How many nights have you spent in bed, tossing and turning and being unable to sleep, only to wake up the next morning groggy and tired? If you answer many times, that’s a sign that your body clock, otherwise known as the “circadian rhythm” is out of sync with your sleep cycle.
There are many things that can cause this. Maybe you’ve worked night shifts for a long time that switching into day shifts has messed up your body. Or overnight cram study sessions, work deadlines, a newborn baby needing to look after. Nonetheless, it’s a problem that can affect your mental, emotional and physical state. Not sleeping right will make you cranky and lethargic, but in the long term it will seriously damage your health.
In 2015, research has shown that there is a link between disrupted circadian rhythm and risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
For such a high price to pay, you obviously gain more than just a good night’s rest if you change the way you think about sleeping. Here are some simple tips that will help.
1. Optimize your bedroom for sleep.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary - a place where you can rest and relax to the utmost. It’s your comfort that’s important.
Some people find sleeping with nightlights or light peeking through difficult. Switch off light-emitting objects and get thicker curtains to block outside sources. If you’re sensitive to noises too, these curtains also muffle sound - very helpful if you’re living in the city.
Consider investing sleep optimization technology such earbuds weighted sleeping masks if you sleep a lot in shared spaces. The microbeads touch on key relaxation pressure points and blocks out light, making it the perfect alternative if you sleep with a pillow on your head. There are a lot of ambient noise apps and sleep earbuds you can try if you fall asleep faster with ambient noise.
Remember those warm, sticky summer nights that keep you awake? Ambient temperature plays a role in the sleep cycle. Turn the aircon’s cool settings down a little, cooler temperatures induce sleep better.
Keep distracting objects such as your phone in a drawer so you won’t be tempted to play with it when you can’t sleep. Making your sleeping environment optimal for sleeping, and that means removing things that prevent you from doing so.
2. Your pre-bedtime rituals might be preventing you from falling asleep.
What do you do before bedtime? They may be the culprits for keeping you awake.
Eating and drinking before bed, especially when you’re stuffed, isn’t just bad for your digestion, it also negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. There’s a heaviness that’s present when lying down with a full stomach that persists while your food is being digested, and it takes a while for it to go away. By that time, you’ve probably missed your bedtime.
Inversely, going to bed with an empty stomach is also bad. Your hunger will keep you awake, the churning in your stomach will wake you up. It’s ideal to eat a light dinner a few hours before sleeping, light being the keyword.
Some people’s sleeping problems are usually due to coffee late at night. Caffeine and nicotine, being stimulants, will keep you up and will wreck your sleeping habits. Alcohol will make you sleepy but you’ll pay for it with a parched mouth and bad aftertaste when you wake up.
Avoid late afternoon naps if you can. If it’s unavoidable, set an alarm for no longer than 30 minutes. The energy you gain, if unspent, will make you alert and active when you should start feeling sleepy.
Regularly exercising in the day will also help. You benefit by maintaining your weight and protecting your health, and it will also tire you out so by evening you’ll want to crash into bed. Keep your regimen in the morning though, exercising boosts epinephrine which increases your heart beat and makes you more alert to react, which is the opposite of sleepy.
Sometimes, it’s not the environment or our habits that keep us awake. It’s the worries that hound us that make it hard to just shut down. Find an outlet for your thoughts to clear your head. Writing your thoughts in a journal helps. Try turning off the noise in your head by thinking, “Okay, that’s enough for today. Things will be better when I wake up”. This mental trick will condition your brain into slowing down and starting the sleep cycle.
3. Stick to your sleep schedule
It’s the irregularity of our habits that confuses our body. Create a pre-bed routine and try to follow it as much as you can.
For example, start by having a light dinner. Take a warm bath after eating. This a cue for your body that you’re getting into relaxation mode. Studies show taking a warm bath 90 minutes before bedtime helps in getting deep sleep. Then a nightcap. There are lot of herbal drinks you can take an hour before bedtime that helps induce sleep. Lavender tea is especially popular because it helps relieve stress, decreases anxiety, and improves sleep quality especially among people with anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Don’t do this in your bed though. Your bed should only be for sleeping, making love and relaxation and it’s important that your body realizes this association.
Also, pee before sleeping. The call of nature will wake you up regardless, so better head to the toilet yourself.
Preventing yourself from mental stimulation is key. While there’s nothing wrong about reading a few pages of a novel, watching a bit of Youtube, you’ll never know what’s going to capture your attention. How many times have you been kept up by an idea that struck you before bed time? Precisely. That’s why it’s better to keep away from them.
4. Wake up right
Waking up plays a part as big as your bedtime routine in the sleep/wake cycle. Your body wakes you because you need food after fasting.
Have a hearty and healthy breakfast. It should include plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, multigrain cereal) and no sugar. Your body will remember when breakfast is, so you’ll eventually wake up at the same time everyday.
During the day, get yourself some sunshine! Get a healthy dose of sunshine, but remember the sunscreen. A short, 10 minute walk will soak up the sunlight you need for your body. It releases hormones that increase the feeling of wakefulness.
Better yet, start your day with a morning jog - you’ve worked up a sweat, plus you’re fully awake!
In the end, it’s about cues, habits and discipline.
What your body needs is consistency. It needs you to follow a sensible, day-to-day routine to know when you power you up and shut you down. Starting a healthy sleep/wake routine to improve your sleep cycle is going to be hard, even more difficult trying to stick to it.
In the beginning it’s going to be challenging forcing yourself to go to bed earlier than usual, and you might just end up staring at the ceiling. But eventually, when your body picks up on your cues and adjusts, it sleep will visit you earlier.