The most important prerequisites for sleeping well

The most important prerequisites for sleeping well

The physiological mechanisms involved are complex, but in a nutshell, bad sleep hygiene disrupts normal hormonal patterns that need to be reset at night. Insulin, growth hormones, melatonin, and thyroid hormones can be affected negatively by poor sleep.

A house built on shifting sands… well, you know the saying. We need a solid sleep foundation, and this article will go over each and every step that you need to incorporate into your life as soon as possible. Because if you don’t, you’ll go nuts.

Here are several sleep hygiene suggestions, all of which I can personally attest were helpful to me in licking insomnia. Let’s dive right into each of these so that you can begin applying them immediately in your life.

Avoid liquids

Let’s start with the basics. You want to avoid all liquids a minimum of two hours prior to bedtime. And I don’t just mean alcohol. That’s a given, but we will address more on that later.

The last thing you want to happen, when you’re trying to put an end to insomnia, is unnecessary getting up in the middle of the night.

This is common sense, along with avoiding any type of caffeine. Remember that caffeine is not just found in tea and coffee; it is also found in food items such as candy, especially chocolate, although to a much lesser extent. Some over-the-counter cold and headache remedies are high in caffeine, so check with your pharmacist if you are using items such as these.

Avoid heavy meals

You definitely want to avoid eating or drinking anything close to bedtime that could disturb your sleep. Eating a big meal within two hours of bedtime is simply not good for your health and not good for your sleep hygiene. Nor do you want your stomach to be growling while you’re lying in bed. So, clearly we want to be somewhere in the middle — and that is not difficult to accomplish on a daily basis, as long as one just eats dinner at a regular hour and keeps snacks to a minimum. Your body weight, cholesterol, and overall health will thank you for it.

Limit napping

Resist napping if you can. At the most, keep it to a 10 or 15 minute power nap earlier in the day. Anything more than that runs the risk of disrupting your sleep that evening.

Move that clock

One of the problems I quickly identified when I had insomnia was seeing the clock throughout the night. I would have to get up, usually due to my severe restlessness. Consequently, I couldn’t avoid seeing the big LCD display on my clock.

“1:15 a.m.! Are you kidding me?” I would say to myself, lying there in the dark, extremely frustrated. “I’ve only been asleep two hours, and now I’m wide awake and not going back to sleep. This can’t be happening again.”

This was a regular routine for me, and it was seriously impacting any chance I had to relax and get back to sleep.

Of course, I still needed a clock. I had to get up to work on my sound projects — at some point in the morning — and get ready for the day.

Accomplishing that task each morning, during my bout with insomnia, was a tremendous struggle.

The solution was to move the clock 90 degrees and out of plain sight. I did the same for my husband’s clock, which had been positioned just so, that depending on where his head was, I might accidently see his clock. His clock had to be re-positioned as well. It was a simple change, but it helped me tremendously.

Assess your environment

Are you comfortable in your current sleep environment? What can you do to improve the situation? How is your mattress? Is your pillow a good fit? Ask yourself all the relevant questions.

For starters, you want everything to be extremely comfortable. The temperature of the room is critical. Make sure the room is dark and the temperature just right for you. Most people prefer a room that is more on the cool end. You may be different, but you surely know what the right temperature is.

I like a room that is slightly cooler than the other rooms in the home, and I also prefer to have a ceiling fan running during the night to keep the air flowing. I used to employ another fan that served as white noise because I liked the humming sound which would block out other noises. I have long since gotten away from relying on that fan, and use stereo speakers with a beefy subwoofer now. When I’m traveling, I use headphones — I especially recommend the Sennheiser HD 380 PRO because they’re perfect for sleeping on your side.

Sleep masks, earplugs, and blackout curtains are among the tools that people rely on to make their bedroom most compatible for their sleep preferences.

Now make sure your bed is comfortable. Ideally, you are spending one-third of your entire day on that mattress and pillow. Despite that, few people put much research or time into finding the right mattress and pillow for them. If you have ever slept in a hotel or someone else’s house, then you know very well that there are great variations in these items. Make sure yours are the best you can afford.

A mattress pad is one great way to make your bed much more comfy without spending a fortune. Wal-Mart, for example, sells mattress pads that mimic down feathers for a fraction of the cost found at high-end stores.

How about noise and lighting? Make sure the room is dark enough, and that there are no internal noises which are disturbing to you during the night.

If you have a spouse or loved one, ask yourself if that person is an issue. Many a snorer, for example, has ruined someone else’s sleep. This can be remedied by listening to white noise through a side-sleeper friendly pair of headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 380 PRO. If not, you may have to sleep alone if the other person does present a deterrent. After you’ve defeated your insomnia, you can likely return to your original sleep arrangements.

Exercise

Try to get into a routine of exercising each day. It is doubly good if you can do it outside during the day, where you will be able to get some sunlight and, consequently, some vitamin D.

Even if the weather is bad, you can still get your cardiovascular activity in by doing it at home. Find some space in your house, purchase a DVD of an aerobics class, and accomplish your cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis.

Other forms of exercise that can be done in the house include yoga, jump rope, jogging or walking on a treadmill, etc.

Make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime. You don’t want your body stimulated in the hours when you should be shutting down for the night.

