Create Great Sleeping Habits

Healthy sleeping habits improve your life in many ways. We sleep for one third of our lives… we might as well get it right! With consistent restful sleep, you will have more energy during the day. Every day researchers discover how your quality of sleep determines your overall wellness. Read on to learn what you need to know about sleep cycles and how sleep affects your life. We’ll also discuss naps and insomnia.

Five Sleeping Habits YOU Can Develop

Are you sleep deprived? As much as 40% of Americans are. Do you find yourself nodding off during the day? Do you require an alarm to wake up? Do you hit snooze anyway? It might seem hard to change the way you sleep. Bad sleeping habits might die hard. But the reward of feeling refreshed and well-rested will be worth the change.

1. Rest and Wake at the Same Time Each Day

“Consistency” is a personality trait. Some of us are just more regular in our daily routines than others. I used to think I was a pretty inconsistent person, until I met a friend who has ABSOLUTELY no routine at all… she eats and wakes and goes about life in a different order every day! Then, my friend and I both found ourselves parenting preschoolers. Even a preschooler with an inconsistent nature thrives on routine. My friend shocked herself that she could learn to create routine for family sanity’s sake. You can too.

If you hit the sheets at a different time each night, do you also find that you often stay up too late and regret it in the morning? If so, pick a bedtime and wake-up time and try sticking with it for a week or two. You might surprise yourself at the benefits! You will get more sleep, and fall asleep more easily. You might also achieve the added bonus of using your morning and evening time more efficiently if you work on it. It takes about 21 days to make a habit, so stick with it to create a sleeping habit.

2. Create a Sleep Routine

The famous Pavlov taught his dogs to expect food when the bell rang. Although we humans are much more complicated than canines, we too can start to associate events with sleep time. This will greatly improve your sleeping habits. I observe this phenomenon with my children. We have a well established “dinner, bath, bed” routine. One night, dinner was early and especially messy, and our kids ended up in pajamas about an hour ahead of schedule. My husband and I tried to play with the kids for a little bit to waste time, but they both just fell apart! They knew “sleep” came next in the routine and could not be convinced otherwise!

So, what does this look like for an adult? You may already have bits of this in place. You might straighten the kitchen, lock the front door, brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, and read a book in bed. Some people take a shower every night right before bed. Start looking at your bedtime routine. Are you active within two hours of bedtime? By “active” I mean everything from problem solving to playing guitar hero. Mentally challenging activities, like doing your taxes or writing website articles, wake your brain up. You might have trouble turning it off when bedtime comes. Although you need exercise to help you sleep, within a few hours of bedtime, physical activity will get your endorphins going and make your sleep cycles less regular.

3. Create a Place for Sleep

Just as you can condition your body to sleep after a routine of activities, you can also condition your body to respond to a room by sleeping. That means that your bed should not be multi-purpose. Do not work on projects or eat in bed.

Make your bedroom your sanctuary:

1. Sit on your bed and look around

2. Note everything that makes you think of “doing” something when you see it

3. Note everything that causes you stress, annoys you, or “disturbs the peace”

4. Note any sources of outside noise or light that disturbs you

5. Reduce, remove or re-organize everything you noted

6. Fill the room with things that relax you

This might mean you de-clutter and move projects into other rooms. This might mean you finally paint, or get those black-out curtains you’ve wanted, or buy a new pillow or some candles. Try to keep any clutter out of sight. Make your bedroom a place that makes you take deeper breaths when you walk in. I find that when the laundry piles up, I take longer to fall asleep. Make looking around every so often to make sure you’re keeping up the sanctuary one of your healthy sleeping habits.

3. Stop Using an Alarm Clock

We’ve all heard the “eight hours a night” line, but sleep experts disagree on how much sleep we actually need. Many productive adults do well on six or even fewer hours of sleep. Your body knows how much sleep you need. If you get enough sleep each night, you will not need an alarm to wake up. Next weekend, try going to bed ten hours before you need to get up. If you were sleep deprived, you might find yourself using all ten hours! Or, you might be surprised that you wake up refreshed after just six hours. It may take awhile, but eventually you will trust your sleeping habits to get you up without an alarm. You might want to remove a clock from your room altogether. We often trick ourselves into thinking we’re still tired just by what the clock says. Move the clock to your bathroom and see if you don’t sleep better without the glaring light of a digital clock.

