You deserve to rest easy at night and wake up feeling refreshed each morning. It may feel like an impossible task, but as it turns out, there are numerous ways we can work to improve our sleep quality at night, as well as help ourselves to fall asleep faster. As a person who suffered from brutal insomnia for nearly my entire life, I can personally vouch for the information I'm sharing below because it truly helped improve not only my quality of rest, but my quality of life.
More than a third of adults in America have reported not getting enough sleep (ideally 7+ hours), which is unfortunately associated with "an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress" according to the CDC.
When I went from battling insomnia to actually sleeping through the night, the impact on my mental health and life was shocking. I felt greater control over my emotions, I was more energized and I noticed my willpower was at an all time high. In another post on this website (5 Steps to Better Mental Health) we talked about how many folks believe sleep issues are a result of mental illness or unbalance, but as it turns out they can also be the cause of that mental distress. The acronym S.H.A.D.E. was created and shared at my GuardianCon mental health talks, as a way to remind folks of how important Sleep, Hydration, Air, Diet & Exercise are in our self-care routines.
In an article entitled "Better Bedtime" in a special edition of Time Magazine called "The New Mindfulness", neurologist and sleep-medicine doctor at the University of Pennsylvania Health System Charles Bae (yep, dope name) was quoted as saying "The good news is that poor sleep mostly comes from bad habits and lack of routine, which means it's usually easy to correct."
Let's get to correcting! Here are the tips I've put together on how to get yourself into snoozeland sooner. Hope they help you as much as they helped me!
- Create a sleep schedule. I can't stress enough just how much our bodies and minds thrive on routine. Get yourself on one and watch the way your life changes. Your sleep schedule is a major part of this routine. Take some time to think about your life and your goals. Think of all the things you'd like to be able to accomplish during your days and weeks. Then create a sleep schedule that helps support your ability to accomplish those things. Figure out what time you'd like to be IN bed, ready to drift off, as well as what time you'd like to wake up the next day, factoring in ideally at least 7 hours of sleep. For me, I like to be in bed, snuggled up with my teddy bear (yep, love that fuckin' bear) with my sleep mask on by 10pm because I wake up at 5am the following morning. Some nights I end up in bed a bit earlier, but overall I work hard to get my buns into bed on time because I know my evening hours aren't generally filled with anything productive or worthwhile that would justify me staying up later. I'm a focused, energized human in the mornings and that time is more valuable to me because of it. So determine some of your goals and intentions for your life and then get to work on creating and maintaining that sleep schedule. Do your best not to allow yourself to sleep in too late on days when you don't have to be up early, because it'll make it easier on your body and won't feel as confusing. Plus, the longer you're able to stick to whatever schedule you create, the more likely you are to start finding yourself waking up sans alarm which is a dope feeling. It's heckin' cool when your body is on your side and gently rouses you at your normal waking hour.
- Wind down at night with a solid pre-sleep routine.
- Turn the lights down & turn the relaxing music on. Turning down the lights and turning on something peaceful or ambient can help you send a signal to your brain that it's wind down time. As you get better at maintaining your routine, your brain will start to recognize this cue and switch into relaxation mode automatically. Check out this post that includes my favorite music to meditate or relax to. Teach your body what lowered lights mean and watch it learn to respond appropriately.
- Prep for next day. If you have work or school the following day, or if you plan to hit the gym or do something exciting for your dinner, why not plan ahead? Get your clothes ready, get your lunch packed, do whatever it takes to set yourself up for an awesome day. Too often we procrastinate on doing these things because we feel they'll take too long, but if you pre-budget that time, you'll see it really isn't that much of a hassle, and it's one less thing your mind has to hold onto for the next day. Lessen the burden on your mind and on the you of tomorrow by getting yourself ready today.
- Skincare, dental care and maybe even a warm bath. Once you're prepped for the following day, it's time to clean yourself up from the experiences of your current day. Wash your face, put your lotion on and brush and floss your teeth. If you're still feelin' all jacked up and you're partial to baths, feel free to hop in a warm bath and take some deep breaths while you let the stresses of the day be washed away.
