One of the cornerstones of good health is proper sleep. When adults don’t get the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep, problems arise that affect the functioning of the body and disturb mental and emotional health. When sleep remains elusive, it feels like there is no end in sight. The feeling of going to bed knowing that the blessing of sleep may not be waiting on the other end is quite distressing.
While there is no definitive cure, there are strategies that you can use to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. Start with these seven approaches.
1. Disconnect from Technology Before Bed
We live in a technologically focused world that makes it hard to turn “off” at night. It’s easy to slip into bed with your laptop and smartphone and be consumed by the news or social media, which may be negatively focused. Instead, use the evening for winding down and connecting with the inherently quieter time of day. In this way, you engage your body’s ability to perform its natural functions to prepare for sleep.
One hour before bed, make it a point to start disconnecting from technology. Turn off the TV (it’s best if there is no TV in the bedroom) and disengage from your cell phone. Tell people you will not be available after a certain time, especially for communication related to work. Have a cutoff time for checking social media. When committing to this practice, you may have a temporary feeling of a void that needs to be filled; give it some time and soon you may find yourself looking forward to this technology-free time of day.
2. Plan Your Space for Sleep
There are many things you can do help prepare your environment for a good night’s sleep.
Mattress: Is your mattress conducive to restful sleep? Many people don’t realize that they should replace their mattress every 10 years, and that sleeping on a poor mattress can cause back issues, which can lead to trouble sleeping. Therefore, sleeping on the right mattress is essential to making sure your body gets restful sleep. Companies such as Casper make mattresses that are not only comfortable, but also ergonomic, breathable (air permeable), and cooling. Their newest mattress, the Casper Wave, was designed for superior spinal alignment, creating deeper, more restorative sleep.
Environment: Take a look at your sleeping environment—is it comfortable and clear of clutter? It’s important to create a soothing space that promotes peace and tranquility.
Evening Rituals: Consider adopting some nurturing evening rituals, like drinking chamomile tea, taking a warm bath, listing to soothing music, and diffusing calming essential oils such as lavender, to prepare for restful sleep. It’s best to perform these in the hour prior to bedtime, during your technology-free time.
3. Manage Stress
One underlying cause of sleep issues is excessive stress. Cultivating daily habits to reduce stress can be instrumental in not only getting better sleep but creating a more fulfilling life. Check in with yourself more frequently, see what dominates your thoughts, and notice where you feel stress in your body. If it’s something you can feel during the day, the night will be no different. In fact, feelings of stress are often amplified at night because there are fewer distractions. Seek out activities or tools that support your ability to handle stress, such as the following:
- Breathing exercises (pranayama)
- Going on walks
- Being in nature
4. Avoid Eating Before Bedtime
It takes a lot of energy to digest food, and if you eat right before bed this can disrupt your sleep cycle. Sleeping should be a time of physical and emotional rejuvenation, and your body can’t focus on this if it’s busy digesting food. Your biggest meal of the day should occur at lunchtime when your body is more active according to Ayurveda.
Try eating two to three hours before bedtime to allow time for digestion. Experiment with different types of foods that are lighter in nature, such as soups and salads. After a meal, try sipping some ginger tea, known for its many health benefits, including serving as a natural digestive aid.
5. Turn Off the Lights
Before the rise of technology, human beings lived naturally in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. Light is a powerful trigger for the body to know when it’s time to transition into sleep mode. Humans used to be limited to the light of the day, but now we have 24-hour access to artificial lighting, which can be confusing to the brain since it relies on external signals to determine when it’s time to sleep. For example, the hormone melatonin is released in response to decreased lighting, and its purpose is to make us sleepy. When the light remains on, the release is interrupted.
When you go to sleep, the bedroom should be as dark as possible. Try using an eye mask for blocking out light. Blackout curtains help to block out street lights, which is especially helpful if you live in an urban area. These small changes, including dimming the lights and limiting the use of technology in the evening, can trigger functions in the body that help you get back in sync with your natural rhythms.
6. Have a Consistent Bedtime
Establish a consistent time for going to bed and waking up. According to Ayurveda, the best sleep hours are between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The hours before midnight are considered to be the most rejuvenating. If you are a night owl, don’t make the jump right away. Ease into the time change by moving back your normal bedtime by a half hour or 15 minutes each week until you reach the appropriate time. Your body loves routine and when you can commit to creating new habits over a period of time, the improvements will be noticeable.
7. Have a Contingency Plan
What happens if you do wake up in the middle of the night or can’t fall asleep? Rather than lying in bed and giving attention to the racing thoughts, it’s best to get out of bed. Use the restroom if needed, make yourself some tea, and find a place to perform some breathing exercises for relaxation. Take advantage of the power of the breath and its ability to affect calm within minutes. You can also try journaling to help download your thoughts onto paper—thoughts like to be acknowledged. After returning to bed, try the following to help induce slumber:
- Use the sleep mantra, Om Agasthi Shahina (Om Ah-gah’ stee Shah ee’ nah). Repeat the mantra silently to yourself. When you notice your thoughts drifting, gently return your attention to the repetition of the mantra.
- Feel your body. Start at your feet and work your way up. Notice any tension and consciously relax that area.
Struggling with sleep can be quite lonely since everyone else is usually sound asleep. Know that you are not alone as this issue is prevalent. The more you try to force sleep to come, the more it eludes you. Instead, try embracing sleep in a way that says you recognize something is wrong and actions will be taken to help alleviate and heal.
Start with three strategies you are willing to try for three weeks and notice what happens. What works for one person may not work for you. You want and expect immediate cures, but the practices that work usually take time and attention to become sustaining. Sweet dreams!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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