All the surplus free time brought to us by the lockdown has proved to be great for reinvesting in cherished hobbies, discovering new interests and basically doing all the things we claimed we don't ever have the time for. But the one area of our lives that bore the brunt of all this extra time and activities, is our sleep routine. Now that we have nowhere to rush to early in the morning and no specific reason to hit the sack early, most of the population has restored to sleeping and waking up at odd hours. I think it's safe to say that, currently, most of us have a sleep routine that's a far departure from our usual healthy and productive cycle.
How messed up your current sleep cycle is, is dependent on how many things you have to take care of during the day. For those of us working from home, things are a tad more structured, simply because it's difficult to wake up at 1 PM when you have a meeting at 10 AM every day. But the majority of people who aren't currently attending office from home, are more or less lost on how to structure their day. Inconsistent sleeping hours, over-sleeping and undersleeping have together paved the way for sleep disturbances, trouble with getting sound and deep sleep and for some, insomnia.
If you've been fervently googling sentences like things to do for better sleep, things to do to improve sleep, how to sleep fast and well, and tips on how to get a good night sleep, you've reached a one-stop guide that will address all your sleep queries. And on that note, here's a list of 10 things to help you sleep better, along with some advice on how to sleep well and wake up energised.
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1. Reduce Exposure To Blue Light During Evening & Night
Your circadian rhythm, which is a fancy medical term for the internal process regulating your sleep-wake time, is highly impacted by exposure to light and darkness. Your body's natural time-keeping clock tends to go for a toss when you expose it to bright light before or during bed, thus interrupting natural sleepiness, and causing sleep difficulties. Blue light, which is the light you're exposed to while using electronics like your smartphone, TV or laptop, has been proven to be especially damaging to our sleep cycles. Hence, in lists of tips on how to get a good night sleep, you'll often see mentions of lowering blue light exposure as it begins to get dark outside. Some things to do for better sleep in this regard are using night mode on all devices, lowering brightness as much as possible, wearing special glasses to minimise blue light exposure, and the most effective one, stop using devices with blue light and dim bright lights in the house starting at least 2 hours before bedtime.
2. Limit Your Caffeine Intake To A Reasonable Amount & Before 4 PM
You might feel the effect of your last cup of unreasonably strong coffee waning by the time you're ready to hit the sack, but unfortunately, your body might not agree. Studies have found consumption of caffeine at least 6 hours before bed, to be significantly related to sleep disturbances and trouble falling and staying asleep. Caffeine tends to stimulate our nervous system (hence, the desirable effects of drinking coffee), which can backfire if it's consumed during late afternoons or evenings. Caffeine can potentially stay elevated in your blood for 6-8 hours, depending on variables like the sensitivity of your body to caffeine and established caffeine tolerance. The best caffeine-related answer to how to fall asleep better, involves monitoring your caffeine intake during the day and stopping caffeine consumption after 4 PM. If you feel tempted to sip on a cup after that, try to stick with decaffeinated options that won't interfere with your sleep cycle.
3. Make Your Bed A Sleep-Only Designated Zone
One of the most easily fixable things that end up costing our generation precious sleep, is the fact that we often use our beds to engage in a variety of activities, unrelated and even contrary to getting good sleep at night. From lazily working on your laptop to computing your financial budget for the year, there are, in all likelihood, a bunch of things you like to do while sitting perched atop your bed. However, to anybody that has been trying to figure out how to sleep better, it quickly becomes apparent that you should use your bed for only two things, one of which is obviously sleeping. Designate your bed as a sleep-only zone, so that your brain only connects it with rest. Optimise the surrounding conditions by lowering temperature, light and noise, and soon enough, you'll start feeling drowsy the moment you hit the sack because that's what you're conditioning your brain to associate your bed with.
4. Fix Specific Timings For Going To Bed & Waking Up
Your parents have probably already lectured you on the importance of fixed sleep-wake timings, and guess what? They were right! The circadian rhythm of your body that we mentioned earlier, functions on a set loop following sunrise and sunset. In addition to confusing your circadian clock, irregular sleep timings can also have a negative impact on your levels of melatonin, further augmenting your inability to fall asleep after going to bed. So, being consistent with the time you hit the sack and get up from bed the next day, can lead to a stronger system of sleep and also boost the quality of your sleep in both short and long run.
