There’s something about the back-to-school season that gets us thinking about our daily routines. Maybe you have kids that are heading back to school, or maybe you’re returning to some scholarly pursuits of your own. Maybe all the classroom-related sales at the store are just making you nostalgic for your days as a student. Regardless, it’s impossible to deny that sleep is (or was) an important part of resetting your routine around this time of year.
It’s a well-known fact that getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Sleep deprivation has been linked with a whole bunch of health problems, from heart disease to obesity and high blood pressure. For young people sleep is especially important, because the body releases hormones that promote normal growth for children and teens in this time. Not to mention the effects that sleep deprivation has on mental function–driving while severely sleep deprived is considered as bad as driving drunk!
Getting enough sleep can be harder than it sounds, though. That’s why we’ve put together a couple tips and tricks to help you on a path to better sleep. Sweet dreams!
1. Start During the Day
You may not realize it, but a lot of the choices you make during the daytime can affect how you sleep at night. One of the most obvious daytime rituals that affects sleep is caffeine. Caffeine works by blocking the brain chemical adenosine, which normally builds up through the day and makes you feel sleepy. Having caffeine after a certain point in your day can make it hard to fall asleep, because the right amount of adenosine hasn’t built up to make you feel tired. Studies have suggested that you should cut yourself off after 2:00 PM.
Exercise can be a great aid in helping you get better sleep. Regular exercise can help fight issues like insomnia and restless legs, and can improve the quality of sleep you get. Experts aren’t sure why this is the case, but it’s theorized that the post-workout drop in body temperature helps induce healthy sleep patterns. This isn’t a quick fix, though – you won’t see immediate effects on your sleep habits after just one workout. It can take anywhere from four to 24 weeks for regular exercise to help improve your snoozing habits.
In some people, exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. Vigorous workouts like running or HIIT can raise cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, and these can cause you to feel excited and energetic. Working out in the morning or afternoon helps avoid this, and gives you a nice boost of energy, to boot. If nighttime exercise is your only option, though, you can try something lower-impact, like walking or yoga.
What you eat can also play a big part in how you sleep. It’s generally recommended that you avoid eating large meals less than three hours before you head to bed. Being too full can cause indigestion or acid reflux that disrupts sleep, making you toss and turn. It’s important to not go to bed hungry, though—having a light snack (like a small turkey sandwich or yogurt) if your tummy’s rumbling will make it easier to drift off.
What you eat throughout the day matters, too. As mentioned above, indigestion makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, so avoiding foods that might upset your stomach at dinner is important. Alcohol helps make it easier to fall asleep, but its chemistry can actually interfere with your sleep cycle, so try to avoid imbibing right before bed.
2. Support Your Body’s Natural Rhythms
All humans have something called a circadian rhythm, or a natural pattern of wakefulness and sleepiness based around the 24-hour day. To get your best sleep, you’ll want to work with these rhythms and try to respect them to the best of your ability. A lot of your circadian rhythm is internal, though there are some external factors that can have big impacts.
Exposing yourself to natural light in the morning can have a positive effect on your sleep patterns. Natural light helps your brain stop making melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. As soon as possible after you wake up and any times that you may feel a dip in energy, try to take in a little sunlight.
Similarly, trying to reduce your exposure to bright light around bedtime is an important way to boost melatonin and help you fall asleep. You’ve probably heard that avoiding screens before bed can help, whether they’re TV, computer, or smartphones. This applies to lamp light, as well. Once you’ve turned your bedside lights out for good at night, try to keep them off. If you wake up and need to move around, use a dim light like a nightlight to navigate.
Another key part of the circadian rhythm is body temperature. Your body naturally starts to cool down at a certain point in your circadian rhythm, signaling that it’s time to start getting ready for bed. Taking a warm bath or shower in the evening can signal the temperature drop in your body that makes you sleepy. Keeping yourself cool and comfortable throughout the night is also important—during REM sleep, your body actually stops regulating its temperature and lets your environment determine how warm or cool you are. Keep your sleeping quarters between 60 to 67 degrees at night for optimum comfort.
