Since the beginning of time, people have struggled with sleep. The sleepless night is not a new phenomenon, and as a result, there is no shortage of advice on how to bring on the sleepy state that lets your brain and body rest. There is no magic trick that will work for everyone, especially because people’s reasons for sleeplessness are as varied as their lives and circumstances. Still, we all need sleep.
Co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, has written a book on the crisis and consequences of sleep deprivation. In her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, she looks at the many ways that sleep deprivation has borne consequences across our lives, compromising everything from our decision-making ability to our physical health and even our sex lives. She says that what we need more than anything is nothing short of a sleep revolution. “By renewing our relationship with sleep, we can take back control of our lives,” she writes.
If you’re looking to improve your sleep life, here are some scientifically proven principles for good sleep habits, straight from Huffington’s newest book.
Let there be (less) light. Take steps, even before you climb into bed, to turn down the lights and make your bedroom a dark, calming environment. As you get ready for bed, consider even turning off the bathroom lights and doing your bedtime routine by the light from the hallway instead. Every bit of darkness tells your brain that it’s time to wind down and start dosing up the sweet nectar of melatonin.
Turn down the heat! Sleep researchers suggest that the ideal sleeping temperature is between 60-65 degrees, and the National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping in a room that’s regulated for 65 degrees. Our bodies have a natural temperature cycle in our sleep, and a small drop in body temperature can signal our brains that it’s time to relax.
Get some exercise. We tend to sleep better when we make room for physical activity throughout the day. When you give your body the chance to move, whether on a bike ride, a hike, or in a series of yoga poses, it’s much easier to unwind and fall asleep. Even when your day is packed from beginning to end, look for ways to squeeze in some movement, like taking a longer route to the subway, walking kids to school, parking at the back of the lot, or choosing the stairs instead of the elevator. Rather than trying to add an occasional long workout to your day, which demands a big commitment, try exercising for just twenty minutes, at least five days a week.
Watch what you eat. Huffington includes a helpful adage: “Eat right, sleep tight; Eat wrong, up all night long.” Sadly, there’s some truth to it. You can’t eat your way to a better night’s sleep, but you can eat your way to a bad one. Enjoy your morning cup of joe, but limit your caffeine intake later in the day. Avoid larger meals late at night in order to avoid acid reflux and to lessen the symptoms of sleep apnea. Some research suggests we avoid salty foods, ice cream, and an evening nightcap (admittedly, this is starting to feel like giving up everything).
Identify what is causing your stress. The most common nonmedical causes of insomnia are stress and anxiety. Worst of all, people who can’t sleep are stressed out, and their stress makes it harder to sleep, which adds to the things they’re worried about. It’s a vicious spiral of sleeplessness and morning-after fog. Consider doing what Huffington calls The Mind Dump. Before bed, write down all the things you can think of that you need to do. This simple process can empty your mind and reassure your subconscious that you don’t need to remember your tasks during the night. Your to-do list can—and will—wait until morning.
Count your blessings, instead of sheep. Make gratitude part of your nightly routine. When you lie awake sleeplessly, when your mind is spinning with problems to solve, choose to reframe those problems as blessings to learn from. Think of what you can learn from this season in your life, this challenge you’re facing. Either with a mental list, a silent reciting, or on actual pen and paper, make sure your blessings get to close the curtain on the day.
Try a sleep app. There is no magical, technological way to cram eight hours of sleep into four, but there are some apps that offer guided meditation or soft music to lull you to sleep. The key, however, is to refuse the temptations of having all of your data and social media at your fingertips if you wake a few hours later in the middle of the night
Take a deep breath. Huffington says breathing is her favorite sleep hack. Take a deep breath, and breathe deeply, just as if you were asleep. Even if it doesn’t immediately put you to sleep, it can help you to calm down and relax, two necessary precursors to sleep. Visualize images that evoke peace and serenity, breathe slowly and deeply, and become comfortable with your stillness.
Sleep and dreams offer us what has become harder and harder to find in our waking lives: renewal. It is your daily freedom to step away from everyday concerns. There are no shortcuts to sleep, but the busyness of our lives will only get worse if we don’t prioritize rest. When you reclaim your sleep, your hold in your hands the secret to a better, stronger, healthier you.
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Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This: Seizing the Confidence God Offers. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.