How to set your internal clock to fall asleep fast and recharge yourself with a good night’s sleep.
Sleep. That elusive beast that escapes some of us from time to time, and others every night. It’s the one thing that we chase all day long, only to have it escape the moment our head hits the pillow at night.
image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net
As a disclaimer, I should say that I rarely have trouble falling asleep (though admittedly I do go through periods where waking up is a bit of a chore). And for the most part, I feel energetic and lively throughout my day.
But before you start writing that hateful email, I want to share with you that it wasn’t always that way for me. It’s something I’ve learned to do, and still have to employ from time to time.
So before you give up hope of ever having a good night’s sleep again, know that there are ways to improve your success in catching that wiley creature and feeling rested and revived each and every morning.
Eat right and get regular exercise.
We all know how important diet and exercise are to our overall health. But believe it or not there are a number of reasons to consider it for your sleep health as well.
Not long ago, I was overweight. Like “a quarter pounder away from 250 lbs” overweight. And I felt like crap. I’d often fall asleep at my desk and hardly be able to sit through an afternoon meeting.
But I made a decision to turn it around, and on the urging of my doctor I set out to lose the weight that I had packed on. His actual words were “You’re fat. I’m your doctor and when I say that you have to agree with me.” Which if I’m being honest with myself, was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Had he said anything not so abruptly, I probably would not have lost a total of 35 pounds, but more importantly had a total shift in body composition.
The result was amazing, and after some other adjustments (I was also diagnosed with sleep apnea) I was on my way to feeling rested and revived.
So a few tips to consider when approaching a better night’s sleep through diet and exercise:
- Limit caffeine and alcohol- It seems like a no brainer, but avoid these later in the day. Even alcohol, which while it can make you drowsy, too much can actually affect the quality of sleep you get overnight.
- Physical activity, but not too late- Exercising throughout the day can help your body regain the proper hormonal balances to help you fall asleep fast, and wake up well rested. Just don’t do it too late as vigorous activity late in the day can cause a spike in endorphins causing you to lie awake at night.
- Avoid large heavy meals and/or snacking late at night- Digestion takes a toll on your body and often if we eat too much, or foods high in fat content too late in the day, our bodies can be spending so much time working to digest that it prevents a good night’s sleep. Plus no one likes freaky dreams about being chased through the Ice Cream factory by the Pepperoni Pizza Monster. So just avoid it at night.
2. Stick to a sleep schedule
It probably comes as no surprise that your body has natural rhythms when it comes to sleep. But we can also set those rhythms much like we set a clock. These can change seasonally as our bodies interpret the amount of available light differently throughout the day.
But there are ways to keep your body and mind on schedule to get a good night’s sleep, all throughout the year.
- Go to sleep at the same time everyday- Regardless of what’s going on in your schedule, or how tired you may be at 7pm, maintaining a steady schedule is a key to making sure your “clock” keeps good time. Aim for the same time everyday (+/- 15 minutes), and in no time your body will know when it’s time to sleep
- Wake up at the same time everyday- Similar to above, and while it’s nice to sleep in on the weekends when we have nowhere to be, maintaining consistency is key to assuring that you have energy everyday, not just on the weekend. Use the extra time in the morning to do something good for yourself like catching up on reading, a leisurely walk outside, or writing that book!
- Increase your light exposure throughout the day- A key ingredient in a good night’s sleep is the production of melatonin. The function of this hormone is to regulate day-night cycles (fun fact, human infants don’t regulate the production of this hormone until about 3 months. So give that 1 month old baby crying at 2am a break next time!) Melatonin is produced at night, or in darkness, so to counter the feeling of sleepiness during the day, get as much natural light as possible. If natural light isn’t plentiful, try a light box, which reproduces the same spectrum of light that the sun does (and also helps in the production of vitamins A and D. Bonus!)
3. Create a bedtime ritual
Next up for getting a good night’s sleep, is creating a nighttime ritual. Now I don’t mean making a blood sacrifice to the god’s of sleep. What I DO mean is to create some sort of routine to trigger your brain that bedtime is about to come.
It’s really no different than how we program our own kids that it’s time for bed. We tell them to get their pajamas on, use the bathroom, brush their teeth, get a book and get in bed.
So the following list of suggestions should come as no surprise. I won’t even explain why each one is important, trusting that you get it for each one (though clearly you don’t HAVE to do each one, but pick and choose. You’re an adult, not a kid. But definitely brush your teeth too, cuz eww if you don’t)
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Do some easy stretches
- Wind down with a favorite hobby
- Listen to books on tape
- Make simple preparations for the next day
4. Get comfortable
I would bet, that if there was any single tip on this list that is probably most overlooked, it’s this one.
