Easy Tricks to Help you Sleep Better by Bedtime
I’m something of a champion sleeper. For a couple of years now, I have tirelessly (see the pun?) honed my craft. Don’t misunderstand me: I hate naps. Don’t like naps, don’t like the way I feel when I nap, so I do not take naps. But nighttime sleeping? I’m an expert, a pro, a veteran.
My sleeping occurs at night, during the blissful hours of like 10:30p-7a, give or take. Some days it varies, especially since I don’t use an alarm clock at all (Read about how I manage that magnificent feat here). In this age of unending sleeplessness, resources detailing how to get better sleep, and countless medical professionals telling us how getting a decent night’s sleep will improve our lives drastically, how did I iron it all out and finally fall into a routine that works for me? And, a more interesting question, how can you do the same?
What it all boils down to is finding what methods work for you. It may take you several weeks, multiple attempts, and various steps before you finally land on something that helps you get your best sleep. It doesn’t really matter what age you are, what job you work, or what time you have to wake up. I’ve found that what works best are a few key, very simple, and some very obvious (at least to me) methods that you may have heard of, but just never tried.
Sleep is not for the weak—in fact, it is one of the single most important things you can do. I—a champion sleeper—have put together a few key tips that might help you get a better (or best!) night’s sleep.
If you can try out a few of these techniques, you may just find that you’re going to bed sleepier, staying asleep longer, and waking up more refreshed. Mix and match to find the perfect sleep-assisting combo for your life.
Sometimes hunger pangs keep me up late at night. A light, healthy snack usually calms it down enough for me to fall asleep without interfering with said sleep
Stop Eating so Late
This is one that I struggled with a lot. Because of my and my boyfriend’s sometimes hectic schedules over the years, our eating schedules would suffer as well. Most nights we eat dinner very late, and that is something that we are trying to change recently, especially since our dinners are usually the largest meals and the ones filled with the most meat, cheese, and carbs, (all things that can sit heavily in your tummy, especially when you’re horizontal and trying to sleep). We have been making a conscious effort lately to make sure we are eating our dinner around 6 or 7, instead of 8 or 9. Even a couple of hours to allow your body to fully digest your dinner before bed can make a huge difference. As long as I have my dinner (and sometimes dessert) devoured by 8 at the latest, it gives me a few hours to digest before trying to sleep on a heavy, filling meal. Sometimes I do get hungry and need a “midnight snack” to sleep. Then I try to make sure it’s something light, like some popcorn or a piece of fruit like an apple or a banana.
“I’d much rather wake up to a book stuck to my face than the t.v. left on all night. But that’s just me.”
On a similar note, I find myself parched before bed. I try to chug a large glass of water right before going to bed. I’m sure there’s some exact science behind this, but I personally find that it aids in digestion and helps settle my tummy. It also keeps me from waking up dehydrated, and it makes my skin more hydrated and glowing in the morning. Double win!
Something else that needs to be said under this section: stop drinking caffeine so late in the day! I set myself a limit and I’ve been better for it ever since. I have my last sip of coffee by 2p, last caffeinated drink (like tea or an energy drink) by 4p, and sugars are done by 9p at the latest. This helped me drain off some of that artificial energy and fall asleep, I’m sure it can help you too!
You’d be surprised how much getting a sleeping mask and a new set of fluffy pillows can help you get a better night’s sleep!
Turn Off the Screens
You’ve probably heard this one many times before. The blue light emitted by screens such as the ones on our cell phones and t.v.s interferes with the chemicals in our brains that makes us sleepy, yada yada yada. Okay, trust me, I am fully aware how difficult it is to minimize screen time before bed. Especially the past few months that I’ve decided to focus full-time on my writing, I find myself ignoring my phone, video games, and t.v. all day while I’m trying to work. What does this mean? It means my body and mind both are crying for some unproductive, trivial, electronic down-time! And it seems that the only time I’m free for it is at night and, yes, right before bed. To this, I tell myself: Boo-hoo. I need to get over that if I want to continue on my journey to getting the greatest sleep of my life, and so do you. I know what it is to wanna play a few minutes of Xbox to tucker yourself out, or wanting to scroll down Instagram or Facebook for just 10, 20 minutes while your eyelids start to feel heavy, but trust me, this is extremely detrimental.
“Sleep is not for the weak—in fact, it is one of the single most important things you can do.”
When I lived alone, I could only fall asleep if I had Netflix playing on my Ipad by my pillows, (something light-hearted or funny, like My Little Pony or BoJack Horseman… I am scared of the dark, this is why). Even present day, when my boyfriend has to work the overnight shift, I must have a show like Pretty Little Liars or Chewing Gum playing on the t.v. in the bedroom. Otherwise I get too freaked out from being alone in the dark. I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I am sick and tired of my sleep being affected, and I’m well aware that the biggest factor in that is my screen-before-bed addiction. But how do I combat this? How do you? Well, my friend, I’m afraid that we will just have to go through this together with trial and error. Lately I’ve found that replacing my screen time with good old-fashioned book time is the best bet. Taking in a few pages of a good read before catching some shut-eye can be a fantastic substitute for falling asleep to phone or t.v. I have my eye on getting one of those lamps that has soft light and automatically starts to shut off on its own. I’d much rather wake up to a book stuck to my face than the t.v. left on all night. But that’s just me.
