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Sleep Like A Baby

Updated on January 1, 2014

Steps to a serene sleep

You've probably read plenty of articles and heard plenty of news stories quoting all kinds of experts on how to sleep better. There's never a shortage of commercials for sleep aids, some with some pretty crazy side effects and you can't forget the ones for mattresses promising to sweep you away to sandman-land.

I'm going to be up-front with you. I'm not an expert in anything related to sleep studies, mattress making, drugs or anything scientific. However, I too suffered from poor sleep. I tried sleep aids (the more conventional over the counter ones-I don't want to be driving in my sleep). I was addicted to my morning jolt of caffeine just to get me through the morning. I had pretty much decided I was just going to live the rest of my life going through the same pills at night, pills in the morning type routine. Then I started having stomach problems from all the pills and caffeine. And I knew I had to try something else. This is what I did.

Step one

Evaluating your sleep space

Ok, we've all heard about soothing colors and taking the TV out of the room. Face it, in the modern family, sometimes the bedroom TV is the only one you can use to watch what YOU want to watch. Taking out the TV or not reading in your room isn't always an option. With the growth of master suites, many master bedrooms were built to be a haven for sleep and relaxation.

What you really need to do is sit or stand in the room and think about what bothers you. Is that electronic thing-a-ma-jig in the corner emitting really bright light, possibly enough to disturb you at night? Maybe the traffic on your street has increased and is more noticeable since you took down that ugly hedge? For my husband and I, it was several things. Traffic noise, an incomplete remodeling project, a bright street light and old mattress were the worst offenders. I resolved to address those main problems, then work on others as they became apparent with the removal of the biggest sleep disrupters.

Step Two

Evaluating non-enviromental factors

You probably know it's more than the physical things you've listed that disrupt your sleep. Are you stressed? Not eating right? Not exercising, or exercising too late? You need to consider these things as well.

Step Three

Deciding how to fix the problems

One you pinpoint the main issues, you have to fix them. Some might be easy-repainting a bright red wall to a muted sage green for example. Some might seem impossible, like traffic noise or relieving stress. How you resolve the problems will depend on your budget, construction abilities and creativity. You'll need to map out your plan of attack, and determine what you can do to resolve the things that keep you awake.

Some suggestions

I can't go over every possible problem you've found that's disrupting your sleep. I can, however, suggest some things that I found that worked for my husband and I.

Noise

Whether it's traffic or otherwise, unless it's a constant noise (white noise), it's probably bothering you whether you realize it or not. Our cute little country street went from peaceful to not so peaceful in less than ten years as subdivisions popped up all over the fields in surrounding towns. Now instead of listening to crickets and spring peepers, we get to hear traffic. It's not very conductive to a peaceful night's sleep. We also made the mistake of removing an overgrown privet hedge on the side of the house where our bedroom is. We just replanted the hedge, but it will take a while to regrow. In the mean time, we bought an inexpensive CD player that has a repeat option and a relaxation CD that plays the sound of waves breaking on a beach. They also sell rain, waterfalls and others if you don't prefer the ocean. We always wanted to live on the beach, so that one seemed perfect for us. When the CD is playing, even at a relatively low volume, we no longer hear the traffic sounds. Below are some suggestions for CDs.

Relaxing CDs

Provide yourself with some calming sounds while you drift off to sleep!

Bright lights outside

Our house is situated so that a street light shines very brightly into our bedroom via a skylight. For many years, the streetlight didn't work-so this wasn't an issue at all. Unfortunately for us, the city just repaired it. So, we bought a dark shade for the skylight. If it was through a window, we would have bought a liner for our curtains. Quick and easy fix, although I do miss being able to look up outside in the morning.

Finish projects in the room

That unpainted wall or unfinished project might not seem like a big deal. You might be surprised how much nicer it is to go to sleep in a complete room if you've left it for a while. In our case, we were stumped by unusual angles and choice of material to finish around stack pipe that vents the bathroom below. We finally decided to expend some time and energy and resolved it in a weekend. Surprisingly, the simple act of finishing the room made it seem more peaceful.

Decor and color choices

A few years ago, we picked up a border on clearance that was beige and red because we liked the pattern. I painted half a wall beige and the bottom half red, then added the border. While I still like the pattern, I realized red just isn't a relaxing color for me. I've picked up a new wallpaper in a very light beige and green, and it's much more serene. We all want to personalize our space with our own style. Just take a moment to consider colors and themes as compared to emotions when you reach the bedroom. A rich, vibrant color might speak volumes about who you are, but it might also be helping keep you awake. It might behoove you to leave your bright and sunny color choices in your living room or dining room where you want to be awake and use more subtle, toned down colors that leave you feeling relaxed and sleepy in your bedroom.

