The ability to fall asleep—and stay asleep long enough to feel restored and refreshed in the morning—is vital to your overall health and well being. Sleep is also essential in helping your body heal from an injury, and/or to cope with pain or illness. Try one or a combination of these 11 tips to help you sleep more soundly and wake up rested and refreshed:
Number one, force your worries.
If worrying kicks in just after you close your eyes or awakes you in the middle of the night, consider scheduling a daily "worry time" during the day. Choose a 15 minute period at the same time every day when you try to think of every possible worry, and then tell them to a trusted confidant or write them out in a journal. Getting your worries out during the day can help keep your mind from dwelling on them during the night.
You can also try keeping a pen and notebook by your bed—that way if you wake up with worries or anxiety you can write about it. Sometimes simply knowing that your concerns are recorded will allow you to rest easier.
Number two, consider taking the supplement valerian.
While many sources recommend sleep medications or melatonin, personally I have found valerian to be more effective. Valerian is an herb and is made from the root of a perennial flower. Some people believe that valerian is more effective at helping you stay asleep longer, allowing a deeper and more restful night's sleep. As with many herbal supplements, there are not enough well-structured studies to be definitive about whether it is effective, or what doses and duration are optimal—though always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist to be safe. Also, beware of the odor—the capsules have an unpleasant smell.
Number three, nap lightly every day.
Many sleep sources say to avoid napping, but as long as the nap is not overly long it can help you get through the day and keep to a better bedtime routine. Keep to a schedule. Napping at the same time every day will allow your body to regulate itself to fall asleep more quickly at that time.
Make it in the early afternoon. The optimal time for napping is about an hour after lunch, which is when your body is naturally inclined to feel sleepy, and it's early enough in the day to not interfere with falling asleep at night. Keep it short. A 10- to 20-minute power nap provides enough sleep to help you feel refreshed and more alert, yet it won't make you feel groggy or interfere with falling asleep at night.
Number four, try out a more comfortable mattress.
Do you wake up and shift positions a lot? Do you have to try 3 or 4 positions before you can fall asleep? Does back pain, shoulder pain, or any type of joint pain wake you up? Any mattress will work well for you if it provides a balance of both supporting the natural curves in your spine and providing enough comfort for your joints to rest comfortably through the night.
A mattress that sags—meaning that you can see a compression in some part of the mattress—will always create sleep discomfort and can worsen back problems.
Number five, get out in the sunlight soon after waking up in the morning.
When you wake up, don't lounge around in bed. Get out in the morning sun—or at least sit near a sunny window—soon after getting up. The bright sunlight tells your body's natural biological clock that it's time to wake up, and that same internal clock will then be set to tell your body it's time to go to sleep about 14 to 16 hours later.
Number six, avoid taking a hot bath.
A lot of people advise taking a hot bath to relax yourself, but since the body needs to lower its temperature in order to fall asleep, a hot bath right before bed will actually keep you up. If you enjoy a soak in a hot bath, take it earlier in the evening—2 or more hours before bedtime—so your body has enough time to cool down.
Number seven, make your room colder.
Your body needs to cool down in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so do what you can to make your room cool—add a fan, open a window, or turn up the AC. Many people like the combination of a cold bedroom and heavy blankets or comforters, as nestling in under the covers can have a soothing, cocooning feeling that nurtures sleep.
Number eight, exercise intensely.
Nothing beats intense exercise as a path to achieving deep, restorative sleep. When I say "intensely," I mean intense relative to your capability. For some this may mean running 5 miles, for others it may mean a brisk 20 minute walk that elevates the heart rate. Physical tiredness is essential to getting a good night's sleep.
For anyone with back pain or other medical issues that make it difficult to exercise intensely, try to find another way to get your heart rate up. Maybe you can tolerate water therapy—the water in the pool supports your joints and provides gentle resistance, making it possible for you to get a wonderful workout without too much pain. Exercising to the point of elevating your heart rate has the added benefit of producing more of your body's own feel-good hormones: endorphins.
Number nine, block out background noise.
White noise is restful, and even more importantly, it means that you won't be woken up with every little thump that the house makes. A fan is ideal because it does double duty of providing consistent soft background noise as well as keeping your room cool. Similarly, an air cleaner will serve to both provide white noise and help keep your room free of dust.
You can also buy a white noise machine or download an app that will provide several white noise options like the sound of rain, wind, and more. Many people prefer pink noise, which includes more varied sounds such as a waterfall or babbling brook.
Number ten, match your pillows to your sleep position.
Pillows can be a great sleep aid. For example, if you like to sleep on your back, use a pillow to support your knees. Keeping your knees supported and slightly bent helps take stress off your lower back.
If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees. Keeping your knees slightly apart maintains better alignment with the hips, and helps keep your lower back from twisting, which is easier on the spinal discs, joints, and soft tissues.
If you like to sleep lying on your stomach, make sure to use a flat (or no) pillow for your head so that your neck is not strained. To maintain the natural inward curve of your lower back (lordosis), place a relatively flat pillow beneath your hips/abdomen.
And finally, number eleven, empower yourself to reduce stress.
At some points in our lives, we are burdened by a great deal of stress. It may be chronic pain, a family or work situation, financial stress, or all of these combined. Many believe that they just need relaxation to reduce stress. However, the opposite of stress is not relaxation, it's empowerment.
So do what you can to empower yourself. Daily meditation generally works well, as it frees up all the clutter to float to the surface, be recognized, and be gone. For others it is guided imagery, either with the help of a professional or with CDs, regular massage, yoga or tai chi, calming music, or a therapeutic run or bike ride to get powerful endorphins flowing.
I hope everything we've talked about will give you some new ideas and help you get as much restful, restorative sleep as possible. Sweet dreams and stay healthy!