- Aromatherapy. Light those candles, burn that incense, use those essential oils or lotions. Pick some soothing and relaxing scents and breathe in deep. Personally, I LOVE lavender as an evening scent and it's especially great in my household because I use an essential oil diffuser so my pets and I can all smell it and feel relaxed. Please note: not all essential oils are safe for all pets, and most are not recommended to be put ON the pets or used in high dosages. My dogs seem to stay relatively chill when I have the diffuser going, but I don't put a ton of oils in there and don't leave it on too long. Do your own research, talk to your vets. Regardless of what you decide, some form of aromatherapy can also help you with creating that cue for your brain to notice and say "Ahh, yes, I know what time it is now, it's time to chill the fuck out."
- Exercise early, yoga late. Exercise is a crucial part of our mental and physical health, and it can also help you to drain some of your excess energy (if you're blessed with such a thing) so you can relax sooner. It's not recommended that you get a heavy workout in right before bed, as it may end up making you feel more alert thanks to the endorphins it's helping to release. If you're feeling restless and have an urge to move your body, a good evening yoga routine might be just the thing for you. I love Yoga with Adriene videos on YouTube, and she has a few specifically dedicated to helping folks wind down and chill before bed. Check this one out and see if it helps. Yoga is great for the body and mind and if done right, can be relaxing instead of stimulating.
Meditate. Man, meditation is something I could talk about FOREVER. Ok, maybe not forever, but I get all jacked up like I just chugged a bucket of coffee when folks ask me about meditation with genuine interest. Meditation was THE thing that got me into mindfulness, and has changed my life and my connection to myself in countless ways. If you want do do some research on meditation, you will find all sorts of valuable information about how beneficial this practice can be for basically everyone. The British Psychological Society found that mindfulness meditation specifically (a practice designed to assist in gaining awareness of your thoughts and emotions through in a more positive and compassionate manner) can help limit the type of frustrating rumination that tends to interfere with our ability to rest easy at night. A 2011 study even showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction was as effective as a prescription drug for a small group of folks with insomnia.
If you're thinking of meditating and don't know where to start, here's a lovely article that can help break it down for you. https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-how-to-do-it/ You can also join us in the mornings toward the end of my morning streams which go from 6-8am, central time. We do a 5 minute meditation together and I'd love to help walk you through how it works so you can join us. Additionally, we're currently reading a book called "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" as a part of our community book club. You can join us in Discord and read this awesome book with us. It's a wonderful book with tons of practical and easy to follow examples of different ways to do a mindful meditation.
- Thinkitate. The first time I heard the word "Thinkitate" was from Tom Bilyeu and it just clicked for me. For me, it's almost a combo of brainstorming and meditation, and holy shit does it help. Tom wrote this post on the Impact Theory website that describes Thinkitation in greater detail. The way I like to Thinkitate, is to sit down with my lights dimmed, my candles lit, maybe some incense going too - and then I either tell my brain what problem I'm trying to solve, or I just let my mind go. The only time I step in and control what's happening is when I notice that it's going off on a path that isn't the least bit helpful. For example, if I'm sitting and thinking and suddenly my brain starts throwing a mess of negative "what if's" at me, I'll shut that shit down quickly. Sometimes I even use an audible "No." to let my brain know we're done with that line of thinking. I'll then tell my brain what I would like it to focus on, or I just take some deep breaths and watch where it goes next. This is probably one of my favorite parts of my routine. I keep notebooks nearby so as my brain comes up with ideas or things I need to do, I can easily jot them down. I have my to-do list nearby as well as my brainstorming notebook for my business. This tends to be a very creative time for me. I've had some of my favorite business ideas and some very helpful realizations about myself during my Thinkitating time. We spend our entire days taking in information, but we rarely allow ourselves the time to actually process that information. Instead, we go from device to device all day and then finally set our phones down and turn off our TV's at night (hopefully) and then expect to lay down in bed and fall right asleep. It's far more likely that instead of relaxing right into a nice deep sleep, you'll be hit with a wave of thoughts and ideas from all the information you've gathered throughout the day, as well as all of the experiences you went through that day. Meditating, then Thinkitating can help you ensure that when your head hits your pillow for rest, your mind is ready for it and doesn't feel it needs to remind you of anything or process any data.
- Keep house cool. The last thing anyone wants is to wake up in the middle of the night feeling sweaty and uncomfortable. It can be a frustrating experience and that frustration can make it even harder to fall back asleep, or fall asleep in the first place. Get a good blanket (I've heard wonderful things about weighted blankets too) and snuggle up under it, then bring that heat down or the a/c up if you can. For me, adjusting the thermostat to 66 or 67 degrees before bed allows me to sleep comfortably through the night. Remember to invest in a quality thermostat that can also turn the temperature back up the following morning so you're not hiding away in bed afraid to leave the warmth of your bed.
