Restless nights? Constantly tired during the day? Struggling to wind down and get that restful sleep all those “morning people” have somehow mastered? If you could see these bags under my eyes they would tell you, “You’re not alone!” Well, I’ve done the research and am ready to break it down for you. Here’s what you need to know to start improving your sleep hygiene and becoming the most rested self that you’ve always dreamed of being:

First, let’s talk about the four main factors that affect your sleeping habits:

Your circadian rhythm

  • This is your very own, built-in, 24-hour process that works to regulate your sleep to wake cycle. This rhythm is driven by solar time, but can be affected by a variety of factors, such as naps, when you go to bed, exercise, and especially light (both artificial and natural).

Your age

  • Once you hit 40, your sleep patterns start to change. This mostly looks like having more “nocturnal awakenings” than you did when you were younger. The more you wake up throughout the night, the less likely you will feel fully rested in the morning.

Psychological stressors

  • This can be any sort of stressful life circumstance that keeps your mind up and running as you’re trying to slow down and turn off – whether its work stress, school assignments, interpersonal conflicts, or anything else piled onto your plate.

Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol intake

  • Caffeine stays in your system for as long as 14 hours, which can increase the numbers of times you wake up during the night, decreasing your total amount of sleep. Nicotine has similar effects in high doses, even though it is initially sedative at lower doses. Alcohol also initially acts as a sedative, but can cause arousals during sleep once it is metabolized and is cleared from your system.

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can have serious short-term and long-term consequences. Losing just 1.5 hours of sleep can affect your daily alertness, reducing it by one-third. This also can impair your memory, your ability to think, your responsiveness, your mood, and can make you more prone to accidents. Ultimately, sustained sleep deprivation has some pretty serious long-term consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

So, what can we do about it? Well, sleep habits are just that: they’re habitual. You’ll find that you get the best results when you’ve made a consistent nighttime routine that you can keep up with. Here are some tips you can use to implement into your daily life that will help you create a system that works best for you:

During the day:

  • Try not to do anything else in your bed other than sleep and sex. This includes watching TV, eating, or having intense emotional conversations. We eventually start to associate these activities with the bed, which it makes it harder for us to start feeling sleepy once we lie down.
  • Avoid naps if you can, but if you do, try to make it a quick 20-minute snooze during the first 8 hours after you wake up.
  • Avoid using stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, at least 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercising during the day can be extremely helpful in helping you fall asleep at night, but try to avoid exercising in the evening.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment: keep your bedroom tidy, clean your bedding regularly, and create a cozy atmosphere.

Before bedtime:

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning to help your body adjust to a consistent sleep pattern.
  • Try to avoid phones and other electronic screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This reduces your body’s exposure to light, allowing our circadian rhythm to work its magic.
  • Avoid large meals within two hours of bedtime.

Create a bedtime routine:

  • Allow yourself to shelve any work or heavy conversations within an hour of bedtime.
  • Try using an essential oil diffuser with relaxing scents like lavender.
  • Take a shower or a bath.
  • Read a book or journal.
  • Meditate or stretch.

Make your bedtime routine a part of your self-care routine. You deserve to be well-rested, and your body and brain will thank you for being dedicated to finding a reprieve from the daily grind. Not every night is going to be perfect, and that’s okay. If all of the above suggestions feel too overwhelming to try all at once, just pick one and give it a go for a week. Then maybe add another, and another, until you find the right system that works best for you. Finding a sleep schedule and routine might not be a quick fix, but with consistency and care, you’ll be feeling more capable each day.

By: Bre Bielecki, MSW Intern