Sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life.
Sleep is one of the most important contributors to our physical and mental health. When we sleep, several important things happen. Our bodies recover from and repair physical stress. Our minds begin to sort the thoughts, experiences, and learning we did that day. Sleep is so essential, but often so neglected.
In college it seemed like I was invincible. I could pull all nighters. Or function with only 3 hours of sleep and a quick afternoon nap. But, when I had babies, that lifestyle was no longer possible.
After two years of horrible sleeping habits (my own and my babies), I went on a journey to find a better way to sleep. I read books and research articles on sleep. I watched YouTube videos. I even followed sleep experts and attended seminars and Q&A’s.
If you’re constantly waking up wishing you got more sleep, here are seven ways you can improve your sleeping habits. If you have kids, you can use these tips for them as well.
1. Consistent Bedtime
Several systems in our bodies work like clocks. This helps our body run more efficiently. Your body also has a clock for sleep.
Your sleeping schedule affects your body’s “sleep clock.” Having an inconsistent sleep and wake schedule messes with your internal clock. Your body doesn’t know when to start releasing sleep hormones because it never knows when bedtime will be. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Having a consistent bedtime will improve your sleep. Consistency allows your body to know when to begin releasing sleep hormones and help you fall asleep quicker.
2. No Screens 2 Hours Before Bedtime
Our body uses light cues to know when to release certain hormones. When we wake, the light from outside signals to our body to release hormones that help us feel awake and alert. When the sun goes down, this lack of light signals to our bodies to start producing sleep hormones.
However, the blue light from our screens affects the body’s ability to produce melatonin. Which is an essential sleep hormone.
To have better sleep, stop using screens two hours before bedtime. This will help your body begin producing melatonin sooner. If you must use a device, make sure it’s on Night Mode. Or wear blue light blocking glasses. These block the blue light, helping our body produce melatonin.
3. Go To Bed Early
Studies show that the earlier you go to bed, the better sleep you get. For starters, going to bed earlier improves your quantity of sleep. It gives you enough time to get enough sleep before needing to wake up the next morning.
But an early bedtime also improves your quality of sleep, too.
When we sleep, our body cycles through light sleep and deep sleep. Both types are important. But the majority of deep sleep happens earlier in the evening. And the majority of light sleep happens closer to morning. But if you go to bed late, you will miss some of these cycles. And this will lower your quality of sleep.
Go to bed as early as possible and your body will be able to cycle through all the types of sleep that it needs to.
4. Only Sleep, Have Sex, and Read In Bed
If you’re trying to get better sleep, you need to limit the activities you do in your bed. It will be harder for you to sleep if your body thinks it’s time to watch your favorite tv show. Or answer your emails. Or check your Instagram.
Your body begins to associate bedtime with these activities, making it difficult to quiet your mind and fall asleep.
Limit activities in your bed to sleep, sex, and reading a book (paper, not digital).
5. Cool, Dark, and Quiet Room
Studies show that we sleep better in certain environments. Our bodies like a cool, dark, and quiet room. Remove any devices that emit a light. Use black out curtains if you live in a city. Wear loose, breathable clothing to bed. Use a sleeping mask or ear plugs if you need them.
6. Exercise Every Day
There are so many physical and mental health benefits that come from exercising. But daily exercise is also important for a good night’s sleep. Studies show that exercise helps you fall asleep quickly and improves the quality of your sleep.
So try to dedicate at least 30 minutes each day to getting rigorous exercise.
7. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
Caffeine and alcohol can affect our ability to fall asleep as well as interrupt our sleep cycles. Enjoy your last cup of coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink in the afternoon. Limit your alcohol consumption three hours before bedtime.
It’s easy to sleep better when you live alone. But some of us have partners or kids. Here are some additional sleeping tips if you’re in a relationship or are a parent.
Tips for Sharing a Bed
Sharing a bed with your partner can interrupt your sleep cycles and lower your quality of sleep. But we love them anyway and hate breaking this tradition. To improve your sleep while sharing a bed, start by getting a bed that is big enough for the both of you. When my husband and I bought a king-size mattress, we finally had enough room to move in our sleep without bumping into each other.
We also don’t share a blanket. About three days into our marriage I realized it was impossible to sleep well if we were constantly fighting over the blanket. So my husband and I fall asleep each night tangled up in our own blankets. And it’s magical.
A few years into our marriage I bought a watch with a vibrating alarm. I’m the type of sleeper who needs several alarms to wake up. But that was torture for my husband. So I invested in a watch that lets me set multiple alarms. Instead of my phone ringing every few minutes and waking up my husband, my watch on my wrist vibrates. Now I can wake up with an alarm without waking up my husband.
Tips for Helping Kids Sleep
Let’s face it. If your kids don’t sleep, then you don’t sleep. I have two kiddos and they were both horrible sleepers. My oldest did not sleep through the night until she was two and a half years old! She woke up several times every night. My husband and I were zombies.
There are a lot of ways out there to sleep train your babies. And I’m sure they work for most kids. But we tried everything. Noise machines. Crying it out. Rocking. Pacifiers. Co-sleeping. Essential oils. Fans. Sleep sacks. Comfort toys. Everything. But nothing worked.
What finally did work for us was this:
- Your kids need to go to sleep when they are alert, happy, and awake. If you wait too long to put them down, then they will be overtired. They will have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Whatever conditions your baby falls asleep with is what they expect when they wake up. So if they fall asleep with a pacifier in their mouth, it needs to be there when they wake up. Or else they’ll cry for you to give it back to them. If you rock them to sleep, they will expect to be rocked back to sleep when they wake up.
When we finally figured this out, we were able to sleep train our kids. And it was amazing. Being able to sleep uninterrupted for the first time in two and a half years changed our lives.
If your children are older, use the seven tips above to help them sleep better, too.
Sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life. Getting better sleep improves your mood. It lowers stress and helps you feel more relaxed. It helps you perform better in school and at work. It lowers your risk of serious health problems and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Make sleep a priority and use these tips to improve your sleep. And ultimately improve your life.