Most of my life, I’ve been a solid sleeper with dreams galore. Having and recalling vivid dreams is a sign of quality sleep. Dreaming occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle of sleep, the deepest part of the sleep cycle, and the one in which many of our hormones are secreted (released) into the bloodstream.
During REM sleep, the eyes dart back and forth, or up and down. We are nearly paralyzed at this time. Just about the only muscles moving are our heart, diaphragm, eyes and smooth muscles like those in our intestines and blood vessels. The REM cycle lasts about 90-110 minutes. It’s repeated about 4-6 times per night. As the night goes on, the duration of our REM cycle increases.
Sleep needs vary. Eight hours per night is OPTIMAL for the majority of people, though some may need more or less. I wrote “optimal” in capital letters because it’s important to note the difference in how we function between mediocre sleep and optimal sleep. I believe the majority of adults get mediocre sleep and many are okay with it. I am not. Hence, my emphasis on improving quality of sleep.
I am a highly sensitive person (read more here), which means I react to the most subtle changes in my surroundings and body. For most of my life, if I got 7.5 hours instead of 8 hours, I’d have a headache all morning and feel exhausted. I thought I was a wimp. Turns out I’m just sensitive. Also, a couple years ago, I began sleeping like crap, tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep quickly. Each period of my life where I didn’t get the amount of sleep I needed, I looked into tips.
MY SLEEP GUIDELINES
- No television. No computer. No screens of any kind. Even if you think viewing something on the screen helps you to fall asleep, research shows that your sleep quality is compromised. Gluing your eyes to a screen might get you to fall asleep, but it doesn’t mean you are sleeping well.
- On this note, do not look at your phone if you wake up during the night.
- This goes for the alarm clock in your room with the bright screen. Get rid of it.
- Keep it clean and tidy. Clutter anywhere can consciously and unconsciously affect the clutter in your brain.
- Keep the temperature a little lower. I lower the thermostat by two degrees before bed.
- Adjust curtains and blinds accordingly. If you work shifts, you want something that keeps out light. I know this well, as my dad worked the midnight shift for years. If you do not work shifts, I recommend a light curtain, or blinds that you open a small bit. Having natural light come into your room every morning helps your body to wake up naturally.
- Along with this, try your best to get to sleep around the same time each night.
- Use lavender. Two spritzes on my pillow before I go to bed. I have been doing this for a year without fail. (I wash my sheets with Trader Joe’s lavender laundry detergent and use their lavender laundry bags as well.)
- Use other calming scents and oils like chamomile and valerian.
- Write down your most important tasks for the next day and put the list somewhere outside the bedroom. This prevents you lying in bed figuring it out.
- Meditate, pray, etc before bed.
- Invest in very good pillows and the right mattress. I got amazing pillows on sale at Macy’s during their Home sale a couple years ago. They have a huge Home sale twice a year. $150 pillows for $38 each (Charter Club). My sleeping quality significantly improved after I bought them. I also just got a new mattress and now sleep is heavenly.
- Do not exercise hard within several hours of bedtime. Twice in the last week, I worked out hard with heavy weights about three hours before bed. A very long 90 minutes later, I finally fall asleep. I didn’t do anything different with my routine, and I’ve always worked out earlier in the day, so I know this was a factor. Light intensity may actually help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. When you work out moderately or hard, your core temperature increases and stays elevated for awhile. It takes awhile for your internal temperature to cool down, which is necessary for quality zzz’s.
- Do not consume caffeine after “X:XX” time. This time will vary for you. Some people are extra sensitive (me again) to caffeine. I stay away from caffeine after 2pm. Again, like your screen time, you may drink coffee later in the day and fall asleep okay, but that does not mean your body is sleeping optimally. Personally, I’m an advocate for sticking with 0-2 cups of coffee, and NO junky energy drinks.
- Ladies, have no more than one drink in the evening. Men, no more than two drinks for you for. If you are having more than this, then you may be falling asleep okay, but your sleep quality may very well be compromised.
- Avoid long, daytime naps. This can interfere with nighttime sleep (unless your are my sister and can take a 4 hour nap and then sleep a solid 9 hours at night). A short 20-30 minute nap may be very beneficial during the day for you. Only you can tell.
- Exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly seem to sleep better.
- If you are training for an athletic event, or training hard in general, aim to get more sleep. I used to run half-marathons and marathons. At the two-month training mark, I always needed NINE hours of sleep. Allow your body to recover from the stress you’re putting it through.
- Speaking of stress, learn to manage your stress. (More on this later this month.) You may practice all the tips I’ve mentioned, but if you are chronically, majorly stressed, your sleep quality will be compromised.
- Avoid large meals within a few hours of bedtime, especially high-sugar, high-fat meals.
- Eat something a little light if you get hungry before bedtime, perhaps about an hour beforehand. Foods with melatonin may help you, like pure cherry juice or oatmeal.
Among all the sleep tips I’ve read, having a routine is a tried-and-true guideline. I practice the above-mentioned tips, and I have a ritual as well.
- I dim the lights in my home within an hour or two of bedtime.
- I drink hot tea (ginger or herbal, like chamomile).
- I stretch and/or use my foam roller to relax my muscles.
- I take a hot shower and use lavender body wash or scrub, or I take a hot bath with lavender bath soap. I’ve read that ~5-8 minutes is good to get you relaxed for bed. I throw in epsom salts if I worked out hard that day.)
- I avoid computer screen time within an hour of bedtime. (I do not have a television, so you could say I avoid that, too.)
- I read, journal, do light “picking up” around the house, or listen to calming music.
- I put my phone upside down on my dresser, not within reach of my bed.
CAN YOU ADD ANY OTHER TIPS?