Now granted, it’s assumed that the best way to fall asleep fast is to have a comfortable place to do it. Think about the last time you were on your feet all day, running around, and finally collapsed in bed. How amazing did that feel? Perfection right?
But what about the days where you are carting the kids around, sitting at the computer, or generally sedentary all day? Not as noticeable with the comfort level of that bed is it?
So it really is a matter of perspective, but the 4 qualities you want to keep in mind to get a good night’s sleep are:
- Cool- Believe it or not, and I know there are some of you out there that will claim this is way too cold, but research has shown that the optimal sleep temperature is actually around 65 degrees F. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t sleep with blankets, but sleeping in a room above 68 degrees or below 60 can have an adverse effect on your sleep.
- Dark- Remember that last section about getting more light throughout the day? Just reverse it here. Melatonin is produced in darkness and melatonin is the single most important hormone in getting a good night’s sleep.
- Quiet- This is a big one for most people, as we never really learned young enough how to sleep in a noisy world. But quiet doesn’t necessarily mean noiseless. White noise can be a good thing, such as the sound of a fan or some other type of device.
- Assess your mattress and pillow- I know that pillow is the one you’ve used for the last 17 years and was the most comfortable one you’ve ever used. But it may be time to retire it. And on that same topic, how’s your mattress? Did you know that, like the tires on your car, your mattress should be rotated to maintain longevity? Both the mattress and pillow can get worn out through use, and to maintain the designed comfort level and reduce pressure points consider rotating these two items
5. Manage stress
This is the one you’ve been waiting for. After all, it’s the most common cause of sleepless night’s whether it’s having a hard time falling asleep, or falling BACK to sleep after waking up.
It’s time to fall asleep and now your brain, which you thought shut down during that 2pm team meeting, and stayed asleep when you were mindlessly watching reality TV, wants to talk.
And it’s not the good productive talk that reminds you of the awesomeness that you exhibited all day. Nope, old brainy wants to chat about what you forgot to do, what you’ve gotta get done tomorrow, and all those old little habits and hiccups from your past.
Well it’s time to teach your brain a little lesson about shutting its mouth if you really want to have a good night’s sleep.
Here are a few things you can try:
- Deep breathing- Oxygen is good for you. (I know, that falls into the category of “Water is wet, and ice is cold”, but bear with me) Breathing deeply provides the much needed oxygen that your brain needs. And that craving is perfectly displayed when you yawn. In taking a deliberate slow deep breath, what you’re actually doing is triggering the parasympathetic nervous system thus causing your body to relax and reach a state of calmness.
Also, by focusing on your breathing, it’s taking your mind off of that to-do list and on to something that your brain actually wants more than to nag you. So give it what it wants.
- Progressive muscle relaxation- This may have been something you’ve done as a kid when you played “Light as a feather, stiff as a board”. A funny little aspect of our sleep patterns as humans is something called sleep paralysis. Sleep Paralysis (also known as muscle atonia) naturally occurs during REM sleep, and is believed to occur to prevent us from acting out our dreams. It’s a state of complete muscle relaxation, and as aforementioned in the “light as a feather” game can actually be attained while still awake
To do this, start at your toes and completely relax each muscle through to your scalp by intentionally focusing on each. Move your way up and through each muscle until your body is completely relaxed.
By aligning yourself with the state of deep sleep, this well help you get a good night’s sleep. The key here is not to focus on falling asleep, but to make your goal complete relaxation.
Which leads me to my last tip:
- The release technique- This is actually a form of meditation that I learned through Brendon Burchard, and I’ve found it extremely helpful when I want to grab my quick 20 minute power nap in the afternoon.
The release technique is a meditative practice designed to clear your mind from anything that’s going on. To do this, simply develop a cadence in repeating the word “Release” either out loud or to yourself (I’ve personally found that it really doesn’t matter) while allowing any thought that comes to mind simply to enter your mind and float off into the stream of consciousness. Instead of focusing on the stresses and worries of our life, and even trying to fight them off, it’s much better to just allow them to come to mind and then go away. It’s kind of like anything that annoys you. If you ignore it and postpone its importance, it will slip off into the same place it came from.
So when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, you are now armed with 5 things to consider. Start implementing these 5 simple tips to getting the rest you so desperately need.
What do you need to change to start getting a good night’s sleep?
Be sure to comment below!