Getting rid of the alarm clock will allow you to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. This prevents grogginess. When we sleep, we cycle through different sleep stages. You begin with drowsiness, which lasts only five or ten minutes. You then move on to light sleep, during which your heart rate slows downs, which makes you colder. (That’s why we like blankets when we sleep) Next, you move into deep sleep. During deep sleep it takes a lot to wake you up, but if you do wake up, you’ll be groggy. Adults start the night by quickly plummeting into deep sleep within the first hour of falling asleep. We then cycle through from REM to deep sleep and then back to REM again. Most adults only go into deepest sleep twice in a given night.

Deep sleep allows your brain to rest. Blood flow and neurotransmitter release decreases, giving your brain and its neurons and well-deserved break. Researchers believe your brain repairs itself during deep sleep. The blood that used to go to your brain now pumps around the body helping your muscles and immune system! If your sleeping habits do not result in uninterrupted deep sleep, you will not wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

After a half hour or more of deep sleep, you cycle back up. But instead of waking up during drowsiness, you spend about a half hour in REM sleep, or dream sleep. During this time you process your day and your emotions. You then cycle through again. Near the end of the night you don’t get all way down to deepest sleep allowing you to cycle faster, resulting in 3-5 REM periods per night. If your sleeping habits do not result in enough REM sleep, you will feel cranky and moody during the day and have trouble concentrating.

You will wake up refreshed if you wake up right after REM sleep. A complete cycle takes anywhere from 70-90 minutes. You may have heard the recommendation to sleep in 90 minute increments because of this. Removing your alarm clock and going to bed with plenty of time to wake up will allow your body to wake you up at the end of a sleep cycle, accomplishing the same thing.

You Can’t Make Up Sleep Time

We all do it. We push ourselves during the week and figure that we’ll make it up the next day off. Unfortunately, your body does not like the trick. This leads to unhealthy sleeping habits. When you do not get enough sleep, your body will make up deep sleep first, leaving you deprived of REM. If you do not get enough REM, your body will go through more REM period the next night, if it can. If you constantly go without enough sleep, your body will constantly play catch-up and your sleep cycles will not provide you with the right balance of deep and REM sleep. Go to bed with plenty of time before you need to get up, and spare yourself the less restful “catch-up” sleep.

What About Daytime Sleep?

To Nap or Not to Nap? Many people have an afternoon nap as part of their sleeping habits. Some sleep very little at night and depend on a nap. If you do not show signs of sleep deprivation, such as falling asleep at any quiet moment of the day, this arrangement may work for you. With the exception of during illness, decide whether naps work for you and try to keep the same sleep routine every day.

Pregnant women find themselves very tired. All those dividing cells truly exhaust the mom-to-be. Most pregnant women need more daily sleep to feel rested and functional. Naps help relieve this exhaustion during pregnancy, but often lead to insomnia. Again, the sleep rule applies. Find your optimum amount of sleep and try to sleep and wake at the same times every day to achieve healthy sleeping habits.

When It Is Time to Sleep, but Sleep Won’t Come

Insomnia strikes at the worst time. You have a big day tomorrow and you must feel rested. You have had a stressful day and really need to sleep. But sleep won’t come! Try these four insomnia-busting sleeping habits:

1. Do not get upset. The more you stare at the clock (which you should have removed already) the more agitated you become that you cannot sleep.

2. Re-live your bedtime routine, whether actually getting out of bed and washing your face and brushing your teeth again, or just reliving it in your mind.

3. Imagine yourself in a peaceful place. It may from your memory or your own fantasy. Imagine the sand between your toes or the grass under your hands. Envision the bright blue sky; hear the waterfall.

4. Go through a relaxation exercise. Clear your mind of any troubles, writing them down if necessary. Start with your toes and contract and relax them. Then contract and relax your calves. Move up every muscle until you contract and relax your eyes shut. If needed, start over at your feet again.

If you feel constantly plagued by insomnia, try to relieve stress in your life that might be interrupting your sleep. If you still cannot get enough sleep to feel rested, you may want to consider learning relaxation techniques. Many yoga classes begin and end with systematic relaxation and breathing that can help tremendously when called upon in the middle of the night.

We often associate pregnancy with insomnia. Even when avoiding naps, pregnant woman often find themselves tossing and turning all night. My sleeping habits deteriorated significantly when pregnant. I battled insomnia with both of my pregnancies, but felt truly exhausted by it when pregnant with my second child. The best advice I received from my midwife was “Laying down awake is still resting”. So, when I could not sleep, I would simply read a soothing, calm book that didn’t require a lot of mental energy. I insisted that I stayed in bed and rested my body even if I could not sleep. It was excellent advice.

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