Health & Healing
9 tips for better sleep
You need more sleep.
That is, unless you really are that one person in a hundred these days who’s truly getting enough sleep. (Disclosure: that person is definitely not me.)
Without enough sleep, risks go up for car accidents, diabetes and heart disease, depression, and unwanted weight. And performance goes down in paying attention, learning, and staying motivated. Plus, it just feels bad to be foggy, groggy, tired, and irritable.
People don’t get enough sleep for a variety of reasons. It’s common to stay up too late and get up too early, and drink too much coffee to get going in the morning and too much alcohol to relax at night. Sleep problems are also a symptom of some health conditions—such as sleep apnea—so talk with your doctor if you have insomnia, or if you still feel tired after seemingly getting enough sleep.
The right amount of sleep varies from person to person—and from time to time: if you’re stressed, ill, or working hard, you need more sleep. Whatever it is that you need, the key is consistency: getting good rest every night, not trying to catch up on a weekend or holidays.
After I left home, I’d often go back and visit my parents. Year after year, they’d tell me I looked tired and needed more sleep. It bugged me every time. But you know what?
They were right. Almost everyone needs more sleep.
Two things get in the way of sufficient sleep: not setting enough time aside for it, and not having deep and continuous sleep during the time allotted.
In terms of the first problem:
- Decide on how much time you want to set aside for sleep each night. Look at your schedule, see when you need to wake up, then work backwards to give yourself a bedtime. Figure out what you need to do during the hour before your bedtime to get to sleep on time; it probably includes not getting into an argument with anyone!
- Observe the “reasons” that come up to stay up past your bedtime. Most if not all of them will boil down to a basic choice: what’s more important, your health and well-being—or watching another hour of TV, doing housework, or (fill in the blank)?
- Really enjoy feeling rested and alert when you get enough sleep. Take in those good feelings, so your brain will want more of them in the future.
In terms of the second problem, issues with sleep itself, here are some suggestions; pick the ones that work for you:
- Consider the advice of organizations like the National Sleep Foundation, including: have a bedtime routine; relax in the last hour or two before bed; stop eating (particularly chocolate), drinking coffee or alcohol, exercising, or smoking cigarettes at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime; make sure the environment of your bedroom supports sleep (e.g., cool and quiet, good mattress, earplugs if your partner snuffles or snores).
- Do what you can to lower stress. Chronic stress lifts hormones like cortisol which will make it hard to fall asleep or wake you up early in the morning.
- Make a deal with yourself to worry or plan in the morning. Shift your attention to things that make you feel happy and relaxed, or simply to the sensations of breathing itself. Bring to mind the warm feeling of being with people who care about you. Have compassion for yourself.
- Relax your tongue, lips and jaw, and eyes; take five to ten long exhalations; imagine your hands are warm (and tuck them under the pillow); rest a finger or knuckle against your lips; imagine you are in a very peaceful setting; progressively relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head.
- Certain nutrients are important for sleep. Unless you’re sure you’re getting these in your daily diet, consider supplementing magnesium (500 mg/day) and calcium (1200 mg/day). If you can, take half in the morning and half before bed.
- The neurotransmitter, serotonin, aids sleep; it is made from an amino acid, tryptophan, so consider taking 500-1000 mg of tryptophan just before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t easily fall back to sleep, consider 1 mg of melatonin taken sublingually (under the tongue). You can also eat a banana or something else that’s equally quick and easy; rising blood sugar will lift insulin levels, which will help transport more tryptophan into your brain. You can usually get tryptophan and melatonin at a health food store; do not supplement either of these if you are breastfeeding or taking psychiatric medication (unless your doctor tells you it’s fine).