MASTERING YOUR SLEEP: Steps to building a healthy relationship with bedtime

We’ve all been there – you’re lying awake at night, staring at your ceiling, counting sheep and periodically checking your clock, only to find that you’re 7am wake-up call is creeping closer and closer.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40-million people in the United States suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems.

Under-sleeping is…a health time bomb.” Dr. Sara Gottfried bluntly stated in a recent interview with the Telegraph. Research shows that regular bad sleep puts you at risk of medical conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes – conditions that can drastically shorten life expectancy.

Aside from these physical effects, lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on mental health, especially in those already suffering from symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

Though it may seem hopeless when you’ve spent weeks tossing and turning in bed, there are steps you can take to help re-sync your clock and build a new, healthy relationship with sleep.

Developing a Sleep Routine

Establishing a consistent routine for yourself is the key to changing your relationship with sleep. Sounds simple, right? Well…yes and no. Sure, it’s easy to craft yourself the ultimate sleep regime – it’s the sticking to it that can pose the biggest challenge.

Here’s another opportunity for you to push away your sense of willfulness and approach this challenge with the far more powerful state of willingness.

With that in mind, make sure the plan you create is attainable. Don’t claim you’ll go to sleep at 9pm every night if you consistently work a late shift. The more realistic your plans, the more likely you are to succeed.

1. Create The Ultimate Sleep Environment
Rule #1! Your bed is for sleeping and sex. That’s it. Bingeing late-night television? Do it in the living room and then move to the bedroom when you’re ready to power down. If you’re a late-night worrier, try making a to-do list before bed to help prioritize and put your tasks in perspective.

Creating a space that is designed specifically for sleep is an easy way to improve your nighttime struggles. That also includes paying attention to your environment. Temperature, noise and light can have a strong impact on your sleep quality. Though everyone is unique, a good rule of thumb is a cool (but not cold) temperature, with limited, ambient noise and some access to natural light.

2. Set Yourself a Bedtime and a Wake-Up Call (and Stick To It)
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – and yes, even on the weekends! This new cycle will become ingrained your internal clock, and can help to facilitate sleep when combined with other relaxation and sleep hygiene methods.

3. Regulate Stimulation
Stimulants like caffeine stay in the system for an average duration of 3-5 hours, and sometimes even up to 12 or more. It should come as no surprise that limiting your caffeine intake throughout the day can help promote a more restful sleep. But caffeine isn’t our only source of stimulation.

Exercise is a great way to unwind, but it’s important to be mindful of time of day – avoid any vigorous exercise within 3-4 hours of going to sleep to allow your elevated heart rate and body temperature to cool down.

4. Power Down Your Devices
As we mentioned in a previous post, our computers, smart phones and TV screens emit blue-light that can seriously impede our ability to sleep soundly. They exacerbate anxiety and mess with our ever-important circadian rhythms which directly impedes your sleep cycle.

Once you’re settled in bed, swap out your screens for a book, magazine or journal to help lull you into a restful and restoring slumber.

Exercises For Restful Sleep

Changing your sleep routine can have long-term benefits, but may not provide you the immediate solution you need tonight. Being unable to sleep can be an incredibly stressful experience, and that added anxiety only perpetuates the cycle of sleeplessness. For those restless nights, here are a few easy techniques to help trick your body and mind into turning off.

1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Our bodies respond automatically to stressful situations by tensing up. Though it might seem odd, utilizing the bodies tension and enforcing relaxation is a great way to overcome sleep-associated anxiety.

  • Step One: Lie down flat on your back in bed. Support your head and neck with a pillow or cushion.
  • Step Two: Focus your attention on different parts of your body in sequence – your toes, your feet, your ankles, your shins, your thighs, and so on. One by one, tense that body part, hold it for a few moments, and then completely relax. Continue to do so for each body part, climbing up your body in sequential order.
  • Step Three: Repeat three times, or as many as it takes for you to feel a sense of overall relaxation across your body.

2. Box Breathing Technique
Box breathing is a simple technique that you can do at any time that you feel stressed, and is particularly impactful around bedtime. Controlled breathing can be utilized to calm nerves and relieve stress by helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system.

  • Step One: Lie down flat on your back in bed. Support your head and neck with a pillow or cushion. Turn your lights off, and ensure you have everything you need for the night prepared.
  • Step Two: Close your mouth and breath in slowly through your nose. Count to four as you inhale. Hold your breath for four seconds. Open your mouth slightly and slowly exhale to a count of four. Hold the exhale to another count of four.
  • Step Three: Repeat this exercise for four minutes, or until you notice a change in your body and mind. You may even fall asleep before your four minutes are up – there is no minimum or maximum time to spend on this.

3. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Similar to Box Breathing, the 4-7-8 technique is a controlled breathing exercise that can help you re-focus and calm anxiety.

  • Step One: Lie down flat on your back in bed. Support your head and neck with a pillow or cushion. Turn your lights off, and ensure you have everything you need for the night prepared.
  • Step Two: Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath (without straining) for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound to a mental count of eight.
  • Step Three: Repeat this exercise for a minute or so, or until you start to feel more relaxed both in body and mind. Again, you may find yourself falling asleep while practicing this technique.

4. Get Out Those Old Text Books
If these breathing exercises aren’t doing the trick, there is one fail-safe tip we offer – read something boring! We’re so often told that reading before bed can help promote sleep, but you can just as easily become ingrained in the plot of your book as you can in a high-octane action movie. Choose something like a textbook or hell, even an Encyclopedia to help you focus, unwind and well, bore yourself to sleep.

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