Sleep is the body’s natural repair-and-maintenance process. It is during sleep when the body repairs and rejuvenates its cells. When this process is achieved successfully, the body is getting quality sleep, and the individual will feel refreshed and active upon waking up.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is an individual’s inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both regardless of how many hours the individual slept. People suffering from insomnia also have the problem of waking up too early. It is a common sleep disorder that is characterized more by the quality rather than quantity of sleep. So even with long hours of sleep, a person suffering from insomnia can still feel drowsy or fatigued from the time he or she wakes up until throughout the day.
There are a number for factors that can affect the quality of sleep of an individual, from sleep habits to daily lifestyle choices, food choices, and health conditions. In this article, we will explore five helpful tips on how to sleep better by establishing healthy sleep habits to avoid insomnia.
Healthy sleep habit #1: Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Our bodies have a natural sleep-wake cycle and its own natural body clock. When you know the time when your body feels tired and sleepy as well as the time when your body wakes, you will be guided on how to go about your whole day’s activities to support this natural body schedule. The next thing to do is to keep this schedule regular and consistent.
So go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This will achieve for you quality sleep and therefore you wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and energized. An inconsistent sleep schedule will also produce an erratic body clock.
Avoid sleeping in on weekends. When it comes to sleep, there is no “cheat day.” Altering whatever regularity you have established in you sleep schedule will only cancel out this achievement. If you are tempted to “make up” for lack of sleep by sleeping longer weekends, opt to take short naps during the day instead.
Power naps are not called such for nothing, but if you have to take naps, be smart about when to do it and when not to do it. If you are already suffering from insomnia, naps are not an option. Naps will only worsen the sleep disorder, so avoid naps altogether if you already have this sleep disorder.
Taking naps after dinner, which is only a few hours before bedtime, will also be unwise. If you feel drowsy after a meal, especially dinner, divert your attention by doing something physically stimulating such as after-dinner chores or chatting with someone.
Healthy sleep habit #2: Keep away from light during bedtime.
Light exposure controls melatonin, a hormone that can make you sleepy and help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The brain secretes more of this hormone when you are in a dark environment and less when there is light.
So during the day, make sure that there is enough natural light in your environment, whether it’s your office or home. Spend as much time as you can outdoor as well. Natural light will make you more awake, alert, and active.
During the night, do the exact opposite. The less light there is, the better. As much as possible, avoid bright screens at least two hours before bedtime. With the onset of modern technology such as computers, laptops, smartphones, television, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid bright screens at night; however, you can keep this in check by keeping a time limit as when you use these gadgets.
Finally, when the time comes for you to sleep, keep your room as dark as possible. Use dark curtains if you have to have outdoor lighting (i.e., security lights, perimeter lights, etc.) or use a sleep mask to cover your eyes. If you have any gadget that emits light (like an alarm clock), keep it out of your sight. If you ever you have to get up during the night, keep the light at the minimum to retain the sleep environment. This will allow you to fall back to sleep immediately.
Healthy sleep habit #3: Exercise regularly and at the right time.
There have been a number of studies conducted about exercise, and it is not foreign to anyone that exercise boosts body energy. That is the reason why exercise in the morning or in the afternoon is recommended to keep you on-the-go and alert for the day’s work.
The benefits of exercise go beyond boosting energy; it can also improve the quality of your sleep. In fact, the more vigorous the exercise is, the better the sleep quality. The key is timing it correctly. When a person exercises, his or her metabolism is speedier, body temperature is elevated, and the activating hormones called cortisol are stimulated. The body will need ample time to cool down, hence, vigorous exercise while it is beneficial, should be timed at least three hours before bedtime or earlier. Relaxing exercises like simple stretches and yoga can also help improve sleep, and a good 10-minute walking exercise everyday will also do wonders to achieve better sleep quality.
Keep in mind, though, that the sleep benefits of exercise is not instant. This has to be a habit that you should practice and master, therefore, this will take time. Just be patient and let its long-term benefits motivate you to keep working on it.
Healthy sleep habit #4: Eat right to sleep right.
Just as your daytime activities will affect your sleep, your food intake during the day will affect the quality of your sleep as well. Even more so, what you eat hours leading to your bedtime. Consider the following tips to help you form a sleep-inducing habit:
- Control your caffeine intake. If you can cut back on your caffeine consumption, the better. If you have to take it, it is recommended that you take your last cup after lunch since caffeine can cause sleep problems, and it can still take effect even up to 12 hours after taking it.
- Have your dinner earlier and keep it light. Take it two hours before bedtime, the latest. Big meals at night can trigger sleep problems especially if you are eating spicy, fatty, or acidic food.
- Alcohol before bedtime is a No-No. While it is a common practice to cap the night with a glass of alcohol, a nightcap can alter your sleep cycle. It may cause you to sleep faster, but you are actually hot-wiring your sleep this way. So, avoid alcohol in the hours leading to your bedtime.
- Avoid too much liquid intake at night. This will mean trips to the bathroom. The more water, juice, tea or other fluids at night, the more trips you will have to take during the night. This might keep you awake and make it difficult for you to fall back to sleep.
If you ever feel the need to eat something at night, decide to munch on a healthy snack such as a banana, a small bowl of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal, granola with yogurt or milk, or even half of a regular tuna sandwich. Having snacks during nighttime has different effects on different people. Some find it to be sleep-inducing; however, some find it otherwise. Know your body and how it responds to snacks during this time.
Healthy sleep habit #5: Manage your thoughts.
Very simply put, clear your head by bedtime. The stress and emotional baggage that you have during the day can interfere with how well you sleep at night. Worrying, staying angry, stressing out on the day’s activities can keep up late at night, if not all night, or keep you waking up throughout the night.
For many, this is easier said than done especially for in cases that involve extreme emotional issues. So if you find it difficult to stop form worrying, learn to manage your thoughts. Try the following relaxation techniques to help you sleep better.
- Deep breathing exercises. With your eyes closed, take deep breaths slowly. Aim to make the next breaths deeper than the last.
- Muscle relaxation. Tens your muscles as tightly as you can then relax completely. Start from your toes and gradually work it toward your upper body muscles to your head.
- Instead of keeping thoughts that worry you, visualize thoughts of a peaceful, relaxing environment and dwell on this thought until you fall asleep. The mind is powerful thing after all.
- Bedtime rituals. Create for yourself a ritual. This can be light activities that you do every night before going to bed. You can read a book, take warm baths, do easy stretches, listen to soft music, and dim the lights, among others. The key is consistency.
Healthy sleep habit #6: Manage your sleep environment.
A cool, quiet, and dark environment is very conducive to achieving a good quality sleep. Also, invest in a comfortable bed. There are some suppliers in the market that offer their customers to try their mattresses. So take advantage of this service and get the bed or mattress that you find most comfortable.
Furthermore, reserve your bedroom for just sleeping and sex. If you associate your bedroom for just these two things, it will condition your mind to relax once you are actually in your bedroom. It will automatically signal your body that it is time to relax, wind down, and sleep.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
Insomnia is a sleep disorder than can be corrected in its early stage. For cases of acute and chronic insomnia, a more aggressive approach is advised. This can be in the form of taking medicines or cognitive behavior therapy. There are pros and cons to these approaches, but if you can prevent the need for it, all the better.
Insomnia, although common and curable, is a disorder that no one wants to experience. So before its onset, it is recommended that you establish for yourself healthy sleep habits to avoid it altogether.