Poor sleep hygiene is a common first world problem. No, I don’t mean showering before bed or changing your sheets (although that could be part of it). Sleep hygiene means having a good routine, a set bedtime, and not sabotaging yourself with caffeine, screentime, or alcohol.
Most people will face at least a small amount of insomnia here and there, and the billions of dollars on advertisements for sleep drugs shows that it’s both common, and something people struggle against. But most people don’t really need sleep aids… they can solve the problem themselves (as evidenced by numerous social media posts that start around 9: “Just took my sleeping pill but my favorite episode of GoT just started! Gonna try to stay up! This should be fun YOLO hahahaha”).
So let’s all get it together. Here’s how you can sleep better tonight, feel healthier tomorrow, and probably do wonders for your cognitive performance, heart health, and life expectancy:
1) Exercise. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but getting some movement into your day will make you more tired at night. What I think most people are afraid of, though, is that if they’re already feeling sleep deprived, exercising will make it worse.
But the truth is somewhat counter-intuitive! Your body likes to move, and hormones and other reactions it has to exercise will help you feel awake and alert. Even your brain will feel sharp and alive! Sleep better will come ar the right time (bedtime) because you’ve used your body how it was “meant” to be used, rather than sitting all day.
2) Time when you exercise. Do the intense stuff in the morning, and save leisurely strolls for the evening. Like I said, it can be counterintuitive, but exercising will really get your juices flowing and wake you up—not ideal right before bedtime.
3) Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. Just like most commercial sleeping pills, alcohol will make you drowsy, but won’t induce the right sort of sleep that your brain and body need to help you wake up feeling rejuvenated. And caffeine? Okay in the morning, but you need to stop about 6 or so hours before bed if you’re going to avoid insomnia.
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4) Timing is everything! Lots of studies show that you can give yourself jetlag by sleeping in on weekends—but it’s more than that. You have several sleep cycles that occur each night, and your body is tuned to the timing of those, too, not just when you go to sleep and wake up. So try to make sure that you have 7-9 hours (wherever your genes tell you to fall in that range) blocked out at specific times every day.
5) Cut back on screen time! With Netflix, Hulu, and On Demand services there’s no need to stay up to watch the latest episode of your favorite show—culturally, most people keep things spoiler free for at least a year now a days; it’s just the norm! So structure your media consumption, and social media postings, so they don’t interfere with your sleep schedule (or keep you awake! Make your bedroom screen free).
6) Nourish your inner child. It’s great being 35 and eating ice cream for breakfast if you want, but sometimes you need to parent yourself. Do you have insomnia? What would you do if you had a small child with sleep problems? A bedtime routine! Try a calming cup of tea, a hot bath, and a regimen of health maintenance like teeth brushing to relax you and train your mind to prepare for bed.
Bonus Tip: Nap. Yep, sounds wrong, but a short afternoon nap can actually make everything about sleep go better, at least according to some studies.
Sound like a lot? Those are all really simple habits, and even a few of them can make an immediate difference in how you sleep tonight.