Bedtime is the best time!
Get the Gear
Some people can sleep on a bed of rocks and be just fine. I am not one of those people. Being a poor, broke, “independent” millennial, I have slept on many a futon, mattress on the floor, or just…floor. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed either. Now I’m lucky enough to have a comfortable mattress, brand new box spring, and bed frame hoisting my bed well above floor level. It wasn’t always that way, but the different sleeping scenarios did offer me some insight as to how getting a proper bed and other sleeping equipment can aid you in getting the best sleep of your life. Take myself for instance: I need a comfortable mattress that is firm to support my back, but still has some give. I like to have bedding that is clean, crisp and matches, (right now I have an all-white Calvin Klein bedding set and it is pretty amazing. I do need a new comforter though and I cannot wait to get that!), and is soft, of course. I make sure my bedding is clean and smells pleasant, washing and/or replacing it at least once a week. There are also some items that you might not think of at first, but can perhaps help you sleep better as well:
- Sleeping mask (I have one by Earth Therapeutics and it is soft, silky, and amazing at keeping things dark…Perfect sleeping conditions.)
- Box fan (this was mostly for my boyfriend at first, but now I can’t sleep without it either.)
- Bedside table (this may seem like a no-brainer, but if you don’t have one yet, get one! It makes a world of difference. My boyfriend and I got two, vintage, tall wooden bar chairs when we had an apartment with a bar. Now that we don’t have a bar, I repurposed the two chairs. One is a t.v. stand for the t.v. in the bedroom, and the other is a bedside table! Honestly, having somewhere to put your water, phone, lamp, alarm clock, bedtime read, remote, condoms [had to include it heehee], and other things you may need within easy reach at your bedside is a game changer. Don’t believe me? Put a table there. You’ll see what I mean.)
- Pillow mist (There are so many kinds, scents, and brands…Surely you can find a pillow mist that works for you. All you do is lightly spritz the relaxing, calming scent over your pillows and sheets before you hit the hay, and you will be lulled into a sweet-smelling snooze before you know it.)
- Stuffed animal (No I don’t currently have one. No I’m not 5. And no it doesn’t have to just be a stuffed animal. Any soft, comfy, comforting thing that is personal and relaxes you will do. For me, it’s a soft throw blankie. For you, it may be a body pillow or a worn out bunny your boyfriend got you on your third date. Anything that you can snuggle with that’ll help you feel at home and safe works in this situation.)
- Alarm clock (I’ve talked before about alarm clocks, and I suspect to speak on them at length before I die. I currently don’t have an alarm clock, and I hope to never have one ever again. But for those of you who absolutely need an alarm clock, or have the typical alarm clock that blares a sound so hellish you’d think the four horsemen are coming for you, you may find it in your best interest to get a fancy one or replace yours with something more soothing. There are alarm clocks that have pleasant, soft noise or gentle, calming light to wake you. Why not invest in one of those?)
- Lamp (I hate overhead lighting. Pretty much every overhead light in the entire world can break, shatter, burn out, or just disintegrate, and I’ll be all the more happy. I have a serious hate-hate-hate-hate relationship with overhead lights. I’ve hated them ever since I was a child. I can’t really tell you exactly why, but trust me, I could go on and on and on about my hatred for the things. I won’t. I will tell you that I’ve replaced nearly every overheard light with lamps, and doing so in the bedroom is probably the greatest idea anyone has ever had, ever. Above I spoke about having one of those lights that starts to gently fade on its own, so you can fall asleep reading and not have to re-wake yourself up to shut off the light. One of those is on my wish list for sure, although for me it isn’t that important because I can’t sleep in the darkness and the hall light is nearly always on. Probably too dim to read by but I’m already legally blind so who cares?
“Some people can sleep on a bed of rocks and be just fine. I am not one of those people. Being a poor, broke, independent millennial, I have slept on many a futon, mattress on the floor, or just…floor.”
Have a Routine
I touched on this a little bit in my blog post about my 18 step nightly skin care routine (Whaat you didn’t read that? You can read it here, then!). One of the strongest motivators that helps me stick to such a long and strenuous nightly routine is the fact that it truly gets my mind ready for sleep-mode and winds me down. The act of carrying out your nightly routine, whatever that may be, can signal to your brain that it’s time for bed, and thus prompt it to get you sleepy. This may be mental, physical, or both for you, either way it’s a major plus. My routine is to do my skin care, brush my teeth, change into my pajamas, and read. Sometimes I’ll journal as well (because I usually do it during the day as opposed to at night) or meditate (especially if I didn’t go to yoga class that day). All of these things help relax me, center my mind, and prep my body for its nightly snooze. Find a routine that works for you, big or small, long or short, and you too may find that your body is prepped for bedtime and your sleeps are much better.
