10 Steps to Sleeping Well: Most of it happens before you get into bed
The Center for Disease Control has declared that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. This isn’t new information to most people but whenever the subject comes up in conversation, I’m always surprised about just how many of my friends and colleagues suffer night after sleepless night. Some have trouble falling asleep. Others have trouble staying asleep. I, on the other hand, sleep like a log, with little exception.
I monitor my sleep efficiency using a device. This nifty little device also tracks a number of other health measurements. As you can see in the screenshot taken from the FitBit site, my sleep efficiency is nearly perfect. By the way, that little blip of activity at about 4:30 AM was when the dog needed to go out. And then I fell right back to sleep again. I realize the ability to sleep so well is truly a gift but I also know there are certain things you can do to make sure sleep comes easily. FitBit Ultra
Here are 10 tips to help you get to sleep and stay asleep (most of it happens before you get into bed):
- Check that there isn’t a medical reason preventing sleep: If you or your sleeping partner snores heavily or suffers from sleep apnea, one or both of you will not be sleeping well. Go to your doctor. Snoring can indicate a potentially serious health disorder affecting blood pressure, memory and a number of other concerns.
- Ensure you are sufficiently tired: You might be mentally tired after a day at the office but it might not do it physically. Exercise is key. In addition to helping with weight control, which could affect sleep, daily exercise can put you at just the right level of fatigue so you can drift off easily when it is bedtime. Just be sure you don’t exercise too close to bedtime or you could have the opposite effect.
- Handle your daily stress during your waking hours: Everyone is subject to stress but how you handle that stress makes all the difference. Facing a long list of things to do is often a huge stressor every day for lots of people and is also named as one of the top reasons for sleep problems. Wrap up loose ends toward the end of the day and make plans on how to deal with the next barrage tomorrow. Then you must learn to let it go overnight. Have a set point when all thoughts of work or whatever is keeping you from sleeping are done for the day. I call it "work off." I work from home so this isn't easily done. Shut the computer off, turn the ringer off on the phone, close the office door and don't allow any further thoughts or discussions about work. This does not make you a bad or undedicated worker; it makes you an efficient and well-rested one.
- Manage more severe worries and upsets: Sometimes there are problems that are particularly worrying such as the illness or death of a loved one, money or legal issues or even losing your job. And some problems are just upsetting such as an argument, misunderstanding or a disappointment. These can all lead to sleepless nights. Realize that in most cases, these worries and upsets are somewhat temporary. You may just have to accept that they may affect both your waking and sleeping hours and work toward regaining normal sleep when you can. However, if you can learn to empty your mind when it is time to sleep, know that you will be better prepared to take on these issues in the morning. Allow yourself some respite from your worries and upsets.
- Play more: This one takes discipline. Many people only allow themselves playtime on weekends or vacation but play is essential every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Play can be sport or enjoyment of the outdoors, a relaxing activity such as knitting or reading or something creative like gardening or painting. It can be attending a concert or play. It can even be frolicking with your pet or reading a book aloud to your children. Whatever it is for you, choose it because it is fun, you aren’t required to do it and it makes you smile. Enriching your life with play removes you from the daily tedium that can be life and by bedtime, you’ll be ready to sleep and dream of fun times.
- Use your bedroom for sleep when it’s time to sleep: I’m not going to tell you to use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. That might work for some people but I know very few people who don’t read, talk on the phone, play Words with Friends on their smartphones or watch TV in the bedroom. Just don’t add stressors like paying the bills in bed – I’ve done that to disastrous effect. Save intense phone calls or discussions for earlier in the day. Then when it's bedtime, completely empty your mind and relax and you should be asleep in no time.
- Get your comfort on: Treat yourself to the nicest and most comfortable bed and bedding that you can afford. I stayed in a Westin hotel on a business trip and every time I laid down on that bed, I fell asleep like I was in a coma whether I was tired or not. I checked out all the sheets and blankets and pillows plus all the specifications of the mattress for their Westin Heavenly Bed to try to replicate it at home as best I could. Also although I’m a fan of the sexy negligee when it comes to sex, when it’s time to sleep, the more comfortable you make yourself, the more likely you’ll drop off quickly and stay asleep. And speaking of sex, intimacy is also a good way to de-stress, relax and induce sleep.
- Block out distracting light and sound: Room darkening shades are essential to block out streetlights, passing cars, the moon and the rising sun. Control noise pollution the best you can. White noise machines can help. I live by the beach so I have built-in white noise. On the other hand, invest in an alarm clock that is reliable and actually wakes you up so you spend no time worrying about whether you will get up on time.
- Allow problem solving while you sleep (maybe): If you can manage it without losing sleep, sometimes you can tap into a creative problem-solving mode while you sleep. I call it “controlled torment.” I used to solve graphic design, web functionality and animation problems in my dreams. I couldn't sit in a business meeting and tell people that's what I did. But, if I couldn’t get to sleep with a design issue rolling around in there, I would push it to the back of my mind and in a good, unstressed way, allow my creative brain to take over while I slept. Sometimes the ideas would be crazy and wild but my awake brain could tone those ideas down. The key to this technique is that it must not be stressful. Creative design is fun for me so the challenge to come up with a fun solution is relaxing and somewhat playful to me. If you find yourself getting stressed and sleep eludes you, cross this tip off the list.
- Learn to mediate: There are thousands of books and online resources to learn this important skill but it all boils down to learning how to empty your mind and relax your body so you can sleep. Some of my sleep-deprived friends have pointed out that they don’t have time to learn how to meditate. I always suggest they can learn while they’re not sleeping.
There are going to be times when none of these tips will work. It could be a worry weighing on your mind, a crying child or a dog that wants to go out when you want to sleep. But if you put these 10 steps into practice, there is a good chance you can become one of those people who sleep well. It is a gift you can give yourself. Sleep well, my friend.
Fitbit Ultra Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker
One of oodles of books on learning to meditate
Words with Friends
Westin Heavenly Bed
- Westin Home Collection - Westin Heavenly Bed & Bedding
Rejuvenate in plush serenity every night and wake up each morning refreshed and ready for the day. That’s the Westin difference. This unique sleep experience found in all Westin Hotels Worldwide, is available for your enjoyment at home. Exclusively r