It’s here! The crash course to improving your sleep. Thanks to a seven day plan with tips from the Better Sleep Council, the following article can help you improve your sleep without even leaving home!
Better Sleep Council research has found that 79% of people would feel better and be more prepared for the day if they had an extra hour of sleep.
74% of people over the age of 30 say they have difficulty concentrating and experience higher stress levels after a bad night’s sleep. In fact, 30% of people claim they are willing to pay $100 or more for an extra hour at night! Rather than charge you that, we are going to give you the suggestions you need to get the rest you crave!
Day 1: Start Good Habits
Start with the end result in mind: a good night’s sleep requires that you prioritize sleep and starting to create good sleep habits is vital to achieving this goal. If you have an appointment, it goes onto your schedule or calendar and you plan to get there on time by giving yourself adequate travel and prep time. Treat sleep the same as these appointments! Schedule your bedtime and stick to it, leave yourself enough time to prepare so you’re not late. Sometimes it can be helpful to set a bedtime “alarm” that gives you half an hour (or whatever you need) to begin your routine. That’s when you stop what you’re doing and start your evening routine. This is not the time to “check one more email” or watch one more episode, this is the time to be strict with yourself so that you can get into your bed on “schedule”. Don’t be late to your date with your mattress and pillow!
Day 2: Create a Sleep Sanctuary
Does your bedroom look like a bedroom? Or does it instead look like a office, gym, living room, playroom, and laundry room, all in one? The bedroom is for sleep and sex, nothing else! Here are some things that have to go: treadmill, television, desk, toy box. Take back the bedroom: make sure you have a comfortable mattress, amazing sheets and pillows, your bedding should offer you comfort and support. Make sure the temperature is cool when you are sleeping (between 60-67 degrees). Also make sure your pajamas are breathable and soft. Learn how to Feng shui your bedroom here.
Day 3: Quiet Your Mind
How long does it take you to fall asleep? Most of us can’t answer because when we’re in a sleepy state, we’re blissfully unaware and can’t remember actually falling asleep. But we certainly notice when it’s taking too long. “Sleep latency” is the term for the time it takes to go from a wakeful state to a sleeping state. William C. Dement, founder of the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center in Palo Alto, California, studied this and came up with the Multiple Sleep Latency Test as a measuring tool. Dement discovered it typically takes about seven minutes for alpha waves to dominate the brain. In this state, we feel peaceful and hazy. After about five minutes of alpha waves, theta waves take over, and we are in the first stage of sleep. Generally, it takes a person 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you less than five minutes, you’re probably overtired or sleep deprived. If it takes you longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, you may be sleeping too much or you may not be practicing good sleep habits. The idea behind the practice of counting sheep may have a place in helping us fall asleep more quickly. The goal is to clear the mind and slow the brain waves. You can do this by meditating. The reason most meditations start with counting the breath is that within just 10 seconds of this, the brain starts synchronizing neurons in a way that mimics what takes place during sleep. It’s an easy way to get the mind to settle down. Take long slow breaths and relax any parts of your body that feel tense. I also find it helpful to count backwards (while breathing long and slow) from 100 to zero.
Day 4: Reduce Your Stress
There is a strong link between stress and sleep: The more stressed we feel, the more difficult it is for us to sleep well. And the less sleep we get, the more easily we feel stressed.
- Stop overworking, overscheduling and overthinking. Eliminate this stress by allowing for at least one hour of downtime before bedtime. If you have a 10 p.m. bedtime, stop working at 9 p.m. Put your next day’s to-do list in writing and then set it aside, ready to be tackled in the morning. Then step away from the screens! The blue light emitted from phone, computer and TV screens keeps your brain active, which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
- Reduce your “green” deficit. To balance the time we spend at school or work under unnatural light, make sure to spend some time outdoors each day. Take a walk in the morning sun or after dinner in the moonlight. A daily dose of fresh air and a little exercise go a long way in helping to achieve a restful night.
- Cut the caffeine. Caffeinated drinks seem to be a go-to elixir for people who are stressed out, but they can do more harm than good. Caffeine can exacerbate stress levels—and negatively affect both the quantity and quality of the sleep you get. Today, start on a plan to reduce your caffeine intake to zero! Maybe you can go cold turkey or maybe you’ll have to taper off. At the very least, don’t consume any caffeine after 2 p.m. When you are caffeine-free, you’ll see how much better you sleep at night.
Day 5: Stop the Interruptions
A new baby, trips to the bathroom, outside noises—there are lots of reasons why our rest may be interrupted. Unfortunately, interrupted sleep may be as harmful to the mind and body as getting no sleep at all. One explanation for this is that sleep happens in 60- to 90-minute cycles as we progress from slow-wave sleep to REM sleep. When sleep is interrupted, the body starts the cycle all over again—we can’t just pick up where we left off. That means we miss the more restorative, deeper phases of the sleep cycle. Here are some ways to make sure your sleep isn’t interrupted:
- Avoid heavy or spicy meals too close to bedtime. The body needs three hours to fully digest a meal. Don’t make it try to digest while it’s also trying to sleep.
- Avoid alcohol after dinner. Many people think alcohol helps them sleep. It may help get them to sleep, but it also causes people to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Keep children and pets out of your bedroom. Everyone needs their own bed and their own space to sleep. Children should learn to sleep in their own beds so they sleep uninterrupted, too.
- Avoid blue and white lights in the bedroom. Such lights interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. If you need a night light or a digital alarm clock, use a low-wattage red, yellow or orange light bulb. These colored lights don’t affect melatonin production.
Day 6: Enjoy Your Sleep!
Our dreams are a great part of getting a good night’s sleep. Dreams take us on grand adventures, help us come up with creative solutions and entertain us. A lucid dream is a dream in which we become aware that we are dreaming: Our waking consciousness becomes a part of the dream. When this happens, we can direct our dreams. We can fly, time travel or explore distant lands. Did you know you can develop the skill to be lucid in your dreams when you want to be? It’s pretty simple. First, set the intention before you go to sleep that you want to be aware in your dreams. And set an intention for what you want to dream about. Write it down or say it out loud in the present tense: “I am traveling to Italy tonight!” Sometimes we become aware that we are lucid dreaming, get excited and wake up. If this happens and you want to go back to sleep, settle in and say to yourself: “I am aware I am dreaming and I choose to continue the dream.” If you want to start a new dream, imagine yourself changing the channel and stepping into a new screen.When you wake up in the morning, write down your dreams to gain some insight into what is going on in your inner world.
Day 7: Reap the Rewards
The benefits of a good night’s sleep are evident in the way we feel: happy, energetic, focused, creative, optimistic. Here are just some of the rewards that we can reap by investing in our sleep:
- An improved memory: During sleep, the brain consolidates memories and skills so that we better synthesize all we have learned during the day.
- A decrease in inflammation: Better rest means lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart attack.
- More success: Students who sleep well have better focus and earn better grades. Similarly, Stanford University studies show that well-rested football players suffer less fatigue, have more stamina and record improved sprint times.
- A healthy weight: Researchers at the University of Chicago found that people on diets who slept well lost more fat than those who were sleep deprived. Those who got more sleep also felt less hungry.
- Fewer accidents: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driving while tired accounts for the highest number of fatal single-car crashes. Lack of sleep affects a driver’s reaction time and decision-making ability.
- More happiness: Good rest provides more emotional stability. A lack of sleep can contribute to depression.
You made it! I hope you enjoyed your seven-day sleep retreat and feel well-rested. Maintaining the habits you’ve learned will help you rest well for weeks, months and years to come. Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.