Reading before bed will help ensure a good night’s sleep better than scrolling through social media will
This kinda goes together with “Have a Routine”, but I feel like it definitely deserves its own category. In this day and age, we are stressed. Jobs are stressing us, boyfriends and girlfriends are stressing us, school is stressing us, the economy and current climate of the country are bringing us down. No wonder we are having such a hard time falling asleep. The worry and anxiety alone is enough to keep any normal person awake and pacing with unhindered thoughts! Big or small, if something is on your mind and worrying you, it is going to affect your sleep, and that is not good. No matter what relaxation techniques you employ, no matter what methods you utilize to center yourself, if you can empty the recycling bin in your mind before hitting the hay, your snooze will only improve. Here are a few tips that you might try to fully unwind before bed:
- Meditate (You don’t have to be a monk to know how to meditate. First of all, it can be as simple as lying in bed, relaxing your muscles, and slowing/deepening your breaths. It can be a little light yoga. You can even sit with your legs crossed, eyes closed and softened, and imagine a completely dark, black room with light, gentle snowflakes falling around you [this is what I do when I meditate], or a single candle with a flickering flame [I read about that image somewhere, long ago]. The key to meditation is finding what works best for you so that you can fully relax and let go.)
- Take a bath, give yourself a pedicure, do a face mask (Almost nothing is more soothing in the world of self-care than giving yourself a bit of much-needed deep grooming, am I right? I’m personally not a fan of baths, but I know that long hot soaks with lavender bubble bath and candles will relax nearly anyone, including me [I don’t like baths but I take them a few times a year just to say that I do]. Or you can slap a face mask on and recline with some cucumber slices on your eyes while it works its magic. Most time I find myself falling asleep before the mask is even dry! Again the key here is doing what you enjoy best.)
- Journal (With journaling, I’m including pretty much any and all forms of writing. This can be creative writing or just journaling. I recently made it a [late] New Year’s Resolution of sorts to journal every day. I’ve only been doing it for a few months, and yes of course I’ve missed a few days here and there, but for the most part I have stuck with it. Though I usually tend to journal during the day, I know it is a popular practice to journal nightly before bed, too. I can definitely see why this is. You’re getting all of those racing thoughts cluttering your head and spilling them out onto paper, leaving your mind clear and ready for dreams. If it helps to do a bit of creative writing, then definitely go for it! I also creative write all throughout the day, so I don’t see a need to do it at night, but I’m sure creating a short story or poem can help other creative types wind their minds down for sleep. The part of this that I do, however, find very helpful is writing in my planner. I usually have so much to do, and I find myself very overwhelmed, constantly, probably more than the average person. Even if it’s just calling to pay a bill or picking up more butter because I forgot the past few days, even the smallest item on my To-Do list usually causes me major stress. That can inhibit my sleeping drastically and make it extremely difficult to fall asleep. I’ve found that even if I have a lot on my plate, or have a lot of tasks waiting for me the next day, or even if it was an unproductive day and I didn’t get much done, as long as I write down my plans of action for the following day, I can—literally—rest easy.)
“…for those of you who absolutely need an alarm clock, or have the typical alarm clock that blares a sound so hellish you’d think the four horsemen are coming for you, you may find it in your best interest to get a fancy one or replace yours with something more soothing.”
Set the Ambiance
I already touched on box fans and pillow mist, and these things and more go hand-in-hand with setting the ambiance. If your environment is calming and relaxing for you, then of course it will promote a better night’s sleep. For me, that means having the room dim (but not too dim), having the box fan blowing for some white noise, and having the heat turned all the way down. I can’t really sleep unless the room is basically frigid, and I know a lot of people are like this. Find the temperature, light, and sound that works best for you, and you’ll find yourself drifting off to sleep that much faster.
¹This is mostly what I picture when I meditate. ²Where does your mind go during introspection or meditation?
Do What You Need to Do
Sleep problems are so widespread and rampant that it boggles my mind there haven’t been more scientific breakthroughs to help curb the phenomenon. I mean, of course, there have been, but you think it’d be nearly cured by now! Perhaps it’s because everyone is so different, and the methods I listed above won’t help everyone. And that’s fine! Do whatever you need to do, even if it isn’t the same as the next person. If warm milk or hot tea helps you get sleepy, drink it! If you need a night light or need the room pitch black before you can fall asleep, make it happen! If you need to go for a jog around the block before you can fall asleep at night, do it! Take a week or two to try out a few different techniques and then stick with what works for you. (I know I’ve said “what works for you” like 80 times in this blog post, but honestly that is the underlying foundation of this topic, at least in my mind, so it bears repeating.)
Of course, if your sleep deprivation is anything more than mild and occasional, you may need to see a professional. Sleep is, in my humble opinion, one of the single most important things you can do to maintain your health (mental as well as physical), and care for yourself. Ensuring that you have the best night’s sleep possible every night is crucial, and should be attained by any means necessary. So get out there and go to sleep!