Last week, I talked a little about how important sleep is, and what can go wrong if we don't get enough sleep. Some of the primary reasons we don't get enough sleep are interruptions- which could include snoring (90 million Americans snore), sleep apnea (18 million have sleep apnea), restless leg syndrome, nocturia, circadian rhythm disorders, and of course, stress and anxiety. While I am no expert on apnea or snoring, I have dealt with stress and disordered sleeping for most of the last decade, sometimes with success, and sometimes not.
When the body is in a state of hyperarousal, the fight or flight aspect of our nervous system kicks in, and our body is flooded with cortisol, adrenaline, and often, lots of thoughts flurrying about. Couple that with a caffeine addiction (which has a half life of 5-6 hours) and the use of computers in beds, and no wonder we can't sleep!
Most of us have heard that the blue light wavelength found in phones, tablets, and computers can distort our natural sense of time. Harvard Researchers and the National Sleep Foundation have been doing research on the effects of our using technology before sleep, and the results aren't great. 2/3 of the people surveyed watch TV in the hour before bed, and 1/2 were on tablets, computers, or phones. The blue light in LED's can prevent melatonin from running its course and promoting health sleep times.
So what can you do?
Don't exercise in the hour or so before sleep. I remember seeing people at the gym at 10 and 11 at night while I was in college-not great for sleep and relaxation right afterwards.
Check your afternoon caffeine habit and stop drinking coffee or strong tea after mid afternoon. I like to stop by 2, but that's just me.
Don't put your phone by your bed. Not only does the blue light affect sleep, there is also question as to whether the radiation from phones affects sleep and all over health. I try to put my phone on airplane mode, which I swear makes a difference at night!
If you always watch tv on your computer or tablet, think about stopping a little earlier and reading an actual book or magazine. I'm a sucker for moderately depressing netflix documentaries, and many of my books are on my ipad, so it's a good challenge to read an actual paper object when I want to sleep. I try to either turn off all of my devices or put them on airplane mode if they're near my bed or acting as my alarm, and I'm convinced I sleep better when I do that. It also guarantees that I won't be interrupted by a weather alert, text message, or other sound alert.
De-stress. Carrying your stress around with you at night is a recipe for disaster. I personally meditate before bed, and that helps, but that's not for everyone. I love body-scans, which are found in many meditation and somatic practices. Some people love a warm bath before bed, which can yield similar benefits. If you have a long to-do list for tomorrow, consider writing everything down that needs to be done, allowing the brain to let everything go and focus on the task at hand. If you watch tv or movies before bed, consider watching things that don't stress you out- I usually avoid violent action movies anyways, but things that put the body in a stress reaction won't help either.
One of the challenges that I've had to work with is finding a balanced sleep schedule when I have auditions or concerts coming up, and many of these suggestions have helped immensely. Creating a dark space for sleep also helps, as well as wearing earplugs or having a quiet environment. Consistent bed times are also great for establishing routine, as well as consistent waking times. As I mentioned last week, sleep is necessary, so we might as well make the most of it!