Here are eight ways to strengthen your body's sleep-wake rhythm and enjoy more restful nights
by Erin Baldwin
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep and sleep-related problems play a role in a large number of human disorders and affect almost every field of medicine. At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems. These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving, and social activities.1
John Hopkins Medicine
Reduce exposure to blue light before bed and increase exposure to natural light during the day. Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm (circa, about; dia, day), a 24 hour cycle that strongly influences our sleep-wake pattern. Light exposure affects our circadian rhythm by influencing the secretion of a hormone called melatonin. Exposure to excessive light before bed suppresses normal melatonin secretion, increases the time needed to fall asleep and decreases sleep quality.
Allow your core temperature to drop before bed. One of your body's most important cues to go to sleep is the natural drop in core temperature during the late evening. Warming your feet by using socks or a heating pad can actually support the decreasae in your core temperature. Taking a warm bath or foot bath in the evening causes a subsequent rapid cooling of your body, preparing it for sleep.
Make your bedroom a sacred space. Your brain can be conditioned to make strong associations and respond accordingly. We want our brains to subconsciously associate our bedroom with relaxation. While in bed, do not watch television, spend time on social media, or read the news. If overthinking is preventing you from falling asleep, get out of bed and go to another part of the house think, white, or relax. Keeping your bedroom clean and organized also helps create a relaxing atmosphere
Stick to a sleep schedule. Commit to a bedtime and waking time that you can stick to on most days. This will strengthen your circadian rhythm, and thereby ease insomnia.
Wind down before bed. We don't spend enough time getting ready for bed. You likely have a full morning routine to prepare for an entire day at work or school, yet neglect your preparation for the 7-9 highly important hours that you spend in bed. Allow your mind to transition into a calmer state as bedtime approaches. Listen to soothing music, practice self-massage, stretch, or speak gently with your loved ones.
Rethink your sleeping position. Before you close your eyes, take the time to get your body aligned and elongated. If you are in a position that places strain on your joints, your sleep will be disturbed by the need to make adjustments throughout the night. An additional benefit to maintaining good sleep posture is that it can reduce daytime aches and pains.
Cut back on nighttime use of alcohol and certain anti-anxiety medications. While making this change is challenging for many, any improvements that you can make in this area will do wonders for your sleep quality and daytime energy levels. Alcohol causes you to fall asleep faster, but it also decreases sleep quality later in the night.
This is one of the most important part of improving sleep quality. One of the most effective ways to relieve stress is regular physical activity. Exercise at least a few hours before bedtime to allow elevated adrenaline levels to return to baseline. Maintaining a comprehensive to-do list is helpful in reducing the overthinking that can occur when you are trying to wind down for bed.