Everyone who’s gone a night without it knows that sleep matters. While experts vary on how many hours of sleep they recommend, most agree that getting sufficient rest is important for all aspects of your health. If you’re one of the many women who struggles with establishing healthy sleep patterns, try some of these habits to become better rested.
1. Set a schedule
Most parents know this works with kids, but many don’t think to extend the strategy to their own lives. A regimented sleep schedule, even on weekends and holidays, will train your body to fall asleep at a certain time, every night. Plan how much sleep you need, and go to bed at least that many hours before the time you need to wake up throughout the week. This may require adjusting other aspects of your life, but a full night’s sleep is worth it. If you find yourself struggling to go to sleep sometimes, heed the following habit, too.
2. Wait 'till you’re tired
Taking longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep means your body isn’t ready for bed, which isn’t something you can control. In fact, lying awake and watching the clock can lead to stress, which will keep you up longer. When you find yourself unable to sleep, get up and do something that relaxes you, like reading or working on a crossword puzzle. Then, when you’re tired, go back to bed.
3. Keep it comfortable
Make your bedroom a place where you want to—and can—sleep through the night. Comfortable pillows and a good mattress affect this, but so do ambient lighting and noise. Install blinds that keep the sun or streetlight out, and invest in a white noise machine or smartphone app if you find yourself waking from nighttime disturbances.
4. Avoid stimulants and heavy foods, especially at night
Anyone who struggles with sleep knows not to drink espresso after dinner, but even a coffee or soda in the afternoon can have lingering effects when you’re ready to go to bed. Alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate and some painkillers might also keep your mind too alert to fall asleep if you consume them before bed. Similarly, heavy foods can affect your digestive system, which can affect your body’s ability to enter into a deep sleep cycle. Limit your intake of stimulants or foods containing grease, especially by late afternoon, since your body will take many hours to digest and process them.
5. Stay awake during the day
Your body will want to rest throughout the day after a poor night’s sleep, but falling asleep by accident, or taking a quick nap, can lead to another restless night. If you feel yourself becoming drowsy, avoid sedentary activities, like reading or watching television. Try to stay active until you’re able to go to sleep. Compensating for missed sleep during the day feels natural, but it can lead to a cycle of sleeping poorly. Your body will enter the deepest, most restful sleep at night, so aim to stay awake until then.
6. Shut off the screen
Watching TV, checking or e-mails or browsing Instagram right before bed can hamper your ability to fall asleep. Studies have shown that the light from these screens suppresses melatonin, which tells your brain to fall asleep. Additionally, the activity itself can stimulate your mind, keeping it from rest. Put your phone away and turn off other screens at least 30 minutes before bed. You may also want to try covering up any devices that emit light. Even a bedside clock, if its numbers are too bright, can affect your sleep.
7. Drink water, but not too much
Balance your fluid intake, especially before you go to bed. You should drink enough so that you’re not waking up thirsty, but not so much that you need to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Try to stay hydrated throughout the day and drink a cup of water within a couple of hours before bed.
8. Exercise in the morning or afternoon
Among its many other health benefits, exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and soundly. If you go for a run right before bedtime, though, a workout will usually have the opposite effect. Exercise stimulates your body and releases a hormone that alerts the mind. Try to exercise a few times every week, but make sure you’re finished at least three hours before you go to bed.
We at Women’s Healthcare Associates know how important rest is for your life and health. If you're having difficulty sleeping and it's affecting your health, talk to your provider about a referral to one of our behavioral health specialists.
Sources: Image - Positive Balance