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The Pulse - 12 Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep

When you find yourself staring blankly at the ceiling at some ungodly time instead of sleeping soundly, you may think that is just the way it’s going to be. Good news! It does not have to be and you have a lot of say in the matter.

Read through these twelve tips for strategies you can start implementing today.

1) Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and other Chemicals that interfere with sleep

Sounds like a no brainer but you would be surprised how many of us actually continue to partake in one or more of these sleep monsters. Specifically, I would draw your attention to alcohol. How many of you enjoy an evening cocktail or a nice glass of wine or two to “settle down”? Although, you may feel calmed down in the moment, alcohol actually stimulates the body if consumed at greater than 1 oz. per hour, the equivalent of what is present in about 8 oz. of wine, 16 oz. of beer, 10 oz. of malt liquor, or about 2 oz. of 80 proof distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

2) Turn your bedroom into a sleep inducing environment

What? Simply, a quiet, dark, and cool environment can help you find your slumbery bliss most effectively. Tools such as earplugs, heavy curtains, blackout shades, and even an eye mask to block intrusive light can go a long way toward creating a sleep friendly spot for you. Keep your bedroom cool, around 60 – 75 degrees and make sure that you have a fan or some other source to keep your room well ventilated. Also, make sure you have a good mattress. Even good ones wear out after about a decade of use. Last, keep you pets away from you when you are sleeping, especially if you know that they wake you up frequently at night. I know, we love our furry companions. I do too. But, if you are losing sleep because of their patterns, change them or remove your pets from the bedroom. Truth be told for me, I sleep with my cat every night. The two of us have a schedule and he is pretty good about it, as long as he gets his quota of fur strokes beforehand. And, my dog also sleeps in our room, in his kennel though.

3) Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine

Aim to begin your pre-sleep routine about an hour before you intend to be getting your shut eye. What you do is less important that simply being consistent with whatever it is you decide on. Some suggestions that were most talked about in my researching were reading, taking a warm bath or shower, writing (great way to give time and space to anxious feelings or unfinished stress), meditating, or simply enjoying some end of day relaxing conversation with those you love.

4) Go to sleep  when you are truly tired

This is one that I finally came to appreciate how to change last year actually. Think of a time when you are tired but you still want get in the news, or finish that book, or… You get the idea. Instead of bullying your body into believing that it is not time to go to bed, listen to it. For me, I liked watching T.V. after the kids went to bed. And, instead of listening to my body tell me my day was done, I ignored it and ended up staying up much later than I ever really wanted to. My solution? I asked my wife to set the sleep timer on our television to turn it off at 9:00 p.m.! At first, I would get so flustered that I did not have control. But like any good habit, time and consistency reinforced a new pattern of shutting down at 9:00 and getting to sleep by 10:00. Now we have a different cable t.v. provider that does not offer the same feature but the habit was formed strong enough that it doesn’t matter.

5) Avoid night time clock watching

There it is in all of its neon glow glory staring right at you as you turn over or leaving its radiance on the wall. The light of a clock by your bed can be very disconcerting to us as we try to get some ZZZs. If you don’t mind the investment, ditch your current sleep monger and replace it with a clock you can dim come nighttime. Otherwise, simply drape something heavy over your clock to drown out the brightness when it is time to get to bed.

6) Use light to your advantage

The light that we receive naturally from the sun does a lot to maintain our innate wake/sleep cycles. Unfortunately some famous guy, last name Edison, invented the light bulb. Of course it is largely responsible for spurring on industry of all kinds in America and beyond as workers, thinkers, designers, and so on were able to burn on much later into the night. However, the advent of the light bulb also started the decline of our natural sleeping cycles. Without going totally primitive, you can still tap into these born with patterns by waking to natural light (I know. You’re asking how you can do this if you have light blocking covers put up in your room after implementing tip number two. ignore this one and focus on my second point here.) and also by getting outside for some direct skin to sun contact each day. Depending on time of year and how much you are wearing 15 – 30 minutes should do the trick, unless you are very pale. If so, cut those suggestions in half to avoid getting burnt.

7) Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule

If you’re someone who goes to bed at all sorts of different times and wakes up whenever too, STOP! The body does not work on a willy nilly schedule very well. Instead get the recuperative sleep you long for by setting a schedule. I find this to be particularly difficult for those of you who were forced to be on a schedule all of your working life and now have for all intensive purposes taken a “do whatever I want whenever I want” mentality when it comes to your sleep. The body, as you probably know, does not wake up rested and feeling completely renewed on a randomized schedule. So, instead, if you really do want to invest in better sleep, get on a schedule. For me, that is t.v. off by 9:00 at the latest and in bed for sleep by 10:00. Find one that works for you and stick with it.

8) Nap early-Or not at all

This one is for all of you who are the late nighters. You know who you are. I have met many of you and one thing I find to be consistent with each of you is  difficulty with either getting to sleep or waking up feeling rested. A very common strategy for those who stay up later is to take a nap. Although that can be a good way to get some needed ZZZs, timing is everything. If you are going to nap, do so at least 4-6 hours before you plan on going to be for the main snooze. Otherwise, you will find yourself counting entire flocks sheep instead of enjoying what the sandman brings you.

9) Lighten up on evening meals

The best way to think about this to me is to appreciate why we eat. Yes flavor, social, stress. These are all “reasons” why we eat but the purpose of eating is to provide our body with the fuel it needs to keep on going. If energy needs are high, we need more and if we are less active, we need less to eat. So think about some of the meals that you have eaten on a night when you just found yourself tossing and turning. I can promise you that part of the reason your sleep was crummy was the heaviness of the meal you ate. A high calorie meal will charge the digestive system with more to do. And, it also may cause you to have indigestion depending on how far along your food is digested before you head to bed. To avoid the pitfalls of heavy eating and the insomnia that can follow, eat smaller less calorie dense dinners. If you are still hungry later into the evening, do two things. One, eat a little more the next night and continue to do this until you find your perfect meal portion. And two, have a light snack before bed. One of my go tos is chocolate milk lightly warmed up. The chocolate and milk provide a nice blend of fuel without being too heavy and the warmth is calming.

10) Balance fluid intake

This one can be tricky. It is important for hydration purposes to have enough fluids in us at all times. However, I know you can relate to having to get up more than once during the night to go use the bathroom after tipping the scale when you were up in the evening with probably a bit too much of the liquid stuff. The remedy for this predicament is to find the happy place between not enough and too much. It takes practice, but it can be done. For me, I find that if I start curbing my drinking in the evening and take visual inventory on the color of my deposit in the toilet, I can better control having to get up in the night time. I aim for slightly diluted lemonade color before bed. If I am clear and it’s bed time, I know I am going to be up at least twice.

11) Exercise Early

For those of you who exercise regularly, keep doing so. Just not before going to sleep! As you probably recognize one of the benefits of exercise is an increase in our metabolism. We become a furnace! Good for calorie burning not so for getting to sleep. A good practice to resolve the up all night after burn of a great workout is to give yourself at least 3 hours before going to sleep to be done completely with your exercise.

Another less thought about component of exercise I find really helps me to relax is the stretching component. For restorative breathing and getting yourself to calm back down after going at it there’s nothing better than a solid 10 – 20 minutes of stretching.

12) Follow Through

Read through the first eleven tips I have shared with you. If you find that as you are perusing them some connect with you more than others, ignore the ones that you don’t relate to and determine how you can implement change surrounding the ones that do. That is my tip number twelve. Commit to changing something. As in life we can remain a victim of our circumstances or we can rise up victoriously after doing something about them. The freedom of choice is yours.

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