Worn out mattresses

Maybe those commercials ARE on to something. Even if you think your mattress is holding up fine, I have a suggestion for you. Go to a mattress shop and sit on a few. You might be surprised to find out how much more comfortable a new mattress and box spring actually are. We did this while looking for a new couch, and were quite surprised at how much better the new mattress was. We knew ours was old, but no springs were poking us, so we hadn't noticed it's gradual decline.

While we're talking about mattresses, let me also mention one of those things we seem to forget about. It's a good idea to rotate your mattess-but it's also a good idea to clean it. I use a Bissell Little Green to clean mine. We wash our bedding, clothes and selves-but the mattress can use it too. You don't have to do this everytime you wash your sheets, but it's a good opportunity to do so when you already have all the bedding off. It doesn't take that long to dry either.

Dust and Allergens

I'll admit it, there's dust in my house. There's also pet hair and dander, and pollen in spring. There's really little you can do to prevent any dust or allergens from getting into your home. We don't have a force air system, so we can't use a whole house air purifier. We bought a small air purifier with a permanent filter. We put off buying one for years because we were always afraid the manufacturer would discontinue the filters leaving us with a worthless unit. Our new little purifier handles our bedroom wonderfully. We run it for about an hour before we go to bed and throughout the night, shutting it off in the morning to save electricity since no one is home to enjoy the freshly cleaned air anyway. It not only helps with allergies and keeps the dust down leaving the air feeling and smelling fresher and cleaner, but it also provides a low amount of white noise while the fan runs, helping the relaxation CD drown out the traffic sounds. Below are a few suggestions for the same type of purifier that we bought, for different sized rooms.

Air Purifiers

Refresh the air in your room to help remove ariborn irritants like dust, pollen and dander. These units also include a permanent cleanable filter, so you never have to worry about buying a filer and finding out it's discontinued!

Clutter

I have a small house. A VERY small house. This was really hard for me to cut back on, since my storage is limited but I don't want to go completely minimalist in my life. We found several unused spaces in our room to turn into storage. For instance, we had a space above the entry door between two walls that we made into a storage cabinet. We added shelves inside of a finished wall where small storage baskets would fit and added a door. We bought those under bed storage bins for off season clothes. We really thought we had used all of our space, but we found even more to reduce the clutter. We added another shelf and used some cute lined baskets for even more storage. Just tidying up some of our stuff added some serenity to our space.

Smells

I'm not saying your house (or mine for that matter) stinks! What I am saying is that many people find certain smells soothing. A lot of people like lavender. I prefer vanilla or coconut myself. So I have a vanilla scented candle on a warmer that I put on when I turn the purifier on (and shut off before going to sleep). You can use scent diffusers and essential oils too. Avoid aerosol sprays though. Below are a few options for oils and diffusers. I chose the candle in case my cat thought the diffuser was a good thing to nosh on, although I doubt she would, I know she has no interest in candles.

Scented Candles

A nice easy way to bring a soothing scent into your space!

Soothing Lotions

Face it, dry skin is itchy and prickly and that's just not easy to sleep with. Why not sooth it with a scented lotion that will help you sleep!

Stress

Ultimately about the only way to really remove stress would probably be to win the lotto, quit your job and pay people to do all the things you don't want to do while sipping a colorful drink with an umbrella on some private beach somewhere. Since the chance of that actually happening to any one of us is pretty slim, we have to find other ways to deal with it. It's simple to say, well, just don't let things bother you. But actually letting frustrations with work, commuting, running a household and money (to name a few) run off your back like water on a duck is a whole different thing. Everyone deals with stress in different ways, so I can't suggest too many things here. I can suggest one thing we found helpful. I originally read about this as part of a cleanse, but found it really relaxing. It might be hard to do every night, but give it a try. Take a long bath (20 minutes or so) in hot water with a few (3-5) drops of these essential oils and some Epsom salts: wintergreen, peppermint and eucalyptus. Try to shut off the lights and use only a few candles to light the room. Below are a few essential oils if you can't find them locally.

