mode.
- Be consistent. Get on a schedule. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day. It’s best to be an early riser and begin your day as the sun comes up. Our circadian rhythms, or internal clocks, naturally rely on the rise and fall of the sun each day. Maintaining schedules that align with being productive during daylight and winding down in the evening is most consistent with our natural rhythm. Sleeping and waking at different times is very confusing to the body and can make it difficult to maintain good sleep patterns.
- Get more sunlight. More sunlight during the day tells our bodies to maintain adequate levels of daytime hormones and neurotransmitters. Make sure to spend at least 15-30 minutes outdoors each day helps regulate our circadian rhythm and sleep/wake schedule.
- Black out your bedroom. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Blackout curtains/blinds can assist in keeping out artificial street light and early morning light, as well as dampen noise from the outdoors.
- Sleep in a cool environment. When we sleep, our bodies naturally cool off. Anything we can do to help our bodies shift to a cooler temperature faster (and stay there) will promote drowsiness and enhance deep sleep. Keep your bedroom between temperature somewhere in the mid-60 degree Fahrenheit range.
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after lunch. Caffeine is a stimulant that spikes your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your primary stress hormone, and increased stress negatively affects sleep. Its effects can linger for several hours so avoid it in the afternoon.
- If you feel like your mind is racing and preventing you from falling asleep, meditation can be a helpful practice. Several guided meditation apps are available that are great resources. Diaphragmatic breathing techniques can also shift you into a more relaxed state. A basic mindfulness/meditation strategy involves taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and visualize the air coming into and exiting your lungs, and focus on the gentle rise and fall of your chest. You can then transition to focusing on how other parts of your body feel as you continue to breathe and start falling asleep.
- Exercise early in the day. Research shows that those who exercise in the morning spend more time in deep sleep, or the most restorative phase of the sleep cycle, than those who exercise in the afternoon or evening.