Our bodies are biologically inclined to include sleep. You may have heard this instinct referred to as the circadian clock, and it is what encourages us to fall asleep when the sun goes down and wake when it rises. Many years ago, before the invention of electricity, people followed this cycle of sleeping and waking. However, modern times and technology have changed our natural sleep patterns. If our internal clock gets thrown out of balance, it can be hard to get back into a normal sleep pattern.
The ‘master clock’ of the body exists into the hypothalamus of the brain, and it is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This part of the brain is responsible for receiving information about light from the retina of the eyes and sending that information to other parts of the brain. This includes the section of the brain that produces sleep hormones. This means that the more light signals that your brain picks up at night, the worse your sleep will be.
Sleep deprivation can cause a multitude of physical and emotional issues. You may notice that you have sore muscles, fatigue, and general irritability. Silent symptoms include an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lead to depression and other mental health disorders. Studies have shown that extreme sleep deprivation can affect the body the same as being intoxicated. While our society often accepts sleep deprivation as a way of life, it is something that needs to be taken seriously. Fortunately, there are ways to get yourself back on track.
1. Set a Routine
Having a bedtime isn’t just for children. Getting your body adjusted to going to bed a certain time promotes a regular sleep schedule. It can take some time to establish this routine and for your body to begin to realize that it can depend on being in bed at a distinct hour. In addition to setting a bedtime, you further promote a sleep schedule by having a ‘before bed’ routine. This can include:
- Drinking a warm cup of decaffeinated tea
- Reading a book
If you stick to relaxing activities consistently, you will be training your body to expect that sleep comes next.
2. Pay Attention to Your Lighting and Environment
Light and dark play a key role in regulating our sleep patterns. Instinctually, the body knows that it gets light out when the sun rises and that it is time to wake. It also knows that when the sun has set, it gets dark and it is time to rest. Electricity allows us to stay up later, and hobbies such as watching television or playing on our cell phones further discourage sleep. An hour or two before you’re ready for bed, it can be helpful to dim the lights in the room to get your mind started on thinking of sleep. In the mornings, especially if you rise early when it is still dark out, make sure your turn on your lights to keep things bright. It will help your body realize it is time to be awake, alert, and ready for the day.
Additionally, you should evaluate your bedroom to make sure that it promotes rest and relaxation. Is your mattress comfortable? Keep in mind that they need to be replaced approximately every 9-10 years. If yours is old, you may notice a difference in your sleeping habits by simply replacing your mattress. Make sure that your pillows, sheets, and comforter are in good repair as well. You’ll want to keep your bedroom at cooler temperatures than the rest of the house if possible as studies have shown it promotes sleep.
3. Make Your Daytime Activities Conducive to Sleep
Think about the things you do during the day. Do you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages? How late in the day do you consume them? Caffeine has been known to affect the body for hours after you’ve stopped ingesting it. Play around with your caffeine habits to determine if it is having an impact on your sleep schedule. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and can’t tolerate it at all while trying to maintain a healthy sleep routine. Others can drink it late into the day and suffer no consequence.
Do you exercise during the day? In today’s world, most people have very sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to excess energy at the end of the day. Getting into an exercise routine not only increases your chances of getting better sleep, but it’s good for your overall health as well. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime, or you might get the opposite effect.
Make sure that you try to limit your daily stressors, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. If you need help decompressing, try to listen to soothing music, practice yoga or meditation, or even journaling. By finding a way to rid your mind and body of the day’s stressors, you’re helping your brain let go of excess stress and thus opening the door to a good night’s rest.
4. Try To Nap Less
If you get fatigued during the day or when you are done with work, it can be incredibly tempting to take a nap. If you are trying to change your sleep pattern, napping is going to hinder your efforts. Instead, try to do something active to rejuvenate you and give you the energy you need to make it through the rest of the day.
Similarly, it might be tempting to turn off the alarm clock on the weekends and sleep in. This can be damaging as well. The brain does not differentiate between weekdays and weekends. Altering your routine will confuse your body and disrupt the pattern you are trying to set. It helps to give yourself a reason to get out of bed and get moving. Schedule an exercise class, plan a fun morning activity, or simply go out for a cup of coffee. Anything to get you up and moving and quell the urge to hit the snooze button!
5. Keep Meal Times Reasonable
In the hustle and bustle of after work demands, it can be all too easy for dinner to be as late as 8 or 9 pm for some people. Unfortunately, our digestion is not designed for that and our metabolisms do play a part in wakefulness. Instinctually, our bodies want to be awake when food is most plentiful. If we are feeding ourselves late into the evening, our bodies will want to remain awake to ensure we take full advantage of food availability. If you typically eat dinner late, it can be helpful to engage in a fast to reset your mealtime schedule. Generally, breakfast and dinner should be around 12 hours apart, with breakfast being shortly after rising and dinner being a few hours before you plan to sleep.
6. Minimize Your Screen Time
Studies have shown that the blue light on cell phones, televisions, and E-readers can affect our sleep pattern. Not only does it interrupt the circadian rhythm, but screen time can also be disruptive of sleep hormones and sleep quality. Dim lighting is recommended in the bedroom, and if you like to read before bed, use a real book. If you simply must use your phone, make sure to engage the nighttime feature to reduce the amount of blue light you are exposed to.
Reserving your bedroom for relaxing activities only will train your brain to associate the room with rest. If you like to take your work home with you, it’s recommended that you skip using your laptop in bed. Stick to other areas of the house to get work done and leave the bedroom for sleep.
7. Keep Trying but Don’t Stress
When it’s time to lay down for sleep, be sure that the room is very dark and cool. Lay down and close your eyes, and try to clear your mind so that you can relax. Don’t stress if your body isn’t cooperating and you are still awake 20-30 minutes later. Just remain calm and resume reading or doing yoga, whatever you find to be a quick way to relax. When you feel sleepy, lay down and try again.
Patience is Key
Restructuring your sleep pattern will take time. Be consistent with your schedule and tweak your daily habits as needed. What works for one person may not work for the next. If you need some extra help falling asleep at night, you might consider using sleep technology. There are many devices on the market these days that offer a natural approach to falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. Some of these include white noise devices, sleep-inducing lighting for your room, and robots that help you to sleep. The Somnox Sleep Robot works by using scientifically proven cognitive and simulated human breathing techniques to accelerate the process of falling asleep. Its users snuggle the Sleep Robot and subconsciously replicate the physical sensation of falling and rising of the breathing of the robot. Research has shown that breathing is essential to naturally reduce stress and increase relaxation.
Additionally, the Sleep Robot provides users soothing sounds such as meditative music, ambient sounds and cognitive shuffling. Users can also upload their own audio files to the companion app. Personal preferences can be set during the day and ensure a tailored approach to improve the user’s sleep during the night. Being huggable and soft, the robot makes the user calmly doze off again.