- Keep bedroom free from distractions. Those work papers you've got piled up near your bed, the books you have stacked on your nightstand, the clothes scattered everywhere and the TV mounted right across from your bed could be interfering with your ability to let go of the day and jump into some good ol' quality REM sleep. As we've talked about before, our bodies and minds love routine, and they love having cues that let them know what is expected of them next. If you can keep your bedroom activities limited to two things: sleepin' or sexin', your mind will automatically switch modes when you enter the room. If your bedroom is also your work zone, where you play video games or watch TV, it can be harder for your mind to switch off and relax. So keep your room clean and leave everything work or life related elsewhere. Your bedroom is your chill zone now. Obviously, this can be tough on our younger friends or on folks who live in studio apartments, but do your best to separate that space in some way if you can. It's definitely recommended that you get that damn TV out of your room (or never put one in there in the first place if you can) and keep your devices out too. Electronics are intimacy killers when it comes to the bedroom especially. If you live with a romantic partner, you will almost certainly have more enjoyable moments together in the bedroom if you keep the TV and phones out of it. Plus, sex before bed is another great way to help improve your sleep as it tends to be a fun and exhaustive experience. Bump those uglies and enjoy some good restorative sleep after.
- Try a sleep mask, some socks & maybe use white or pink noise during sleep. Get yourself a nice sleep mask. I got this one from Amazon that was $10.99 and has these little bump thingies on the nose of it (very scientific terminology, obviously). It helps to prevent all light from coming in, even if I have my eyes open. The idea is to be able to open your eyes and see only darkness. It saves me from noticing things around my room that cause my mind to start wandering again. You could also throw some socks on before bed. I know... I know... socks in bed is weird for a lot of folks. Here's the deal though: heating up those icy feetsies of yours causes dilation of the blood vessels, which may help you in signaling to your brain that it's bed time (according to the National Sleep Foundation). Now that you've got your eyes and feet covered, literally, we can talk about the white or pink noise (which is apparently just white noise with more bass). If you find yourself distracted or feeling stressed by noises, it may help you to try drowning them out with something else. Using white or pink noise is great, and unlike music, it's unlikely to conjure up any feelings associated with what you're hearing (like hearing a love song or a song about loss).
- Use affirmations. Affirmations are something I discuss frequently with my community, and there are many ways to go about using them in your daily life. This article can help explain how they work and it includes some pre-made affirmations you can start using right away. The idea is to use present tense, positive statements to tell your brain what types of actions you want it to take, and what types of feelings or thoughts you'd like to have. The objection to affirmations I hear most often is: "I don't actually feel that way, so it feels like lying to myself and I don't want to do that." I understand this sensation, but do your best to fight it. Affirmations will feel a bit weird at first, but please try to push through and repeat these positive statements to yourself as often as you can. I think you'll find them to be quite empowering after you pair them with some intentional actions. For sleep, one of my favorite affirmations to use is "my body is tired and my mind is ready for rest". I treat this particular one like a mantra and repeat it to myself often as I'm winding down. You could also create an affirmation based narrative about yourself and use that, something like "I am a person who falls asleep easily and wakes up feeling refreshed" may help you with telling your brain how you would like to feel before and after sleep. You're not lying to yourself, you're just telling your mind your intentions while knowing you're perfectly capable of achieving them.
- Let go. Pretend you're on a vacation and make the conscious choice to let go of the things your brain and body want you to do. Let them know that this is YOUR time and you will handle those tasks when it's appropriate. When we're on vacation, this seems to be an easier task. We choose to allow ourselves to be unburdened and to quickly refocus ourselves off of work or life issues, for the sake of the moments we have in this new space. You can apply this same idea to everyday life. Letting go may seem challenging, but in reality, it simply comes down to a choice. CHOOSE to let go. Choose to be in your body, in this moment, and choose to give yourself the freedom from your burdens so you can rest. You deserve it.
I hope this information I've shared proves to be beneficial and y'all get the best night's sleep tonight. May your REM cycles be long and strong so you can manifest dope shit when you wake up.
You got this.
(Photo Credit: Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash)