I have never been a good sleeper– the older I get, the worse I sleep. I have read numerous articles on sleeping and I was actually part of a sleep study once. Medical staff hooked me to about 300 mini-sensors, including in my ears and up my nose. They were not satisfied with the results of an overnight stay, so the next day they woke me up at 5 am. The monitored regimen was to stay awake for 2 hours, then have 30 minutes to nap, and repeat all day for another eight hours (still with all the sensors). Bottom line– I did not suffer from sleep apnea or any other known disease or disorder.
In the follow-up appointment with my doctor, a prescription for sleeping pills was given to me. I would save them for special nights, aka when I had a test the next day, sleeping on a plane, etc. I didn’t return to the doctor again because although the study confirmed what I always knew (I had extreme difficulties getting deep, restful sleep and falling into my REM cycle), the only solution the doctor provided was sleeping pills. I was 20 years old and didn’t think that was how I wanted to go through life.
In an effort to enhance the quality of my sleep, I started to practice healthy sleeping habits. Below is a list of tendencies and coping mechanisms for making it easier to fall asleep, and remain asleep. All of these I currently practice– some I read about and tried, others I made up. Regardless, they have proven to be practical and effective for me.
- Find the pillow(s) that work for you. Spend the necessary time and money to pick out high quality pillows. I have figured out for the ideal comfort that I need 1 squishy pillow to hug, and two firm pillows– one under my head and one between my knees. (I call myself a pillow snob). If you know you are a pillow snob (don’t feel bad), travel with a pillow on the airplane or to sleep-overs.
- …Which leads me to the next point. My spine feels more inline when I have a pillow between my knees. Maybe this is because I am a woman with hips, but for whatever reason, this helps me (try it!).
- The next few tips are all about the environment in the bedroom. Build a calm and relaxed ambiance in your bedroom. I start dimming the lights about one hour before I want to fall asleep. I avoid bright lights and loud music.
- Burn incense. This is another association I make in my mind. When I smell the incense burning, my mind knows its time to start winding down.
- Turn a fan on low to drown out extra noise. This may not be a problem for those of you in rural areas, but even coyotes get annoying at 4 am. Fans are also extremely helpful for hot flashes (don’t worry Mom, no one knows I’m talking about you) and for those who like constant air circulation.
- I am always cold and I find it most enjoyable and less shocking to get into a warm bed. I have a heated blanket that goes under my fitted sheet (that way you can’t kick it off during the night). If you are sleeping with a person with a warmer internal temperature, make sure you find one with dual controls. It is like preheating the oven– turn it on when you start dimming the lights and burning the incense. (I got mine for less than $100, worth every penny–especially in the winter. You can also turn it down/off once you get into bed if you get overheated).
- The foamy mattress thing. I’ll never forget the 15 minute debate in my mind while standing in the aisle at Target: Do I really need this? It’s almost $100, that seems like a lot for foam…Then I had the epiphany that there are few things more important than my health, and quality sleep is absolutely crucial to attaining this.
- Set multiple alarms. I used to run boot camps Mon-Fri at 5:30 am. I found myself nervous about over-sleeping. I set my alarm clock, cell phone, and stereo to make it so it was literally impossible to not wake up. Double and triple check these, every night. (Same goes for an early flight out if you are traveling). Also, have someone else check them if you worry (or just tend to make dumb mistakes).
- Resist the temptation to drink coffee/alcohol starting during late afternoon (about 3 pm). A couple of beers or a latte create a caffeine problem for me, although countless times I have watched my mom drink cups of coffee after dinner and still collapse into bed soon after. Tea is a wonderful option to unwind, just makes sure its decaf (I like chamomile!).
- Pee (extra) right before bed. There is nothing worse than laying down to go to sleep and feeling pressure on your bladder. (Remember, you are already relaxed and smelling your incense, in your preheated oven of a bed, and don’t want to get out). I usually go to the bathroom twice in the last 15 minutes before I actually get into bed.
- Remove the alarm clock from view. Let yourself relax in your bedroom. I turn the clock over so I cannot see what time it is. What does it matter? (You have set 3 alarms, so you know you cannot over-sleep). Looking at the time will most likely get you wound up and upset that you are awake.
- If you wake up and don’t immediately go back to sleep– get up. Walk around, go to the bathroom, sit up and drink water. Move and release your brain from sitting there stewing over how frustrating it is to not be able to sleep.
- Keep a journal at your bedside. Scribble things down that you remember, that way your mind will let you forget them. My aunt does this almost nightly– sometimes she can read her writing from the night before, and sometimes she cannot. I keep it by the bedside because often right before I fall asleep, I remember something to do, to tell someone, or something I don’t want to forget. Write it down so you can allow your mind the opportunity to let it go.
- Use essential oils to relax your face before bed. I put a couple drops on my pointer fingertips, and gently massage my temples and my third eye (the spot in between your eyes). The third eye can hold a lot of tension for those who furrow your forehead. The oils leave a very light scent, but most of all the gentle massage instantly relaxes me (my favorite is lavender oil).
- Practice deep breathing to relax your body and to quiet your mind (yes, the yoga in me). The easiest breathing technique: inhale for 5 counts, hold for 5, exhale for 5. Try and make these breaths as long, slow, and controlled as possible. Whether or not you know it, your mind will concentrate on your breathing, and not the thoughts racing through your head. I use this right before bed if I’m having trouble getting my thoughts to slow down and be quiet, or if I wake up and I’m frazzled because I know it’s the middle of the night and I should be asleep (it can be particularly frustrating if your partner sleeps like a rock and you do not).
- Count your blessings. There, I said it. Not sheep, blessings (I know it’s still corny). It is a great reminder of how lucky we all are, and I literally have so many things to be thankful for, that I could go all night. It creates a really positive energy when you look back at falling asleep the night before, and all you can remember is thinking of all the great things in your life (and maybe it inspires positive dreams!).