Just Go To Bed! 16 Tips & Tricks To Get More Sleep
You might look a little haggard after a night of burning the midnight oil, but did you know that skimping on sleep depletes your your anti-aging hormones?
You’ve heard that adequate sleep is important for optimum health, memory retention and brain function, but perhaps like me you’ve reasoned that you’re different – that you can get by on a lot less sleep than others.
This eight hours a night stuff isn’t for you. After all you make up for any lacks on the weekend.
If this is you, welcome to the club! I spent years believing it was fine to squeeze in 5 or 6 hours a night.
Lately I’ve begun to question my hubris on this one. It’s not just the 3 p.m. dip that gets me reaching for that second cup of coffee. It’s the frustration I often feel at day’s end – why wasn’t I more focused? Why couldn’t I remember all the little pieces of the my project and so had to waste time looking back at notes, searching for information?
The answer, I’m realizing, might lie in my refusal to grant myself enough sleep.
Stay Slender And Young With Adequate Sleep
Here’s a mistake I used to make: for years I set my alarm at 5 so I could work out at the gym at 6 a.m. Then it was rush home, fix breakfast and lunches for the kids, get them off to school, then race off for a full day of work.
It was a rare evening that I crawled into bed before 11, and then I’d usually read, often ending up with less than six hours of precious shut-eye.
And sure those workouts helped keep me fit. But the surprise: when I started gifting myself with more sleep and skipping some of those workouts, I actually lost weight!
I couldn’t figure it out at the time. Now I’ve learned that studies show that sleep leads to easier weight loss! People who slept less than six hours a night consumed 300 more calories more in a day than those who slept 6-8 hours. And dieters who slept around eight hours lost 10 pounds way more easily than those who didn’t.
Scientists speculate that these results are due to the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose, so inadequate sleep causes it to search for carbohydrates to keep going. Chronic sleep deprivation can bump up those sugar cravings… a sure path to a more billowy muffin top!
And we all know that partying till the wee hours will bring on the dark circles and wrinkles quicker than a teenager can type out a text – but I had no idea about the physiological factors that can cause an overall acceleration of aging when I insist on staying up.
Human growth hormone – which makes us look and feel younger – is released from our pituitary gland during sleep. Less sleep equals less youthful hormones coursing through the body.
Now that’s some motivation to put the electronic toys away and turn out the lights.
The Toss & Turn Factor
Wait a second, you’re saying. Sure, I get it on this sleep thing. I’m TRYING to get in my eight hours. But I just end up lying awake in the darkness. If it’s not hot flashes and night sweats, it’s worrying and feeling frustrated that I’m not sleeping more.
Well, read on for some useful tips on quelling your insomnia. And If hot flashes and night sweats are keeping you awake, check out some of the herbal allies and natural remedies that I discuss in the Holistic Hot Sauce Menopause series.
Sleep researchers say the most health replenishing sleep occurs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., as that is when our bodily systems, including the crucial adrenal system, recovers and recharges. So, it’s worth it to at least try to get yourself into the REM state earlier rather than later.
Obviously, there will be exceptions. I know I like to go out and enjoy a good show on occasion, or just stay up late at a party enjoying friends and a fun time.
If you’re the same, or if you have trouble putting everything away and going to bed, join me in employing the 80/20 rule when it comes to turning in early. Let’s make sleep a priority 80% of the time, and we’ll surely be ahead of the game!
Whether you’re like me and you feel like a little kid digging in your heels about bed time when there’s so much fun stuff to do – or you’re battling wakeful demons no matter how hard you try to drift off – these 16 tricks and tips will gently nudge you in the right direction – and get more sleep!
1. Align Yourself with the Rhythms of Nature – Just Go To Bed!
All this was a no-brainer back in the days before electric lights. It got dark…so we went to sleep. Society has evolved a lot quicker than our physiology, our bodies don’t know things have changed from prehistoric times. They naturally want to shut down when the sun goes down, and that’s why many of us crave more sleep during the winter months.
Now I’m not saying you have to go to bed at 5 just because it’s dark. But instead of resisting those whispers of fatigue, think about turning in a tad earlier during the darker time of the year.
