Friends, I am tired. And if your sleep patterns have been anything like mine during these strange times, then you’re likely a bit tired too.
But that ends tonight.
You see, I know exactly what I should be doing to get a good night’s sleep every night but – I admit it! – I have from time to time during my furlough been letting some aspects of my own self-care slide by unnecessarily prioritising productivity over rest. But giving our minds and bodies permission to rest can be just as important – sometimes even more important! – than getting stuff done. Without regular restorative rest, our healthy functioning will eventually suffer and deteriorate.
So, let this next bit serve as a reminder to you and me alike of the many powerful gifts of rest, and also as a gentle nudge toward better, more sustained self-care. Without further ado, here are my 5 tips to help us all sleep better starting tonight.
1 – Make your bedroom more sleepytime friendly
Most people find a cool, dark, quiet room to be the most conducive to a good night’s sleep. The Sleep Council recommends a room temperature of around 16-18°C/60-65°F for maximum comfort, but your ideal setting might vary. When it’s time for you to go to sleep, make your room dark by turning off all lights and closing your blinds or curtains. If you don’t have blackout curtains, perhaps try a comfortable eye mask or even a Buff worn over your eyes to make things darker.
It’s best to avoid having electronics like TVs, laptops, and tablets in the bedroom, but if you’re like me you’ll still have your phone by your bedside to use as an alarm on work days. That’s OK, of course – but at the very least, have your phone set up to go to ‘do not disturb’ mode an hour or so before your regular bedtime so that you won’t be disturbed by the light and noise of any nighttime notifications. Moving to ‘dark mode’ at the same time could be a good idea too, as this setting will make your phone emit a gentler orange glow instead of its typical harsher blue light. Ultimately, this gentler glow won’t interfere as much with your body’s melatonin production.
2 – Eat better + Drink better = Sleep better
Avoid stimulants like caffeine and sedatives like alcohol before bedtime. That Coca Cola will have you buzzing too much to get to sleep, while that glass of wine may make you drowsy but ultimately wake you up to visit the loo in the night or to get a drink of water due to dehydration. Stick to the likes of caffeine-free herbal teas in the evening hours, for instance peppermint, chamomile, and rooibos. You can’t go wrong with a cuppa!
As for foods, the National Sleep Foundation has a few suggestions for ones that help promote a good night’s sleep. Nuts like almonds not only contain heart-healthy fats but also melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Certain fruits are sources of melatonin as well, such as cherries, bananas, pineapple, and oranges. Additionally – as the Sleep Council points out – there’s the amino acid L-tryptophan which our bodies use to make serotonin, another sleep-promoting chemical. This essential amino acid can be found in the likes of turkey, chicken, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, beans, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
3 – Do something active during the daytime
During the day you could go for a walk around your neighborhood, cycle on your stationary bike, or even do a bit of yoga flow. Whatever moderately aerobic exercise you choose, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep say it will help increase the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, when the brain and body really get a chance to rest and recharge.
While it’s still unclear whether or not it matters what time of day you undertake your activity, it’s clear that most people only need to do about 30 minutes of it to start noticing a difference in sleep quality.
4 – Allow yourself time in the evening to wind down
It’s a good idea to treat the last 1/2 hour to 1 hour of your day prior to going to bed as wind down time. What you do in this time to relax will largely depend upon personal preference. What helps you relax? Whether it’s reading a chapter of a good book, listening to some relaxing music, or perhaps doing a short calming meditation practice, it’s important to ensure you give yourself a bit of time to simply chill out before you attempt to drift off to dreamland.
5 – Make use of relaxation apps and aids
If you find that you’re still struggling to get to sleep, there are a few apps and aids that could help you find peace at last. There are a lot to choose from, but here’s one I can personally recommend:
Calm – Calm is a multi-award-winning app with a focus on relaxation, meditation, and sleep. I used the free version for a while, but upgraded at the start of 2020 to its paid version and have personally found it to be well worth the money. I especially enjoy starting my days with a Daily Calm meditation – each one touching on a different theme such as concentration, resilience, or gratitude. Sometimes I pair that with a short, gentle guided stretch such as can be found within the app’s Calm Body section. For pre-bedtime, however, there are several relaxing soundscapes – like Lindsey Stirling’s soothing Lunar Lullaby – worth giving a try. There are also several meditations focused on helping you to relax and prepare to drift off gently into sleep. Additionally, there are dozens of bedtime stories read by the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Fry, and LeVar Burton, among other soothing-voice-havers.
As an alternative to Calm, I know many people who instead use the app Headspace and have had a similarly positive experience. I have not used Headspace myself so I can’t comment so much on its offering, but I can offer it up here as another potential sleep aid worth looking into.
So there we have it – 5 suggestions that will hopefully help you sleep better than ever starting tonight. Have you got a particular pre-bedtime routine that works for you? Feel free to share in the comments below. Until next time, wishing you restful slumber and the sweetest of dreams!