Barely a week goes by that I don’t hear of someone else I know taking a sleep aid, either over the counter or by prescription. And while getting a good night’s sleep is vital to our health, happiness, and clear thinking, relying on medication without addressing some of the contributing factors to the insomnia, is like eating a donut while walking on a treadmill. So before your start popping pills to get some shut-eye, make sure you are doing everything within your power to ensure restful and adequate sleep naturally. Here are 12 tips:
1. Avoid caffeine for 8-10 hours prior to bedtime. That includes coffee, tea, chocolate (including chocolate cake and cookies), so-called energy drinks, some soft drinks, and some over-the-counter analgesics (read the labels). According to experts, even those who claim to be able to sleep “like a baby” after having caffeine often experience poorer-quality, fragmented sleep. And many become even more sensitive to caffeine with aging.
2. Make your bedroom as dark as possible during sleep time. Any amount of light, even that from electronic devices and digital clocks, can have a negative effect on your ability to fall and stay asleep. Try using an eye mask and see what a difference that can make.
3. Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. If that is not possible, turn them off at a set time, at least an hour before bedtime.
4. Develop a bedtime routine that includes non-electronic relaxation time such as reading a book, writing in a journal, taking a bath or meditating.
5. Stick to a sleep schedule as much as possible. Go to bed at the same time most nights and wake at the same time most mornings, even if you were up late the night before.
6. Straighten up your bedroom. Clutter on your nightstand and in your sleep environment can cause stress and unrest.
7. Keep a note pad next to your bed. If something is troubling you or on your mind, write it down before going to bed to unburden your mind.
8. If you wake up during the night and can’t sleep, don’t turn on the overhead lights, computer or TV. Instead use a low light source (flashlight or nightlight) if you need to get up and read or journal. Bright lights, including those from electronic readers, cause your body to think it’s time to get up.
9. Avoid alcohol. While some people have an evening alcoholic beverage to “relax,” if taken within a few hours of bedtime, it can disrupt the quality of your sleep.
10. Stimulate melatonin, the body’s natural sleep chemical, by lowering the lights in your environment an hour before bedtime.
11. Once in bed, focus on relaxing, not sleeping, by practicing muscle relaxation, meditation, deep breathing.
12. If you snore or experience sleep apnea (periods of no breathing or gasping for air), have that checked out and treated as soon as possible.