2. Shut down the computer and turn off the TV.
Electronics stimulate our brains and make it harder to wind down and accept the peace that sleep delivers. Forgo checking email that one last time, and record your favorite late night shows.
Make that hour before bed a time for reading (a book – remember them?), perhaps writing in a journal, making notes about your plans for tomorrow, preparing food and other tasks that will make for a smoother morning.
3. Turn down the heat.
Keep your bedroom cool as much as possible. An overheated room will definitely interrupt your sleep, especially if that heat is artificial. You’ll get the added perk of saving on electricity if you crank down the furnace before retiring.
4. Create complete darkness in your bedroom.
Pull the curtains, or better yet get some light-blocking shades. A glowing digital clock next to your head is a surefire way to keep your eyes wide open. Get rid of it or turn it toward the wall while you sleep. Resist the temptation to check that clock if you awaken in the middle of the night. Knowing what time it is will just stress you out further if you’re worried about insomnia. If it’s impossible to darken your room completely, try a sleep mask.
5. Don’t got to bed too full – but not too empty either.
If your digestive system is in doing the Samba when you lie down to get some shut-eye, well it’s just not going to be that restful a sleep. (Not to mention the detrimental effects on your weight). Make a point to finish dinner a few hours before retiring.
Conversely, don’t try to get to sleep while your stomach is growling and the word ‘starving’ comes to mind. Eat a small snack high in protein and complex carbs. I like a little Greek yogurt. Ditch the cookies for bed though. Sugary snacks won’t promote peaceful rest!
6. Create and maintain a personal bedtime ritual.
Start this about a half hour before slipping under the covers and you will be signaling to your body it’s time to wind down and drift off. Get into your cozy jammies, brush your teeth and take care of all your bedtime grooming rituals a half hour or so ahead of time.
It’s a good idea to dim the lights an hour or two before you plan to tuck in. Prepare for your best sleep by reading restful and uplifting books (not a good time for the heart-pounding whodunit!), listening to calming music, or even some meditation.
7. Write it Down.
Keep a journal or notebook, pen, and flashlight by your bedside. If you awaken with that hamster wheel whirring in your brain – whether it’s worries or brilliant ideas – grab your notebook and jot down some key points. Then, trust that these world-shaking thoughts are now preserved.
Afterward you could do a little visualization to turn your worries over to a higher power. Picture your cares drifting upwards in a floating balloon and trust that all will be resolved.
8. Get Moving
Wait – what? We’re talking about getting still and resting. Sure, but it’s been proven that regular exercise (preferably aerobic, but any type helps) promotes a more restful sleep. Check out Hate To Exercise? for ideas.
Just don’t get all aggro and work up a big sweat in the hour or two before bed. Stretching is great but schedule the heart pumping for earlier in the day.
9. Skip The Coffee
If you regularly struggle to get to sleep or if you can’t drift back off after waking in the wee hours, give some serious consideration to weaning yourself away from your caffeine habit. It’s not just coffee. Black and green tea, colas and even yerba mate can promote wakefulness just when you don’t want it. At the very least, cut back, and forgo these beverages after 2 p.m.
10. Engage Nature’s Allies: Use Herbs &Natural Remedies
Try one or more of the vast number of natural herbs and supplements to bring on that restful sleep. One caveat: it’s best to avoid drinking tea right before bed if you suffer from insomnia. Getting up to use the bathroom is counter to your goal! Purchase herbal formulations as liquid extracts or capsules.
- Relaxing herbs include kava, passion flower, valerian, California poppy, hops, chamomile, and catnip. Many of these are helpful for pain as well – which can keep you awake. Herbs work particularly well when used in combination. Check out the selections of herbal combos at your favorite herb or health shop.
- Calcium and magnesium when taken before bed can relax the muscles and encourage sleep.
- Melatonin is a hormone manufactured in our own bodies. Sometimes we need more of it. It’s been shown to help you fall asleep more quickly as well as reverse daytime fatigue. Many people swear by it for jet lag since it helps adjust your circadian rhythms.
11. Take A Hot Bath
Not only will this relax you and help you wind down, the increase and subsequent drop in body temperature signals your body that it’s time for sleep. A shower or sauna will do this too. If you can treat yourself to the full luxury of a bath, try adding some sleep-inducing essential oils (see below.)
