Your Sleeping Environment and What Helps You Sleep
Following on from the previous page on Why is Sleep so Important, lets look at specifically what helps you sleep more soundly.
Your sleeping environment can play a big part in how easily you get to sleep and stay asleep, but there are also 3 important tips for sleeping well that many of us aren't following.
A Sleep Starved Society
So many people in modern Western societies are cutting short the amount of sleep they get each night. We force ourselves up early for work or to get the children ready for school and then stay up watching TV or on the internet until late in the evening.
Regularly getting under six hours a night won't just make you tired, it can have negative effects on just about every facet of your life and even make you a danger to others. The internet and TV in the evenings can have their place, but it's worth finding a way to make them fit into your time-frame and not let them keep you up so late.
Computer screens in the evening have another issue to be aware of. They emit a lot of blue light which has been shown to keep us awake when we should naturally be feeling tired. I use a small program called F.lux that actually adjusts the color of your screen to remove the blue light in the evenings and turns the screen a warmer tone to minimize this effect.
Ultimately though we have to realize that there will always be another cat picture or Pinterest page to go to. You can either keep on going until you're exhausted and have a bad day tomorrow because of it, or you can set a time to turn off the screen, ideally at least half an hour before bed, and stick to it.
Late-night TV is a problem as the best programs for adults are usually on too late at night. Many of us then try to go straight from watching a fast-paced movie that goes to past midnight straight to bed. It's hardly surprising that some people's minds have trouble switching off and getting to sleep.
A better way is to record the TV shows or movies you really want to watch or have play on demand and plan to watch them earlier in the night so they finish at least half an hour before you go to bed.
For that last half an hour, do anything else you have to do before bed. Tidying up or washing the dishes in the evening is better than in the morning when you are getting ready for work.
Reading a book, particularly fiction novels, works well for many people and will be far more calming than watching the TV.
A shower before bed can also be particularly relaxing and is recommended for those whose minds have trouble switching off in the evening.
Your Sleeping Environment
An unsuitable sleeping environment makes it difficult to get a good night's rest. There are four main elements worth considering to make your bedroom more conductive to sleep – light, noise, the bed and your pillow.
1. Light – A good bedroom for sleeping in is a dark bedroom. If there's light coming in from the street and you're aware of it then it could be worth investing in some blackout curtains or blinds that completely shut it out.
Additionally, bright alarm clocks or glowing electrical equipment have no place in the bedroom. Use thick tape to cover the small pointless standby lights that are so common or replace equipment with a noticeable glow.
Many people use their phones these days as alarm clocks. These are probably better than having large glowing neon numbers that remind you of how late it is, but remember to keep them far away from your head. Ideally in a corner of the room where you have to get up to turn the alarm off.
Smart phones in particular have a surprisingly wide electromagnetic field and you really don't want that in range of your head for eight hours every night.
2. Noise - Some people can sleep through anything, but if you're not one of them and noise from the neighbors or outside is interrupting your sleep it could be worth considering playing a white noise recording of rain or ocean sounds.
I previously had a job that sometimes involved working overnight and coming home at 8am in the morning to try and sleep. I wouldn't recommend it but what I found worked for me at the time was this recording of rain sounds that I played on repeat, just loud enough to drown out most other noises from outside or the neighbors above.
Repetitive natural sounds like the waves of the ocean or rain in a forest can keep your mind off other noises and after a while just playing these white noise recordings can become associated with sleep and send you off easily.
If you have a partner that snores then do them a favor and roll them onto their side. Not only is it much harder to snore when you sleep on your side it's also much better for you.
Sleeping on your back, especially for those overweight or unwell, is associated with a surprising number of health issues. If they are still snoring then special nasal strips can help to open the airways and let both of you sleep easier.
3. Bed - A comfortable bed is an important investment. If you know the quality of your bed is affecting your sleep then it’s worth saving up for a good one. You spend a third of your life in it (or at least you should be after following the suggestions ahead) so you might as well have one that you enjoy getting in to.
When looking for a new bed it's really worth trying different ones at a show room to find what style of bed is best for you. You'll need at least a few minutes on each in your favorite sleeping position to really tell if it's comfortable.
While I know any bedding consultants won't like to hear this, the beds you find in retail stores are usually heavily marked up so it's worth checking the price of the one you like online. I recently got a new pocket spring mattress bed like this and the online price was around half of that in the showroom.
4. Pillow - Probably just as essential as a good bed is a good pillow. It's obviously a matter of personal taste but the right pillow for you should feel comfortable straight away, no adjusting or moving it around needed.
Regular cheap pillows don't usually offer a great deal of support and should be changed every year or so as they can harbor dust mites and other allergens. I've found high quality latex pillows to be particularly comfortable.
You want to let them air for a few days before using them but they provide a lot more support while still having a 'give' and softness to them. They are also naturally resistant to dust mites as these little nasties don't like latex, making them great for people with allergies.
3 Extra Tips to Help You Sleep
1. Get up Earlier
You can improve your chances of getting a good night sleep by the way you start your day. If you wake up early and begin your morning in a relaxed way with plenty of time you will not only get much more done, you'll also likely be a lot calmer doing it.
This is important because the more stressed out you get during the day, the more of the hormone cortisol you will be producing in your body. Cortisol is one of the main chemicals that makes us feel awake and alert but too much of it can get you wired and on edge.
Excessive amounts of cortisol, brought on by stress or often too much coffee, can leave you feeling exhausted at the end of the day, but it doesn't help you to get to sleep. In fact, it specifically counteracts the brain and body conditions needed to fall asleep.
Getting up earlier and taking your time during the day should help to reduce high cortisol levels, but cutting back on sources of caffeine like coffee, cola and energy drinks is also important.
2. Limit Coffee, Soda and Other Sources of Caffeine
Coffee first thing in the morning starts you off down the fast lane of the cortisol racetrack and can have some negative effects on your health that few people are aware of. With caffeine having a half life of 5 to 6 hours, it's also likely to interfere with sleep for some people when they drink it in the afternoon or especially the evening.
Soda often has caffeine and the added rush of staggering amounts of insulin producing sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This insulin rollercoaster of brief highs followed by longer pits of low energy will also affect your ability to get to sleep later in the evening.
There's a lot of health benefits in replacing soda with something similar that is actually healthy. I'd add improving sleep to the already long list.
3. Slow Down
If you can start incorporating some of the suggestions above into your day and night then slowing down should be something that starts to happen naturally. That said, it's still good to be aware of it and give yourself the time to move through your day more calmly, taking a little longer doing things but doing them properly the first time.
This becomes a lot easier with a good night's rest and getting up early enough so you can arrive at work in plenty of time, without rushing around and stimulating excessive cortisol levels just to get moving.
Regularly taking time out during the day, away from computer screens and smart phones and giving your mind a chance to relax and think about what you've been doing will also make a big difference in how easily you drift off once you go to bed in the evening.
What helps you sleep personally? Do you have any tips to share on the best ways you've found to fall asleep and stay sleeping all night?
I'll share what's worked well for me personally in the next post - Insomnia Help: Ways to Fall Asleep.