This post is the second half of a two-part series on getting better sleep. On Tuesday, we talked about the effects that excessive light exposure can have on our sleep quality and our weight. I shared the findings of a study done by the National Sleep Foundation reflecting the negative effects of late-night use of brightly lit technologies, especially interactive technology like games, chatting, and texting. I also mentioned a book by T.S. Wiley called Lights Out, which highlights the ill-health effects of the “eternal summer.” Today I’ll share a few suggestions with you on how to set yourself up for a great night’s sleep.
Managing Time, Managing Mind
In Tuesday’s post, I mostly talked about quality, not quantity of sleep. But in both cases, managing our evening hours wisely is crucial. I recognize that we all have busy lives. Some far busier than others. I will never be able to step into your shoes and understand your struggles. I put that out there now, because the topic of time management can be a hot button for some, especially single parents or folks caring for an elderly parent. I get that I don’t get it. At this point in my life, I have to feed myself, my husband, and my dog, and those responsibilities are shared between my husband and me. This puts me at a different starting place than someone who has three kids and no partner. Ok, disclaimer out of the way. Moving on.
After everything I just said, I still believe that there’s ALWAYS room to improve upon where you are today, especially if you answer yes to this question:
Does your late night ritual involve the TV? Facebook? Candy Crush? Texting?
I’m not going to minimize the value of spending some time veging out on the couch doing a mindless activity at the end of a long day. It’s important to schedule in time to relax, and I don’t think we do enough of it. But how we choose to relax could mean the difference between waking up the next morning refreshed and needing 3 cups of coffee to avoid falling asleep at the wheel on the way to work.
Even if it’s just minute by minute adjustments, there’s room for change to create an evening routine more conducive to better sleep.
Take Control of Your Evening
This advice could actually extend to a number of situations throughout the day. It’s just as easy to get distracted the moment you get to work as it is the moment you get home. Apply these simple strategies to whichever environment is most helpful to you, because at the end of the day, the more control you have over your time, the less anxious you will feel as your head hits the pillow each night, even if it wasn’t a perfectly productive day.
Make a list, then prioritize
Yes, it takes extra time to make the list. But it’s worth it in the end when you can spill everything that needs to happen onto the page (and maybe even the things you want to happen as well), then circle the ones that MUST happen that evening. It can give you ideas on how best to make it happen in the limited time between work and sleep. Here’s an example list:
- make/eat dinner*
- do laundry*
- water plants
- walk the dog*
- call mom
- mend a sweater
- change the cat litter box
- clean the living room
- watch an episode of Breaking Bad
- listen to the newest episode of the WTF podcast*
- take a shower
- get ready for bed*
Let’s say I want all of these things to happen between 6pm and 10:30pm. That’s 4.5 hours to do 12 things. I’ve put a * next to the “MUST-happen-tonight” things, because I am all out of socks and laundry HAS to happen, and my favorite comedian ever is being interviewed on WTF and I can’t wait to listen.
Ok, so how do I make this list happen? What things can I combine? What things can I leave for tomorrow night’s list and still go to bed relaxed?
What if I came up with something to cook that required 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and I listened to WTF while I prepared the ingredients? (maybe some chicken thighs, root veggies, and broccoli, all in the same pan?) I could throw in a load of laundry and take the dog for a walk while the food is in the oven. What if I called mom while I watered the plants and picked up the living room? I can throw the laundry in the dryer as I move toward getting ready for bed. That’s 7 out of 12 things and 100% of the “must-dos,” including one that was strictly about pleasure. Pretty good!
Be happy with that, and don’t compromise that 10:30 bed time to try to get one more thing done. Tomorrow, watching Breaking Bad and folding the laundry can happen at the same time, right?
Set and stick to a sleep schedule
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day helps regulate your circadian rhythm. It’s tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, but it always makes Monday a lot harder to bear. If you’re true to weekday schedule and can let go of the parts of the list that can be put off until tomorrow, you might not need to sleep in on the weekends anyway.
Create Your “Sleep Better” Environment
Setting up your space for sleep is crucial. Last week we talked about reducing your light exposure close to bedtime. This includes moving from bright overhead lights to softer lamps, turning the TV off and leaving the phone alone.
Consider removing the TV from your bedroom entirely.
Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. In order to begin training your mind that when you’re in the bedroom, it’s time to get sleepy, keep other distractions like the TV and the laptop out of the bed and out of the room.
Infuse relaxing essential oils into the space an hour before bed
Lavender oil is used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation. There are both electric options and options that burn the oil with a small tea light candle, but be sure to only use pure lavender essential oil, not something “blended” or “scented” with lavender. Candles from department stores or scented wall plug-ins are not going to have the same effect.
Create a dark, cool, cave-like room for sleeping
Make sure there’s good air circulation in the room by using a fan or turning on the AC. Excessive heat can often result in a poor night’s sleep. If you can find blackout curtains or shades for your windows, consider installing some to prevent light pollution from outside from affecting your sleep. Eye covers are also great to ensure that light doesn’t disrupt your sleep.