12. Use Essential Oils
These concentrated plant essences are powerful therapy and several are known to help insomnia. Add several drops to your bath, mix with some almond or jojoba oil and treat yourself to a little bedtime massage (better yet get a friend to), or add a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser.
Essential oils of bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, geranium, and lavender are all excellent for bringing on the shut-eye.
13. Practice Daily Stress Reducing Routines
If you incorporate relaxation techniques such mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing into your day, it will pay off when it’s time to get to sleep. Daily journaling is another way to release stressful thoughts and process anxiety caused by life transitions. Spending some time on this during the day frees your brain to relax into sleep come evening.
14. Try A Sleep Pillow
Make or buy a sleep pillow filled with soothing herbs like hops, lavender and chamomile and tuck this into your pillowcase. The relaxing aromas will lull you into a peaceful dream state.
15. Don’t Forget the Earplugs
If you live in a noisy nighttime environment, earplugs can be your savior. Especially if you are easily woken, or if you are battling that busy brain wakefulness.
16. Try Tapping
Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as ‘tapping’ or EFT is an amazingly effective therapy for many issues, including insomnia and anxiety. It can be practiced anytime, even in bed, and you can do it all by yourself. Read more about it here.
I’m sure I could come up with about 87 more sleep tips – but now it’s time to turn it over to YOU! Are you sold on the idea that more sleep leads to youthful braininess? What hacks do you use to get sleep and stay in a solid sleep?
Very interesting. I’ve got 3 little kids who all still come into my bed/wake in the night, etc. so I know what it is like to not get enough sleep. I’m up by 6 for exercise (before the kids get up) and going to bed by 11 is early for me. I usually make myself take a nap when the kids do in order to make up for the loss of sleep.
@MercyLangille Ah, I didn’t even get into the particular challenges of moms with kids! I feel for you Mercy, I remember those days all too well. I’m glad you realize the value of napping when they go down. It’s crucial that you fit in that precious sleep when you can!
Hi Sarah, Jovell here 🙂 Ever since I experienced the symptoms of hypothyroidism early this year, I have had a hard time sleeping early. Even if I go to bed really groggy, once I turn off the lights, I still lie there with my eyes closed but my mind keeps awake for 1 to 2 hours. It’s frustrating. I’m hoping after a year of medication I can go back to “normal” sleeping habits. Lack of sleep really gets the better of us, and if you’re a mom like me, we really want to have a good night’s sleep to be energetic enough to keep up with the kids 🙂
@luvavell Hi Jovell, so sorry to hear of your sleep issues. Even with your medication, I still think practicing some of these tips might help. It also might assist you in ‘weaning’ off the thyroid medication when the time comes. Especially some of the gentler herbal remedies.
So true that moms need their energy!
So many great tips! One of the first things I notice when I am regular with my exercise routine is that I sleep better. So more soundly and more restful, giving me more energy during the day.
@LoriLynnSmith I agree, exercise is affects us on so many physiological levels. It’s not just that it tires out our bodies so we can sleep, but I think it even affect the brain to send out relaxing signals. I totally notice that if I slack off on the exercise for a few days my sleep seems to be a bit more restless.
It’s awesome when you read an important article and think, “Hey, I don’t need any help with this!”
With rare exception, I’ve been a sleep champion all my life. My mom still loves to tell people how all I wanted to do until I was about 3 was sleep, sleep, sleep. Even though I was really good at it, I didn’t prioritize it or recognize the amazing importance until a couple of years ago. Now I set quantifiable sleep goals for myself each year as part of my annual goal setting exercise. Sure, it’s part of my habits now, but it’s so important that I need the constant reminder of having sleep goals.
A great follow up to this article would be “Sleep Is Awesome” by Julien Smith at http://inoveryourhead.net/sleep-is-awesome/.
@joeyjoejoe You’re a lucky guy to be such a sleep champion. I didn’t even get into the problems that could be indicated with too MUCH sleep (such as depression.) But I KNOW that’s not what’s going on with you!
Thanks so much for expanding the discussion with this other article. Can’t wait to check it o ut.
Sarah, I’ve always had trouble sleeping. However, I find that a fairly strenuous exercise regimen done earlier in the day helps as does an old-fashioned remedy: warm milk!
@BobbiEmel Oooh, I’d forgotten the amazing powers of warm milk! I used to give it to my kids when they were little and had trouble sleeping. I’d add just a bit of honey and a touch of cinnamon – and often I’d join them. Yum. And it’s true, they’d drift right off! I think vegans could use almond milk or something with a similar effect.
If you feel you really have to (or want to) use the computer, watch TV or even have electric lights on within 2 hours of when you are hoping to go to sleep, the white and blue light in them tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still daytime and it becomes harder to get to sleep. This can throw out the diurnal melatonin cycle.
An easy way to block out just the white and blue end of the light spectrum is with special blue-blocking glasses. I found some really cheap on Amazon ($6?) and there are other, more fancy ones available (e.g. http://www.lowbluelights.com).
Also, there is a free program called f.lux that you can install on your computer–it reduces the blue light from your monitor at night time.
@KitschWitch Wow, thank you for those useful tips! I was unaware of how this computer light can trick our bodies, and had no idea of these resources. I’m going to look into these (not that I ever stay on computer in the hours before bed. LOL) Well, I’m trying but some of those glasses sound pretty appealing.
@saraho You’re welcome :)Here are some relevant links:
Also, the book “Lights out : sleep, sugar, and survival” by Wilbur has a lot of great info on the effects of darkness/light on melatonin and disease prevention etc.
Fantastic tips! I second (or third?) the recommendation of f.lux. Blue light is evil.
What improved the quality of my sleep by tons and tons was nose strips. According to Sound Sleep, Sound Mind, clogged up noses decreases breathing quality at night, which in turn increases urine production. I don’t know if that’s true… but once I started using nose strips, I had to wakeup to use the restroom a lot less frequently.
@HappierHuman I’ve got to find out more about these nose strips! How do they help you breathe better through your nose? I thought the only answer to that was dietary adjustment (eg less dairy or whatever is causing you to be clogged.) Where do you get these nose strips and how do they work? And so fascinating that nose breathing affects frequent urination!
@saraho Not the brand I use, but you can find a good explanation here – http://www.breatheright.com/faqs#reg2
You will (probably) find out within the first night if it helps with your nasal breathing – after 30 minutes of putting it on I need to use a few tissues; afterwards my nose stays clear. I say probably because I usually have trouble with my sinuses – I don’t know how much help it is for more healthy folks. You can pick them up at a CVS/local pharmacy/etc.
It took about a week for the better breathing to translate into better sleep for me. As for why, I’ve copied below a section from that book. Not that it’s understandable 🙂
“The obstruction or resistance to breathing in your upper airway causes your chest to work much harder than during normal breathing. During this struggle for breath, the body exerts more effort to pull air into the lungs, and this causes a large change in pressure inside the chest cavity. This change in pressure has an unexpected side effect that forces more blood to flow toward the heart. The increased blood flow enters the right atrium of the heart, stretching the muscles in this chamber. Can you guess how these heart muscle cells interpret stretching? Go to the head of the class if you said, “the heart detects this change as a sign of fluid overload.” The right atrium perceives a direct threat to the body, and it must do something quickly to counteract this signal of a fluid-overload state. Any guess what? Two gold stars if you said, “it must send a signal to the kidneys to make more urine to relieve the fluid overload.” In fact, the right atrial heart muscles release a hormone known as atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) into the bloodstream, which is a diuretic—something that makes the kidneys produce more urine. In controlled research studies, patients with SDB produced more ANP and more urine than normal sleepers did. “
So many great ideas! I’m definitely going to try f.lux. I noticed over and over again that when I put the kids to bed around 9pm, I was usually so tired that I could have easily gone to bed with them. But those deadlines put me back at my computer. I was usually pretty tired for about 15 minutes then I was totally awake until about 2am (and I never considered myself a night owl). I also noticed that it was almost impossible for me to stay up this late without the computer. The blue light just might be the culprit.
Until the kids confiscated it, I used to keep a pad of paper and lighted pen next to the bed to write down those racing thoughts in the middle of the night. The pen had a button on it that turned on a little light inside of it so you could see just what you were writing. Worked wonders to clear my head and get me back to sleep.
I’m still working on the hot bath idea! 🙂