By Kimberly Blaker
For many, getting a solid night’s sleep is as elusive as winning the lottery. Getting too little sleep is so common that it’s become almost a badge of honor to get through each day with sleep deprivation. Even if you feel like you can function on little sleep, it’s actually debilitating, if not dangerous, to a person’s health and mental faculties.
Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of obesity, memory impairment, illness, and even hallucinations or death. Falling asleep is a common problem. But sleep quality is also crucial for optimum brain function and recovery. Fortunately, there are many ways to train your body and mind to fall asleep more quickly and improve your sleep quality.
Create a relaxing nighttime ritual. Starting a routine to wind down every night creates an association between nighttime habits and sleep, preparing your body to relax and fall asleep more quickly. Try drinking a soothing tea like chamomile. Or use aromatherapy with scents such as lavender that promote relaxation.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This gets your body into a regular sleep-wake pattern, which regulates your circadian rhythm and makes falling and staying asleep easier. It may be tempting to sleep in on the weekends to make up for lost sleep. But this may actually hurt you in the long term.
Avoid alcohol at night. Though it may help you fall asleep, drinking alcohol before bed significantly reduces your sleep quality.
Be careful with naps. A long afternoon nap can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. So keep naps short and as early in the day as possible.
Track your sleep. Different technologies are available to track your sleeping patterns, including restlessness, awake and sleep times, and even how long you’re in each part of the sleep cycle. This can help you find how many hours you individually need for optimal function.
Practice meditation and mindfulness. Regularly practicing these can help calm your mind and body. Progressive relaxation is one technique. Through it, you slowly focus on each part of your body, moving from head to feet, while releasing tension and consciously relaxing your muscles.
Avoid screens an hour before bed. Looking at the bright light is stimulating. Likewise, so is much of the content on the screens. If you use screens at night, glasses are available to filter out the blue light to prevent eye strain.
Use breathing techniques. One popular method to fall asleep is known as 4-7-8. First, breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath for 7, and exhale out your mouth for 8.
Listen to soothing white noise, music, or podcasts. Many of these audio productions are designed to help put you to sleep.
Stop drinking caffeine after midday. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can affect your mind and body hours after consumption.
Make sure your room is dark for sleep and that you get natural light during the day. This regulates your circadian rhythm and provides external cues for your body.
Exercise in the morning. Being physically active, especially early in the day, is associated with better sleep.
Journal or keep paper by your bed. Do you have a hard time falling asleep because your mind is racing? Writing down your thoughts can help to keep them from swirling incessantly through your brain so you can relax.
Use your bed and bedroom for sleep only. This creates a specific association, so your body and mind know it’s time to rest. Also, keep electronics out of the bedroom.
Try a natural supplement. Melatonin, magnesium, and CBD are some of the options touted as supporting relaxation and sleep. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any supplements to ensure you do so safely.
If behavioral changes aren’t working, discuss your sleep concerns with your doctor. You may have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder that requires medical intervention. Depending on your doctor’s findings, medications and breathing treatments may help improve your sleep.