Get Better Sleep at Night
By: Dr. Maimoona Gul
There is not one formula that narrates the best ways to sleep better at night. Yet a holistic approach aptly instills guidelines into your everyday routine, training you how to sleep better without medication or sleeping pills. Should I keep trying to sleep if I cannot sleep? How to sleep better without overthinking? Simple adjustments like limiting your screen time, avoiding caffeine late in the evening, etc., can improve the overall quality of your sleep.
What to do before getting in bed
Your day-to-day activities have a significant bearing on your physical and emotional well-being. This substantially impacts your body's chemical profile, including the hormones that help you stay awake.
For example, if you have heated arguments with your boss at work, your adrenaline and cortisol hormones will remain high. The raised levels of hormones significantly impact how you behave for the rest of the twenty-four hours.
So what to do before bed for better sleep? Start unwinding yourself.
Stay positive during the day
The functioning of the human body is a harmonious interplay between nervous stimulation and response. Making a conscious effort to see the positive in our everyday surroundings and happenings helps build a positive outlook on life. In addition, the positive patterns reduce anxiety, keep the hormonal balance, and prep us for a good night's rest.
De-stress your mind
A mile-long to-do list dictates our busy life schedules. The worrisome thoughts seem to surface at night and put you in an overthinking mode. Unwinding, with the help of relaxation techniques will reap great dividends for a great night of rest. Some relaxing techniques to do right before bed include deep breathing and meditation. Deep breathing helps raise the level of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Try getting enough exposure to sunlight
Sunlight is crucial in maintaining the body's circadian rhythm. Light also controls the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Natural light closely links a person’s circadian rhythm with sunrise and sunset. The early morning light induces an earlier sleep schedule. In contrast, exposure to light later in the day pushes the sleep schedule further late into the night. So with the abundance of artificial light available during the twenty-four hours, it is vital to take in sunlight during the day (especially in the early hours) to keep your biological clock set earlier for bedtime.
Exercise regularly, but don't exercise too late in the day
It is essential to know when to exercise for better sleep. Exercise is beneficial for getting a good night's sleep. Physical workouts help you lose figures on the weighing scale and induce a deep comfortable snooze. This is because exercise also increases the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. On the other hand, the importance of timing your workouts cannot be overlooked. For example, if you exercise too close to bedtime, you may lose sleep as exercise stimulates your body.
Experts advise exercising in the mornings. This will help you with benefiting from bright daylight that positively influences melatonin levels and your circadian rhythm.
What to eat to sleep better
What you eat has a crucial contributory role towards better sleep. While you may not be able to sleep on an empty stomach, a full belly would also not help you achieve good shut-eye. Some dietary modifications for improved sleep include;
taking small meals in the evening (avoid large meals)
take your last meal three hours before bedtime
skipping coffee and other carbonated or caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening
avoiding nicotine preferably at all times but especially before bedtime
avoid alcoholic beverages right before bedtime
avoid snacking on chocolate before bedtime
avoid anything spicy or acidic that may give you a heartburn
Assign Your Bedtime Routine
As adults (especially parents), we ensure our kids have a proper bedtime routine. However, we are often carefree when it comes to our bedtime schedule. Experts strongly suggest having a set bedtime and sticking to it. The same goes for waking alarms. Weekends are no exceptions for these fixed timetables. This is because our brain’s function depends on patterns. Familiar patterns generate familiar and expected outcomes from our brains. Fixing a bedtime for yourself and religiously following it starts a chain reaction. First, periodic signals are sent to your brain at accurate timings, reciprocating with the release of the right hormones that make you sleep.
It may seem a bit disciplining, but a routine allows you to relax and clear your mind of undue stress. Since every person is an individual with a specific pattern, select a bedtime that works for you.
Start a sleep ritual
Small rituals map out a routine and help you remain fixed on it. Such rituals signal your body the approaching bedtime. Find comforting patterns for yourself before bedtime. These may include;
Drinking a glass of warm milk
Taking a warm bath
Listening to calming music
Cuddling with your partner or having sex
Read a book
Bedtime rituals must not include answering phone calls, responding to text messages, or replying to emails. Likewise, late-night shows on television are also out of the question.
Prep for bedtime and adjust your bedroom ambiance
Your preparation for bedtime should start by late afternoon or evening. You should not take a nap after three in the afternoon. Your bedroom temperature should be cool or warm as per your local weather. Use light-blocking curtains if you are a shift worker and need to sleep during the daytime. Get rid of all distractions such as noise-making gadgets, television, or bright lights. Switch off your computer or laptop and put away cell phones or tablets.
Is pitch darkness in the bedroom the best method to sleep?
When it comes to a good night’s sleep, darkness rules!
Pitch darkness eliminates all kinds of distractions that may disrupt your sleep.
Leaving a light on disturbs the sleep cycle, as even low levels of indoor light effects the circadian rhythm. The same holds for closed eyes. Closing one's eyes do not suffice as the eyelids do not block light efficiently.
Some other reasons advocating sleeping in pitch darkness include;
cuts back on eye strain
decreases the risk of weight gain by maintaining the circadian regulation of metabolism
may reduce the risk of certain cancers like breast and prostate cancers
Which is the Better Sleeping Position?
Though men spend most of their sleep time on their side (left or right), either position is best for you. Health experts, though, recommend sleeping on the left side as it maintains the symmetry of the internal organs. However, sleeping on the side is not suggested for people with shoulder pain. Ideally, a sleeping position that supports your spinal curve is the best. Sleeping on your side helps the spine and cuts back on snoring and heartburn. Sleeping on your back is best for people with allergies and neck pain. Older adults and overweight people should not rest on their backs.
You must get yourself evaluated by a physician if the following symptoms keep you up at night;
uncontrollable compulsion to move your legs during sleep
your partner complains that your snoring is too much and too loud
you wake up with burning pain in your chest, stomach, or throat
One must appreciate that every person's sleep requirements are individual, specific, and vary. In addition, factors like genetics, work routines, and physical activity significantly impact your sleep patterns. Therefore, the sleep guidelines will change accordingly.
Do not lie in bed if you cannot sleep despite every effort. Instead, after about twenty minutes, get up and start doing something relaxing.
For more information you should consult with a doctor if your sleep pattern is continuously disrupted. You may have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder or any other underlying medical condition meriting medical attention.