Trying to stick to a routine helps you stay aligned with your biological clock. A lot of people tend to sleep in much later on their days off than their days spent at work or school. This can throw your body out of sync with its natural rhythms as you struggle to catch back up with your weekly routine. Do you sleep really well on Fridays and Saturdays, only to spend Sunday night tossing and turning? This could be the reason. Waking up no more than an hour to an hour and a half later on the weekends helps avoid that Sunday-night trouble.
3. Create a Soothing Sleep Environment
As we mentioned above, keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable is important for your biological clock. The space you sleep in can be a big factor in how well you sleep in other ways, too. Taking steps to make your bedroom a calm, inviting place can make it easier to fall and stay asleep.
The fewer distractions to sleep you have in your bedroom, the better. This includes things like TVs and tablets, but also electric clock faces and noisy neighbors. Keep alarm clocks facing away from you if the light bothers you, or better yet, use an analog clock that doesn’t light up. Close your windows if you can to eliminate outdoor noises. If that’s not an option, you can try a soothing sound maker to help drown out nighttime noises.
Scent is a powerful contributor to how we feel about our environment. Studies have shown that inhaling pleasant, calming scents can help improve quality of sleep. Lavender and chamomile are two of the most common scents recommended for relaxation and sleep. You can achieve an aromatherapeutic effect in several ways: diffusers, pillow sprays, lotions, and more. We recommend these patches from Bioesse. They deliver the calming benefits of lavender and chamomile essential oils in a convenient and hypoallergenic adhesive patch.
Speaking of smells, keeping your sheets clean can also help you nod off quicker. Think about it, you spend a third of your week in bed—that’s a lot of sweat (and drool!) that can get trapped in the fibers of your bed linens. Nothing compares to the feeling of nuzzling down into a bed of freshly-cleaned sheets. Plus, washing once a week helps eliminate allergens that could keep you up sniffling through the night.
4. Unwind Your Mind
Even if you work with your circadian rhythm, avoid caffeine, and turn your bedroom into a sleeping oasis, if you’ve got anxieties or worries keeping you up at night, your sleep is going to suffer. That’s why taking care of your mental health can be one of the most important steps in the journey to better sleep.
Meditation is one of the best ways to clear your mind, deal with issues, and prepare your brain for sleep. We’ve all heard of counting sheep to try and drift off, and while that may work for some people, there are more methods to try if you’re less of a numbers person. Techniques like mindful breathing and guided imagery can help you calm down and unwind. (For more information on these techniques, click here →)
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious and are worried that it’ll affect your sleep, take a few hours before bed to pamper yourself and conduct some self-care. Focus on things that make you feel good and encourage a calm, relaxed feeling. Maybe for you this includes a hot bath with a face mask, listening to calming music while journaling, or talking with a friend or loved one. The important thing is that it helps you address some of the anxiety or worry you’re feeling in a productive way.
5. Try a Sleep Aid
If all else fails in your quest for dreamland, there is a host of products available that can help you drift off. Smallflower specializes in gentle, natural remedies that will help you nod off while avoiding the harsher side effects of conventional sleep aids. Here are some of our picks:
As mentioned above, melatonin is a hormone naturally secreted in the brain that helps you feel sleepy. If you’re having trouble calming down enough at night, a dose in pill form 30 minutes before bed can help you start to feel sleepy.
by Source Naturals | $6.40 for 60 tablets
Some studies have shown that extracts of the root of Valeriana officinalus (commonly known as Valerian) can help make it easier to fall asleep and can improve the quality of sleep had. Herb Pharm uses only the finest-quality ingredients and fresh-harvested Valerian.
by Herb Pharm | $14 for 1 oz.
A nice long soak can do wonders for a stressed-out mind, especially when the bath’s scented with a mix of soothing fragrances (like lavender and lemon balm) that encourage deep relaxation. Sesame oil and wheat protein nourish your skin as well, leaving you stress-free and silky smooth when you emerge.
by Dresdner Essenz | $3 for 1 packet
Thanks for checking out Smallflower’s guide to better sleep. We hope that some of these suggestions help you drift off faster and easier. If you’d like to learn more about sleeping and sleep science, we recommend the following resources:
National Sleep Foundation: www.sleep.org
U.S. Department of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf