Increasingly, science is showing that sleep is a basic building block for sustaining life and that sleep, like digestion, respiration and meaningful relationships, is one of the most important processes for the human body. During sleep the body heals, grows, and replenishes itself so that people can thrive with abundant, vibrant lives.
When we are children, sleep comes very naturally. The body demands it and it occurs. Children can sleep in almost any circumstance—driving in a car, with a TV on in the next room, with the dog barking. Children, teens and even young adults fall easily into sleep providing their circadian rhythm has not been disrupted. Unfortunately for adults, sleep is too often an elusive state that escapes us, causing a myriad of problems with health, happiness and productivity.
Sleep issues can arise for many different reasons, and for different reasons at different times in one’s life. Physical or emotional stress, changes in schedules and routines, dietary changes and disruptions to our natural circadian rhythm are the most common reasons that sleep problems arise. Unfortunately, when sleep problems do develop, they can become the norm rather than the exception for many people, and reversing these patterns takes some time and effort.
Next time you’re struggling with sleep, experiment with any of the following 10 unconventional but great sleeping tips to determine what will work best for you:
1. Strategize Your Day Plan
Plan your day as closely as you can so that you follow the same pattern and routine each day. Although this may sound boring, as it lacks spontaneity, when it comes to improving your sleep, your body thrives on daily rhythms and schedules. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time and try to have your meals at the same time as well. This will allow your body, hormones and other brain chemicals to function optimally, and this will allow your body to produce the hormones needed to fall and stay asleep.
2. Move Your Body Daily
Exercise has numerous benefits, and research finds new benefits every day. Regular exercise improves heart health and blood pressure, builds bone and muscle, helps combat stress and muscle tension, improves mood, and improves sleep. Exercise helps you sleep sounder and longer and feel more awake during the day.
When engaging in physical activity, it’s important that you choose activities that resonate with you and bring you happiness while participating. If you love dancing, try a Zumba class, if you like being outside, try running, cycling or skating. An additional benefit to exercising outside is exposure to sunshine. Twenty minutes per day of sunshine helps produce vitamin D, an important vitamin to your overall health and hormonal system. Also consider the time of day you are engaging in physical activity. Earlier in the day is better when it comes to sleep. Exercise excites the body and creates new energy, when you do this too close to bed time it could interfere with sleep.
3. Sleep Naked
The body naturally cools down as it produces melatonin and prepares the body for rest. Among other things, this process requires the body temperature to drop. When you sleep with heavy pajamas and blankets, the body has a difficult time lowering your temperature and this will wake you up. Try sleeping naked in good quality, comfortable sheets, and keep the temperature down in your bedroom.
4. Understand You Have a Circadian Rhythm
The body’s system and functions are based on rhythms. Humans have a circadian rhythm and a circannual rhythm. These rhythms control many things. The circadian rhythm—our daily time clock—is particularly important when it comes to sleep. Hormones provide signals to the body all day and all night long that control sleep and eating patterns. For this rhythm to function optimally, there are environmental components we can control to support this important process. When your sleep is compromised by work or stress, for example, you will lose this rhythm and re-establishing it can be difficult.
5. Turn Off Your Screens
Your circadian rhythm is strongly signaled by light. The bright light of the morning produces certain hormones and signals and the darkness of the evening and night produce others. The access to 24-hour lighting has largely influenced our exposure to light and therefore our daily rhythms. The one key thing you can do is limit your exposure to light in the evening, particularly the light emitted by TVs and computers. The light produced by these devices significantly interferes with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone produced in the pituitary gland that signals sleep to the body. It’s crucial that the amount of light the body is exposed to decreases slowly over the course of the evening. Ideally, you would turn off all screens one to two hours before you’d like to sleep.
6. Do Something Relaxing
Avoid activity that is too stimulating in the evening. The brain is wired to respond to your physical and emotional needs at any time of day. When you engage in stimulating activity such as a dramatic TV program, a heated discussion with a family member, or work-related emailing, your brain’s awareness is heightened and bringing yourself down from that will take time. Avoid that by winding down. Have a cut-off time, perhaps one to two hours before bed, in which you will not engage in anything too stimulating. Make this a daily practice and tell the people you live with that it’s a goal you have. Try something relaxing like reading a book, meditation or gentle stretching.
7. Have Sex
After a day of work, commuting and children, the last thing many people want to consider is sex. But there are many health benefits to having sex, including better sleep. Weekday sex can be a simple quickie if time and energy are concerns, and that too will provide benefit. You’ll fall asleep faster after orgasm and there’s good reason for that. The hormone prolactin is released after orgasm. Prolactin is responsible for feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. As well, following orgasm, the body produces oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that reduces stress and helps us bond with others, so the benefit extends to your relationship and your overall health.
8. Watch Your Food Intake
The body is sensitive to all of the things you do to it, expect of it and feel throughout the day. Food digestion is a key function of the body that influences many things, including sleep. Keep your consumption of caffeinated beverages, including coffee, to a minimum and consume them before 3 p.m. if possible. Caffeine is very stimulating and interferes with the hormones required to relax the body and produce sleep.
Also, consider the type of food you’re eating. Having simple carbs in the evening has a relaxing effect on many people and helps with relaxation and sleep. Keep in mind how close you’re eating to bedtime. Ideally, you should stop eating three hours before bed. Digestion requires a lot of energy and time. If the body is busy digesting your last meal, you will have problems falling and staying asleep. Give your body the break it needs during the night to heal and repair you by allowing it to be free of the job of digesting food.
9. Drink Calming Tea After A Warm Bath
Magnesium is a mineral responsible for many functions in the body. One of its most important functions is calming muscles. By adding magnesium to a warm bath with some essential oil, you will be able to relax and drift into a deep sleep. Having a cup of herbal tea in the evening is calming and when done regularly (like turning off screens, taking a bath or reading a book), functions as an important signal to the brain and body that time for rest is near, allowing the required systems to begin their work. Chamomile tea has long been thought to be a helpful sleep aid. There are many companies producing blends that help relax the body and aid with sleep.
10. Keep Your Room Dark
Even the smallest amount of light hitting the eyelid (some research says the size of a pinhole will do it) can interfere with the production of melatonin, which would result in poor quality sleep or lack of sleep. Keeping your room both dark and cool have been shown to be imperative in regulating sleep. Invest in blackout curtains to ensure that your room is dark all night. Turn off and block the light from all electronic appliances, such as clock radios and cell phones. Better yet, remove them from your bedroom if possible. If blocking out the light is problematic, purchase a soft eye-mask that you can wear comfortably throughout the night.
When you think about the people you respect deeply, what do they do differently from the average person? While you’re thinking about that, here are some of my own tips: How To Break Bad Habits Once and For AllFeatured photo credit: little boy sleeping in bedvia Shutterstock