Eat well

In addition to avoiding heavy meals and liquids close to bedtime, it just makes common sense that you should immediately get into a daily routine of eating well. By keeping a good diet, you will maintain a more ideal weight and just feel better overall.

Avoid evening meals which are high in fat. Also, avoid any foods which are likely to cause you heartburn or indigestion. The effects of spicy food, for example, worsen as you lie down. Avoid foods high in protein. Foods rich in protein contain an amino acid known as tyrosine. Tyrosine is believed to stimulate brain activity, the last thing you need late in the evening.

As for foods that are believed to aid the sleep process, look towards milk (and other items containing calcium), honey and bananas.

Use technology to your advantage

Don’t want to miss that favourite television show that starts at 10:00 p.m.? Well, that is what Tivos, DVRs, and VCRs are for. Tivos and DVRs are wonderful in that you can set up a regular, scheduled taping every time your favourite show airs. You can also easily record the remainder of a show if you find yourself getting sleepy. Use modern technology to your advantage. Your sleep is too important.

Write down your problems

I am a firm believer that by putting your thoughts to paper, it helps release them from your mind. It allows you to wake up the next day and, at that time, begin to address the issue(s). Another benefit of doing this is that you will not lose that great idea that you just had while lying in bed!

Make sure you do not go to bed with your mind racing or with problems still pending. Put them “to bed” for the night, and then you will be able to put yourself to bed — peacefully.

Putting goals in perspective

What are your main goals in life? Psychologists Richard Ryan and Tim Kasser performed a series of studies a few years back that drew the conclusion that people who made the pursuit of money and materialism a top goal in life have lower well-being. The studies found that these individuals had a variety of personal problems, such as higher anxiety and depressive symptoms.

If you are not happy in your life, make sure you are setting the right goals. If the main pursuits in your life have no real meaning, then you’ll never be satisfied. Consequently, you will worry more — and that can seriously affect your sleeping.

Assess your priorities and make the needed adjustments.

Evaluate your mental state

If you suffer from any form of depression, you may not sleep well — at least not on a regular basis. If you believe you have clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, seek your physician’s advice immediately. If for some reason you do not have a general practitioner, ask around. Inquire with people you know and trust and ask them if there is a doctor they recommend. It does not have to be a doctor who specializes in this field, as many doctors can recognize and treat depression. One way or another, seek help and do it pronto!

Stop obsessing

Lots of us obsess about various things in our lives. Obsessive thoughts can negatively impact our sleep. If we are an obsessive personality, it is important to turn this trait into a positive.

“I will sleep great tonight.” If you need to obsess with any type of thought, make it this one. Repeat this to yourself throughout the day if any negative thought enters your mind. Then, when you are lying in bed, repeat this statement three times… and believe it!

Avoid stimulation

Many people may not realize that this includes the internet. Don’t be surfing the web shortly before bedtime. In my opinion this is much worse than television, which many experts commonly mention as a contributing cause of insomnia.

The light from the computer screen can certainly mess with your body’s internal clock, much more so than a television parked 10 feet or more further away.

Don’t be checking your work e-mail one final time before bed, either. I know I have been guilty of that on too many occasions. There is nothing that can’t wait until the morning. Just think: if it is a problem, do you really want to handle it at this late hour, or if you can’t, do you want to go to bed having to worry about it? It’s a lose-lose situation. Avoid it.

It can be difficult at first to make this disconnect from technology, but it is well worth it.

Mitigate stress

Sit down and spend some time analyzing what exactly is causing stress in your life. Are there things that are regularly causing stress which you have control over? When you really analyze the situations, you will be surprised to find how many issues you actually do have control over. In other words, you can make changes to eliminate or reduce the stress that is brought on by these issues.

In my particular situation a few years ago, my husband and I were running a small business on the side. I was managing the e-mails and orders that would come in and was basically serving as a customer service representative. Many times I would deal with this immediately after a long day at my regular, full-time job or shortly before bedtime. Other times I would ignore the business for a day or two and then try to play “catch up”. Neither situation was good. And both choices were creating unnecessary stress in my life. I told my husband that we would have to shut down the business, because it simply wasn’t a healthy thing for me. We found a solution, was able to keep the side business going, but most importantly, I got that stress removed from my busy lifestyle. This didn’t cure my insomnia, but it certainly alleviated a burden and helped me beat it quicker.

Find a good read

You want to go to bed with the right frame of mind. Our mental state is key to our success.

I highly recommend finding a good book or two to read, and find one that is an inspirational work. There are many great self-help books from Tony Robbins, the late Norman Vincent Peale, and others. If that type of “stuff” doesn’t keep you interested, then specifically find a book that has a positive message. You do not want a book that presents any type of suspense. Save that for when your sleep disorder is ancient history. Besides, it won’t be long.

Summary

I know this was quite a bit to take in, especially in one reading. Begin making changes immediately. You likely will not get it all right in one day, so go back and read this article so that you don’t overlook anything. Keep notes for yourself, if necessary, and make sure you get on the path to a solid sleep hygiene foundation as soon as possible.

You should take a moment to ask yourself: Which “sleep hygiene” items am I failing at right now? Note all areas where you can make improvements. After one week, go back and ask yourself: Am I fully committed to each of the items presented in this article?