Part I of our sleep article detailed the importance of sleep and how it relates to our mental skills, our physical & athletic performance and to pain. In this part, we’re breaking down how to make sure you set yourself up for success in getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep. Let’s get rolling…
1. No screen time 90 minutes prior to bed
Yup, came out with what may be the hardest one first. However, this is likely the biggest contributor to poor sleep. Like to watch a TV show right before bed? Do you crank out some emails right before bed? STOP! The light emitted from TVs and phones (and the sun) causes our bodies to slow down the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that tells our bodies that the day is over and it’s time to sleep. So looking at TVs and cell phones is basically telling your body to stay awake for a few hours because it is not nighttime yet. Now some of you might say “But I wear those blue blocker (BB) glasses so I can look at screens at night.” Sorry, nope. A recent review [i] looked at the evidence for blue blocker glasses and the authors stated: “We find a lack of high-quality evidence to support using BB spectacle lenses for the general population to improve visual performance or sleep quality, alleviate eye fatigue or conserve macular health.” So ditch the blue blockers, and the TV, and the cell phone.
So what the heck do you do for 90 minutes prior to bed?
2. Develop a consistent pre-bed ritual.
Let’s say you go to bed at 10 pm. So that means at 8:30 pm, phones go away, TV gets shut off, lights get dimmed. Here are some great ideas on what to do next
- Read. Reading is a perfect cool-down for the mind. Try to avoid anything that will keep your mind racing once you put it down, such as political topics or work-related information.
- Meditate. It’s not just for California hippies anymore. The health benefits[ii] are too numerous to list so it’s borderline absurd to not take advantage of this. Don’t know where to start? Try this book (8 min meditation link) or this book (meditation for fidgety skeptic)
- Talk to people. Crazy idea right? Talk to your significant other, kids, parents, etc. We’d be OK with breaking out the phone here as long as you use it as an actual phone.
- Play card games or board games. No one around? Solitaire time!
- Engage in bedroom related activities with your significant other. ‘Nuff said.
- Create a to-do list for tomorrow. Creating a list of tasks to do will hopefully help calm down your mind and let your worry less as you try to fall asleep.
Seriously, if 90 minutes without a phone or TV sounds like an eternity, it’s time to cut back on that addiction. Start with 30 minutes if needed and add 10 minutes each night.
3. Maintain consistent bed and wake times.
If you go to bed at 10 pm on a Wednesday, you should be going to bed at 10 pm on a Friday night. Similarly, if you wake up at 6 am on a Monday morning, that should’ve been your wake up time for Sunday as well. A consistent sleep/wake cycle will optimize hormones that will make it easier to fall asleep at night and easier to wake up in the morning. It takes a few days for our bodies to figure out this pattern, so if your weekend sleep schedule is considerably different from your weekday schedule, your body will consistently be fighting itself. We all have some late nights and social interaction is important, so don’t worry about an occasional night out with friends or family. The important thing is to not stay up late on a Friday or sleep in on a Saturday “just because you can.” When you do go out late Friday nights, you should still wake up close to your normal waking time to stay consistent. This is where the next tip is important.
4. Take strategic naps when needed.
If you can get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, you probably don’t need a nap. However, life happens and sometimes we can’t get that every night. When that happens, napping is great. A 20-30 minute nap is enough to restore the sodium-to-potassium ration in our nervous system, which is a key contributor in recovering from fatigue. Taking longer naps will often put us into REM sleep, which is much harder to wake up from and will leave you feeling more fatigued upon waking. Finally, try to finish any napping six hours prior to bedtime.
5. Avoid warm baths/showers right before bed.
Warm baths and showers ramp up our metabolic activity, which “wakes up” our bodies rather than relaxing them. They are perfect for your morning routine though. If you need to shower or bathe at night before bed, try using colder water. Being slightly chilly before bed will actually help you fall asleep.
There you go. Five tips to get you back to sleeping like a baby. Now, if you aren’t currently utilizing any of these tips, start with one at a time. Once you get a good habit locked down with one, then move on to another. Trying to completely change everything at once is a recipe for stress which will not help your sleep. However, if you can slowly adopt each of these over time, we can guarantee you’ll see improvement in your sleep quality and quantity.
Jeff Remsburg, DC, MS, DACRB, Cert. MDT
[i] Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2017 Nov;37(6):644-654