5. Avoid Naps During The Day & Sleeping In On Weekends
This suggestion for better sleep is connected to the previous one. A common feature on lists comprising of tips on how to get a good night sleep, is the suggestion of setting fixed timings for going to bed and waking up. But the positive effects regular sleep timings are usually associated with, can be diminished if you're sneaking in periodic naps, or following a set sleep pattern only during the weekdays. See, your circadian rhythm doesn't understand your need to binge-watch a show on Friday night and sleep the afternoon away on Saturday. Irregular sleep schedules during the weekend can't be compensated for on Monday, because your body will again take some time to get into your desired routine, thereby ruining all the sleep progress from the previous week. The same goes for taking naps during the day, because oversleeping is oversleeping, regardless of whether it's done in one stretch, or in intervals through the day.
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6. Start Unwinding An Hour Before Your Sleep Time
In the wide array of things to do to improve sleep, you'll often be met with advice on getting your body into the mood for sleep, at least an hour before you're supposed to actually fall asleep. If you struggle with feeling too agitated or worked up at bedtime to be able to get restful sleep, establishing a pre-sleep routine that helps you unwind can work wonders for you. There are a couple of unwinding activities you can start engaging in an hour before bedtime, ranging from reading a light book and recording a journal entry for the day gone past to meditating and listening to relaxing, ambient music. Whatever your choice of unwinding activity might be, remember to do it away from your bed, a place you should only visit when it's time to fall asleep.
7. Try Relaxing Supplements & Herbal Drinks
There are a host of supplements known for enhancing sleep and helping people fall asleep faster, that you can get your hands on. The primary sleep-enhancing supplement is melatonin, which is actually a crucial sleep hormone instructing your brain when it's time to relax and hit the sack. In addition to using melatonin supplements as a quality sleep aid, you can also use relaxing supplements like Gingko Biloba, Magnesium, Valerian root and Theanine. If buying these supplements is a struggle, you can also opt for calming flavours of decaffeinated herbal tea like Chamomile and Lavender, known for inducing sleep and promoting better quality rest at night.
8. Be Sure To Engage In Regular Exercise
You don't need to start lifting 10 kg dumbells as a sure-shot answer to "what's the best thing to help you sleep". But making sure that you get some physical exercise, and workout at least in one intense short spurt sometime during the day, can go a long way in not just promoting health and fitness, but also getting sound, high-quality sleep. However, it's not just the quantity of exercise you're getting every day that matters here, but it's also the time you choose to workout. For best sleep results, get half an hour to 45 minutes of exercise in the morning or early afternoon, and soon enough you'll see the difference in how quickly you fall asleep after hitting your pillow.
9. Take A Lukewarm Shower Or Bath Before Bed
One of the most effective, and popularly implemented strategies for improving sleep, is taking a relaxing warm shower or bath before your bedtime. The same way a cold shower can wake you up from the groggiest of mornings, a lukewarm shower or bath can help you fall asleep faster. This tactic for getting better sleep is based on the principles of thermoregulation, or simply put the effect and interaction of body temperature with your sleep cycle. During a warm pre-bedtime shower, your body heats up while you're bathing, and quickly cools down once you step out and the water evaporates. This cooling down of the body is taken by the brain as a cue to produce melatonin and a signal that says it's time to sleep.
10. Increase Your Exposure To Bright Light After Waking Up
Reducing exposure to bright light and blue light as the day progresses into night time, is one of the most recommended things to do for better sleep. But the same holds true when this strategy is used in reversal. Exposing yourself to bright, natural light after waking up can jumpstart your energy for the day, and keep your circadian rhythm healthy. Studies have shown people with insomnia to be positively impacted in the domain of nighttime sleep, by increasing bright light exposure during the day. So as a final recommendation for how to sleep well AND wake up energized, make it a practice to open a window and expose yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning.
Stick by these strategies, and soon enough you'll begin to fall asleep so naturally, you will be able to do it with your eyes closed. Heh.