11 Ways to Improve Your Sleeping Habits

Keep books and bed separate, to train your brain that your bed (and not your books) is only for sleeping.

We’re all busy people. We’re so busy, in fact, that we often neglect healthy sleeping habits. The average adult should be getting close to 8 hours of sleep each night. When was the last time you slept for 8 hours each night, five nights in a row?

This month, we’re chatting about ways to stay healthy throughout the New Year.  Let’s start with first thing in the morning, because, let’s face it: we all need a good night’s sleep to reach our goals for the day.

Also, total disclaimer: I’m by no means a doctor. These tips are from my own experience, the experience and knowledge of friends (some of whom have conducted sleep-related studies), and research I’ve done in the past. If you do suffer from sleep deprivation, and these tips do not work for you, please see your doctor.

1. Don’t go to bed angry. It’s an old cliché that carries a lot of truth. Reserve some time before you head to bed for what my dad always calls “winding down” from your day.

Choose a time to turn off your cell phone, log-out of email, and close the computer. The few minutes it takes to disconnect and put your mind at rest will make all the difference. I find that if I’m checking email after I’ve climbed into bed, I won’t be ready to snooze once the lights are out. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Let bed be bed. Limit, within reason, the activity in your bed. Read on your couch, work at your desk, eat at your table, and sleep in your bed. In order to train your brain to associate your bed with sleepytime, you don’t want to be living in it.

3. Limit caffeine. Having any sort of caffeinated drinks after 12:00 noon could affect the way you settle once night falls.

4. Choose a wake-up time. Set your alarm and train your body to wake up at the same time every day, regardless of the time you went to sleep. This promotes a healthy sleep-wake pattern, and helps set you on the path to more regular rest.

5. Nap fast. If you’re starting to fade in the afternoon, try to power through. If you must nap, limit it to a 15 minute or less power nap. Letting your body rest too much during the day could mean you’re not ready to power down later that night.

6. Research relaxation. It could be worthwhile to learn a bit about meditative practices and rhythmic breathing to calm you down before bedtime. Check out some books from your local library (that you can read on the couch), or try a yoga class that concentrates on meditation.

7. Get physical. Try to incorporate some physical activity into your day. It could be a run in the morning or a walk in the afternoon. By getting your body active, it will feel more ready for rest at nighttime. (Just avoid strenuous workouts within the hour you’re meant to head to bed, as it could get in the way of your brain and body getting into night-mode.)

8. Do the dark. You’ll want to sleep with as little light as possible. Use curtains, or even an eyemask if you need to. A friend of mine also started using earplugs to drown out noise to help him fall asleep. Now, he swears by it.

9. Pick a protein. A light protein snack about 30 minutes before bed can help the brain produce melatonin and serotonin, which will help you sleep better. Try a glass of milk or, my favorite, a Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds.

10. Keep cool. Your body achieves its best rest after it’s cooled down, so limit any sort of warm environment that could disrupt this.

11. Invest in a bed. It sounds silly and obvious, but you want to be at your most comfortable when you’re ready to sleep. Not only does this mean finding a bed and pillows that fit you properly, but thinking about the pajamas you wear, the blankets you use, the bed sheets you buy. Visit your local store or do some online research to learn what is best for your habits and preference. Your body will thank you later.

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