Sleep can be an elusive trickster. Just about in the snore zone, and the sleep transition moment slips through your fingers like sand. You find yourself staring at the ceiling.
For many, it is our brains that are the pesky bedmate. The moment we lie down our brains start one long run-on sentence. “Wanna think about stuff? Did you call the electrician? What if you don’t remember in the morning? Do we need apples? What are Catskills?”
Not being able to fall asleep is frustrating, and lack of sleep can negatively affect our health in dozens of ways. Anxiety, depression, pain, digestion, cognitive function, and many other issues can arise from poor sleep. Being able to fall asleep and stay asleep is an ongoing issue and struggle for millions.
What if there were eight simple measures we could take to make consistent sleep a reliable conclusion at the end of our busy days? It is not only possible, but probable if you spend a little time working on your sleep environment. Create the perfect sleep cave, and you will arise fresher, brighter, and optimally energized.
SLEEP CAVE HACKS TO MAKE YOU SLEEP EASY
- INCONSISTENT ROUTINE – A new parent knows that getting a baby on a consistent routine is paramount to early sleep success. Baby is happiest when the routine is the same. Predictability allows baby to relax and not be on alert for what is coming next. That relaxation pushes the child’s nervous system away from sympathetic (fight or flight,) toward parasympathetic (rest and restore.) As adults, we are wired the same way. A consistent, reliable routine tells our body that it is time to start shutting down. Turn the lights down two hours before bed. The act of doing certain shutting down the house, taking a sauna session, performing stretches before bed, maintaining the order in which you brush teeth, floss, and wash your face can become a signal to your brain to “get ready; it is dream time.”
- NUTRITION – It is common knowledge that you are “not supposed to eat before bed.” I disagree. This issue with eating before bed is that the selected late-night calories are typically junk foods and over our recommended calorie intake for the day. If you like to have a little snack before bed, then do it. Just make sure it does not tip you into “overeating.” But remember, foods like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are to be avoided. They are stimulants and are therefore counter-productive to the winding down process we so desperately need before “lights out.”
- STARING AT SCREENS – There are two problems with staring at a screen before bed. The blue/green light is highly stimulating to the brain, and the unnatural light suppresses melatonin, a key hormone for sleep induction. As a result, it becomes difficult to slow the brain waves down for sleep. The second problem with before bed screen time is that seeing flashes of images, words, and sounds before you try to sleep tells your brain, “wake up!” Ideally, screens would be shut down an hour before you turn in.
- OVERSTIMULATED –A workout, household tasks, or a lively conversation with a friend, overstimulation is going to dump adrenaline into the system. This can result in a longer wind down period for your brain. Consider ways you can decrease stimuli before bed. If you have a crazy household with kids and laundry and general pandemonium, you may need to create a sacred space in your bedroom that is off limits to the rest of the household’s chaos. Consider the paint, the lighting, and the art. You might even make a rule that no technology, or anything that reminds you of the tasks of the day, are allowed in the room. Be assured; your brain picks up on that unfolded load of laundry in the corner.
- MAN’S BEST FRIEND – Many studies have concluded that sleeping with a dog or cat decreases your sleep quality by an average of 53%. You wake up more frequently, and so do they. Most animal trainers will agree, Man’s Best Friend is better in his own space, and so are you. If you have sleep issues at all and “Rufus” is sharing your sleep space, he is going to have to go. Dr. Michael Breus, a.k.a. The Sleep Doctor, shares some great insight on sleeping with pets in this article.
- NOT DARK OR COOL – Here is something “cool,” our body produces more sleep-inducing hormones like Melatonin when it is working on rewarming from a cooled state. One of the best ways to get better sleep is to cool down the room significantly. As your body tries to re-warm under the covers, the drowsiness ensues. The same effect occurs with darkness. Don’t think you are fooling your body if you do a half job of making the room dark. Also, those cute little LED night lights slow Melatonin production, and so they are keeping you awake.
- INCONSISTENT BEDTIME – During pre-electricity days people went to bed at sundown and got up at sun-up. There was a deep consistency to their routine. No one was staying up until 2 AM in the morning on the weekend and then trying to force their bodies back into a schedule come Sunday night. The body is not designed to do well with this bio-cycle shifting. Remember our first point about routine? Your body craves consistency. Getting to bed at the same time and waking at the same time can be wondrous for your sleep hygiene.
- AYURVEDIC RULES – Ayurvedic medicine believes that your body runs on 90-minute cycles. As the day advances, your body will get sleepy at a time that it wants you to head under the sheets. If the time is a time of day that is not appropriate for you to head to bed don’t worry, the cycle comes around again in 90 minutes. If you get sleepy at 6 PM, too early for most, then you can know that your predictably best bedtimes are 7:30, 9:00, and 10:30
Good quality sleep is more essential than just about any other health consideration. Neglect or ignore it and serious issues can ensue. Take the time to apply a few of the above recommendations to create your personal sleep cave, and you will be in the snore zone before you can count three sheep.