Special oils for your bath

Add these wonderful oils to your relaxing bath to help soothe your mind and body before going to bed.

Food

This is a big one. It's probably one of the hardest things to change. But what you eat and when can really effect your body and mind. We made some very drastic changes here, but we combined our interest in getting better sleep with losing some extra pounds. Try a few simple things, like substituting soymilk for dairy milk, drinking tea instead of coffee or looking for natural alternatives for everyday foods. We found corn chips that had only corn, oil and sea salt in them instead of things I can't pronounce or spell. We drink fresh juice that's not from concentrate instead of juice with "other natural flavors". We use a Brita filter pitcher instead of bottled water, and make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. We eat more vegetables, natural cereal without a ton of sugar or other ingredients and snack on fresh fruit. We eat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. When we buy things like canned/bottled sauce, we buy the heart healthy ones with lower sodium. It's really surprising how much salt is in everything. Salt can effect your blood pressure, which can also effect your sleep.

Bedding

This may seem like a no brainer, but it's something many of us don't give a second thought to. Not only should you launder your bedding frequently, but you should also choose comfortable bedding. Cool cotton or cozy flannel, you need to find the right material for a good nights sleep. Time of year can also influence your choice-flannel might not be the best in the hot summertime! Make sure to use a low scent detergent, since the sheets and pillow cases will be right by your face. You can try hanging your bedding outside to dry, although I found it typically leads to it feeling stiffer than when dried in a dryer.

Room Temperature

Room air conditioners

Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable sleeping temperature. In our home, we have no problems with heat in the winter. I don't like those plug in room heaters (the cords always seem to get hot in my opinion), so that's a good thing. The summer is a completely different issue however. We have no cross ventilaation, and the ceiling fan can't do much without air circulation. So, we bought a room air conditioner. It doesn't mount in the window, there's just a small plastic piece that fits in the window where the unit vents warm air outside. Here again, the fan makes for a nice bit of white noise. We don't notice it effecting our electric bill too much (although we use the lights less in the summer, so that could help offset it some). We run it for about an hour before we go to bed and shut it off in the morning.

Plants

Plants are a great addition to your home and bedroom. They not only add some nature and the peacefulness that nature brings, but they clean the air so they are a great "green" addition to your space. Plants can't replace a purifier if you need to reduce dust and allergians, but they will convert CO2 to oxygen. You'll need to chose your plants based on several factors like light, humidity and whether or not you have pets that might grab a nibble or two. You'll also want to consider the room's decor-for instance, a cactus might not look at home in a woodsy decor.

For me and my decor choices, I am going to be adding my plant this coming winter. I want a norfolk island pine for it's looks, light needs and the fact that's it's ok around pets (although my cat never bothered plants before, I'm not taking any chances).

There are some neat plants out there like the "lucky bamboo" (which really isn't a bamboo) that supposedly will not only add some greenery to your room but bring you good fortune. They can probably be found at local nursery, but you can also find some interesting ones on places like Amazon.

Lucky Bamboo on Amazon

If you're looking for a neat, easy care plant, try one of these.

Credit where it's due

I figure I'll give credit where credit is due. Here is where I found some of my decor choices and the original article about a detox that started me rethinking my eating habits. That's where I found some of the food suggestions as well as the great herbal bath.

Books by Dr Mao

The relaxing bath came from an article I read by Dr Mao on a detox/cleanse. I dont' know if it really helped with what it's intended to do (how do you know if you're detoxed?!) but I find it very relaxing. I decided to buy one of his books, the secrets to self healing and so far I like it. He doesn't tell readers to go to the extreme by giving up on modern/western medicine but suggests to add in some eastern/Chinese medicine to your regular medical routine. Since I already believe both can be helpful in their own right, I think this approach will work well for me. Time will tell-the books aren't too expensive, so if you're having a hard time sleeping, eating right or just feeling good, give it a try. The worst that can happen is it doesn't help, the best is that you finally sleep well and feel good!

Conclusion

I hope I've given you a few ideas on how to sleep better. You'll find that some things are tied together-for instance, sleeping better can help reduce stress. Eating better can help boost daytime energy and get your body into balance so you can sleep better. It's not easy to change some things in your life, or your habits, but it's even harder to get the world around you to change so you can sleep better (really, you can't get the traffic to go elsewhere, the street light to go out or the people around you to pay attention to the road instead of cell phones and breakfast while you drive to work).

A peaceful sunset

Just a little something to help you relax!

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