When I was a little girl, I hated going to bed more than almost everything. I know, I know – I’m an alien. But seriously, I turned into a monster whenever my mom told me to brush my teeth and put on my pajamas because it meant I had to go to sleep. I was very passionate about staying awake for as long as possible. Sleeping was for the weak. And I was not weak.
Fast-forward two decades and I’m a certified sleep-aholic. I don’t know when the transition happened, probably some time in college when I experienced a brief glance at the real world, but I’m very committed to sleep. I try to get a solid 7-8-hours every night, but sometimes it’s not humanly possible. Sometimes the book I’m reading is too captivating and I end up staying awake until 1:00 in the morning turning pages like a madwoman (have you read Gillian Flynn’s stuff? It’s too good). Sometimes resisting 3 more episodes of Making a Murderer is unfeasible. And sometimes Facebook publishes too many animal videos on my newsfeed. Seriously, if you can say no to a video montage of kittens doing stupid things, you’re also an alien.
Quality sleep is critical to our health, our wellbeing, and our sanity – yet it’s one of the most difficult habits to master.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. That’s a lot of sleep-deprived (and angry) Americans. Think about it – when was the last time you got a full 8 hours of shut eye? When was the last time you woke up feeling 100% refreshed and rejuvenated? When was the last time you were ready for your alarm to sound?
Okay, maybe no one is ever actually ready for their alarm to go off (except on Christmas morning), but you know what I mean.
Americans’ lack of sleep is a real issue, and it’s a contributing factor to many health problems across the country, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, to name a few. So, what can we do? We get a better night’s sleep, that’s what. We become more mindful of our bedtime habits. We treat our bodies the way they were meant to be treated.
It sounds simple but, judging by the startling statistics and the harsh realities of life, it’s not. It’s freaking hard.
To help, we compiled a few sleep-enabling tips and tricks you should start practicing ASAP:
1. Shut down your digital devices. This one’s tough, I know, but it’s so important. I’ve fallen into a bad habit of scrolling through my social media channels right before bed. Those dang cat videos, I tell ya – they’re hilarious, but they might be killing me. Literally. The blue light from our screens actually deters our brain from switching into sleep-mode, according to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. Even worse, it makes us sleepier the next day, resulting in a snow-ball effect of bad sleep behavior. In fact, according to this article published by The Sleep Judge, we should avoid our tech devices at least two hours before hitting the hay. So put down your phone, pick up a real book, and spend time unwinding with some good ole’ fashioned reading. Your life might depend on it.
2. Take a warm bath. Your body temperature increases while you’re lounging in the sudsy tub. Afterward, the cool air gradually decreases your body temperature, signaling the production of melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone. You’ll wake up the next morning feeling refreshed, energized, and smelling like a flower shop.
3. Meditate. Meditation is an excellent tool for calming your mind and preparing your body for rest. Findings from a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that practicing mindful meditation before bed improves sleep quality and decreases a person’s likelihood for insomnia, depression, and fatigue. Meditation shuts off your brain’s arousal system, according to the lead author of the study, David S. Black, and “appears to be a safe and sensible health promoting practice to improve sleep quality.”
4. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow. If you find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night only to wake up with a back full of knots, it’s probably time you head to the mattress store and upgrade the goods. My husband and I recently purchased a new mattress that makes us feel like we’re sleeping on a cumulus cloud. It’s outrageously comfortable, and we haven’t had a bad night’s sleep since. Try testing out pillow thicknesses, too. Personally, I like flat pillows that look more like a plush rug than a pillow. Other people like resting their heads on bricks. Even if it means spending some extra cash, your body will thank you for it.
5. Hide your alarm clock. How many times have you caught yourself wide awake during the night because you’re worried about your alarm going off? Maybe you have a big project at work the next day. Maybe you have a flight to catch. Or maybe you’re in a constant state of paranoia and you wake up every twenty minutes to glance at your clock. Regardless, try hiding your alarm in a drawer or a room nearby. The less anxious and stressed you are about waking up on time, the more likely you’ll be able to sleep through the night.
6. Nix the caffeine after noon. Coffee in the morning sometimes feels like a life necessity. And by sometimes I mean always. But drinking too much caffeine has damaging effects, especially when it comes to your sleep habits. The fix – avoid consuming any form of caffeine after noon. This will help your body prepare for a quality snooze fest that evening.
7. Break out your inner nerd and practice math equations. This last one is a little eccentric, but I swear it works. While you’re laying in bed, give yourself a challenging math problem to solve. I’m not talking simple addition or multiplication. I mean challenging, make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out math equations. For instance, what’s 41.7% of 986? Your brain might hurt for a minute while you’re trying to equate the numbers in your head, but you’ll find yourself asleep in no time dreaming about numbers and such. Try it. It’s like counting sheep, but way more affective.