I was always a lousy sleeper as a child. From the age of eight on I often survived on four or five hours of (anxiety-laden) sleep a night. The last few years I’ve been making a real effort to change that though – and I give thanks to a few tricks and habits I’ve developed over the years. If you want to get serious high-quality sleep then the following tips are perfect for you.
1. Cutback caffeine.
Caffeine is one of the biggest causes of being unable to fall asleep. It also lowers the quality of sleep. My new year’s resolution this year was to cut out caffeine entirely. Save for the rare cup of coffee I have… and I’ve slept so much better for it. You wouldn’t believe the difference it makes. Without caffeine pumping through my veins, I feel like I’ve slept twice as long as I actually have.
If you can’t bare to give up caffeine at least try to cutback to a couple of cups a day, and keep it to the morning/early afternoon. Switch to decaf, there’s barely any difference in taste, and it only contains about 1-2% of the regular amount of caffeine in most cases. Click here to read more about the effects of caffeine on sleep.
2. Drink warm milk before bed.
Whenever I used to struggle to sleep as a child, my mother would always make me a warm cup of milk. More often than not, it worked! This is another classic case of “mother knows best.”
Milk contains an amino acid called trytophan that (without getting unnecessarily sciency) is converted to serotonin and then melatonin. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” and will send you off to the land of nod in no time at all. Side note: Trytophan is also found in turkey, which is why you may feel particularly sleepy after your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
3. Respect the sanctity of your bedroom.
Your bedroom should be somewhere you go for two reasons. Sleep and… well, you know. If you like to take your all manner of electronic gizmos to bed to tinker on then you’re confusing your brain. You’re giving it an overdose of stimulation, and then you wonder why you can’t get to sleep for hours.
If you want better sleep every night then make your bedroom an electronic-free zone. Teach your brain your bedroom is a place of rest.
4. Buy the best mattress, pillows and PJs you can afford.
When you consider how much time we spending sleeping, it’s amazing how little money we invest into it. Most people buy the cheapest mattress and pillows they can find – and are shocked by how uncomfortable they are at night when they try to go to sleep. If you want better sleep then you should be spending as much money as you can afford on high-quality mattress and pillows. For years I slept in a single bed with wonky springs and it ruined my sleep and gave me a bad back for years.
Now I have an amazingly comfortable king-sized mattress that I sink into, and pillows to match. Next to cutting out caffeine this is the biggest improvement I’ve made to my sleep. Don’t skimp on your PJs either, get a thick, soft pair you’d want to where all day if you could. Make sleep-time a time to look forward to.
5. Make your room as dark as possible.
Light inhibits melatonin production. That means it’s a good idea to make your bedroom as dark as possible. This ensures you’ll get a better sleep each night. You can do this by buying a thick pair of curtains to block out external light, banning electronics from the bedroom (no blinking lights), turning off all lights upstairs, and closing your bedroom door. If your bedroom still isn’t dark enough you can buy yourself a sleep mask to block out all light.
6. If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes do something else.
If you’re still struggling to get to sleep, don’t beat yourself up about it. Get up and take a walk around the house, go outside for a few minutes, or read a book. Take the focus off the need to sleep and sleep will soon come to you.
7. Keep a diary.
“How on Earth would keeping a diary help me get a better sleep?” I hear you ask. Well it’s really quite simple. You know all those thoughts you can’t stop running through your mind as you scrunch your eyes closed convincing yourself you’re not crazy? Keeping a diary takes all those thoughts from your head, transfers them to a page and keeps them where they can’t disturb you.
It’s like complaining about something to a friend. Once it’s off your chest, you feel the weight off your shoulders and it doesn’t bother you as much any more.
8. Try meditation or hypnotherapy shortly before bedtime.
If you want to send your sleep to the next level then meditation and hypnotherapy can do just that. Both are very similar in that they quiet the conscious mind. In meditation you focus on one thing (and ultimately nothing AND everything), while in hypnotherapy you focus on an aspect of yourself you’d like to improve and mentally repeat suggestions to that effect.
A simple meditation exercise I use each night is to focus my thoughts on my breathing. I take mental notes of how the air feels cold as I inhale, and warm as I exhale, how my belly expands then contracts. Because I’m entirely focused on my breathing, no unwanted thoughts enter my head.
Just 10 minutes of meditation before you go to sleep makes a HUGE difference to the quality of sleep. It feels like you’ve added hours to the length of your sleep when you wake up the next morning.
Those are eight of my favorite ways to get better sleep. Do you have any tips of your own? Leave a comment and let me know, I’d love to read them!
Featured photo credit: Sleepy Time by Alexandra Guerson via flickr.com
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