How do you get ready for bed at night? Most of us don’t have any consistent bedtime routine, or we’ve fallen into the habit of doing some really awful things for our sleep quality, like staring at screens late into the night. Yet, we still wonder why we wake up feeling deprived of the rest we need.
Before I started taking my sleep seriously, I woke up every morning with a swollen face, a bad mood, and a desire to just cancel everything and go back to bed (which I often did at the expense of my grades and my reputation at work). Looking back, it’s glaringly obvious to me why I wasn’t getting any decent rest.
I was working late, drinking coffee all the while and not giving myself enough time to wind down. Not to mention, substances and too much screen time were getting in the way of any decent quality of sleep. It all led to worsening anxiety and depression, and an inability to concentrate and do well during the day.
It wasn’t until my counselor, who I’d met through my university’s mental health services office, prompted me to really look at my sleep habits that I realized what kind of change I had to make. She introduced me to sleep hygiene, and it changed my life.
This is a term that we all need to get familiar with. It refers to the habits we can pick up, and also let go of, to make sure that we’re getting quality sleep on a regular basis. Sleep hygiene is a combination of developing our personal bedtime rituals, and also tweaking a few of our daytime behaviors as well.
2 years have passed since my therapist advised me to change my sleeping habits, and I will never again take my sleep for granted. My mental health has made a complete turnaround. Instead of feeling constantly anxious and depressed, like every day just might be the day I really explode, I now feel like I have more control over my mental health. I know that as long as I respect my need for restful sleep, I won’t feel too exhausted to address any symptoms that pop up. And when those symptoms do pop up, I can usually identify the cause, since I’m no longer caught in a permanent fog of exhaustion and physically feeling horrible.
If your situation sounds anything like mine, I guarantee that some minor adjustments to your sleep habits will make a huge difference in your mental health. I’m going to share with you the simple steps I took to improve my sleep hygiene.
1. No caffeine after 6 pm!
I mean it! This is no joke, people. I don’t care how much of a tolerance to caffeine you think you have, or how often you get away with drinking a coffee before dozing off.
Caffeine is a stimulant, and even if you usually pass out from sheer exhaustion at bedtime with it in your system, your quality of sleep will be affected. You will be more likely to wake up through the night, and less likely to go through all the necessary phases of sleep, resulting in a groggy, tired feeling in the morning.
2. Cut down on all the other substances too
Even though you think that joint, or beer or shot of whiskey is helping you to sleep better, it’s not. All recreational drugs should be put away before bedtime (and for good, if possible) since you will achieve the best possible rest with a clear head.
Alcohol brings on sleepiness at first, but then leads to more wakefulness later in the night and decreased quality of sleep. Try to limit your daily intake, and avoid drinking any alcohol at all within the 3 hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Smoking weed before bed, although many people claim that it’s innocent and harmless, might actually cause you to sleep less restfully. It can lead to increased anxiety at bedtime preventing you from falling asleep, and it can also lead to sleep that’s plagued by strange dreams and moments of wakefulness. This article explains how using weed as a sleep aid tends not to work if you’re a chronic user, and can actually lead to insomnia and other problems.
You should also be cutting down your tobacco use as bedtime comes around. Nicotine is a stimulant, like caffeine, so don’t go for a smoke in the hours leading up to sleep time.
3. Go to sleep at least an hour or two after eating
Don’t make the same mistake I always did, which was loading up on snacks and junk food right before going to bed. The sodium and sugar in snack foods lead to a puffy face in the mornings, and tooth decay as well.
Going to sleep with a full stomach can give you acid reflux and when you wake up, your stomach will feel strange, as if it were full and empty at the same time. This uncomfortable feeling may cause you to skip breakfast and start your day off on a bad note. Instead of snacking like crazy at bedtime, try to schedule a proper meal about 3 hours before you want to go to sleep so you’re neither super full, nor super hungry when you finally lay down.
If you’re really hungry and it’s time to sleep, it’s okay to have a small, healthy snack like one banana or a tiny helping of leftovers from dinner (not a bag of Doritos!). It’s not good to sleep when you’re full of junk food, but it’s also not good to sleep when you’re starving either.
4. Come up with a relaxing ritual, and stick with it!
Around the same time every night, you should start your bedtime ritual. Keeping the timing and ritual activities consistent each day will train your sub-conscious brain to start getting ready for sleep, so you can consistently drift off to dreamland without a hitch.
You should plan for about 1 hour (or more) of relaxing activities before finally closing your eyes to sleep. Everyone has different preferences, so you have to choose the activities that you like, and work for you.
If you’re not sure what to do, some good ideas to try out are:
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Listening to music
- Reading a book
- Chatting and snuggling with your partner
- Drinking herbal tea
5. Don’t over-schedule yourself
You want to conquer the world and do everything, I get it, but over-scheduling yourself to the point where you have no time to sleep isn’t the way to do it. If you want to live an active and productive life, you have to refuel yourself properly every night. Otherwise, you’re going to burn out and start doing bad work, and missing opportunities.
It’s not sustainable to have a midnight bedtime and an alarm set for the 5 in the morning; sleep deprivation is real, and will catch up to you.
If you have multiple obligations that disrupt your sleep time, you should seriously consider changing your schedule. Group your activities into manageable blocks, and make sure that you’re allowing yourself a good 11 hours of time at home to rest and recuperate. You want to have a couple hours at least to wind down after getting in the door, 8 hours to sleep, and then 1 more hour in the morning to get ready to go again, which all adds up to 11 hours of time at home.
6. Clean up your bed
Most sleep experts will tell you that you have to make your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary completely devoid of stressful things and glaring screens. However, not everyone can realistically create the perfect bedroom; some of us live in studio apartments, shared rooms, and small spaces.
If you can eliminate all screens, work materials, and other sources of stress from your bedroom, you should do it. But if that’s not an option, start by turning just your bed into a soothing sleep sanctuary.
- Don’t bring your tablet or laptop into bed with you, do your work somewhere else.
- Make your bed when you wake up, so that at nighttime when you’re ready to go to sleep, it’s inviting, comfy, and free of junk.
The goal is to make sure that your bed is a special place for sleeping and relaxing, and doesn’t remind you of work or stress.
7. Put down your smartphone
This is the hardest tip on the list to actually put into practice since so many of us are addicted to our screens. Smartphones are like an extension of ourselves at this point. We take them everywhere, and use them for everything; they connect us to school, work, friends, lovers, entertainment, photos, and so on.
Smartphones are awesome, and in many ways, they make our lives better and easier, but the stimulation of the bright lights and constant stream of new, potentially anxiety-inducing information leaves our brains in bad shape for sleeping.
To improve our sleep, we need to set limits with our smartphones. Changing our settings to black and white or sepia tones in the evenings can help dampen the screens’ stimulating effect. However, even with these adjustments, there needs to be a completely screen-free period before we go to bedtime.
Set your alarm and check your emails, social media, tinder, or whatever you like before a certain time at night, and then simply put your phone away after that and don’t pick it up again until tomorrow. It takes discipline, but the benefits of restful, peaceful sleep will reward you for your efforts.