Do you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep? If so, you're not alone: an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and social groups struggle to get the quality sleep that they need to function effectively over the course of the day.
This lack of sleep can have a serious impact on their mental and physical performance, and it can cause people to feel as though they're failing to get the most from all that life has to offer.
In this post, we're going to take a look at why sleep is important for the brain and the steps that you can take to improve the quantity and quality of sleep that you enjoy.
Why a Bedtime Routine Helps
If you are struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, there's a good chance that your bedtime routine could be the source of your problems.
That's right - bedtime routines aren't just for children! Modern life has changed the way that we live dramatically, and we are bombarded with stimulus over the course of the day. This is problematic and if you're going to get the sleep that you need, you've got to develop a range of healthy habits around sleep.
Here's a look at some of the factors that you should think about when it comes to creating an effective and consistent bedtime routine:
The time you sleep
One of the biggest ways that you can improve your bedtime routine is to try and install a specific time that you go to sleep and wake up. This is incredibly important, given that studies have shown that level of predictability can help you to get into a routine and fall asleep quicker.
If you develop a regular routine and follow it according to a distinct schedule, you'll begin to form habits. This will help your body to more effectively prepare for bedtime and get to sleep.
Avoid stimulus before bed
It's important that you avoid mental and physical stimuli before bed. This means that you should avoid watching emotionally-charged films, for instance, or exercising too close to bedtime.
If you do so, your brain will be activated and it will release a range of hormones in response to the stimuli that you provide it with. This is why it's very important that you have a buffer time between stimulus and sleep.
You should try to give yourself some time alone in bed with the lights off to sort through your thoughts and really unwind. Smartphone addiction is a real issue and it means that people are up into the early hours watching emotionally-charged material that makes it difficult for the brain to rest.
Deal with rumination
Lots of people struggle to get to sleep due to intrusive thoughts. These thoughts can get stuck on a loop and rob people of their sleep, given that those thoughts can result in physical tension.
If you find that you are falling victim to ruminating thoughts, you should make a concerted effort to address the issue. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy technique that you can use to break the cycle of rumination and get the sleep that you need.
Turn off blue light
Blue light is a big problem. Our bodies are wired to respond to the light around them. If you see blue light, for instance, it will inspire the brain to suppress the production of melatonin. This makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep, given that melatonin helps to regulate tiredness.
You should make sure to use in-built tinting functionality on your phone and computer. This can reduce the amount of blue light that you see and instead provide you with the orange light that helps to produce melatonin.
Use your bed appropriately
Your bed should only ever be used for sleeping and sex. It's important that you don't engage in other activities in your bed, such as working or watching movies.
If you engage in those activities, you will begin to unconsciously associate your bed with those activities instead of sleep. This can cause a host of psychological issues and make it difficult for you to achieve the sleep that you need.
Monitoring your diet and activity
Your diet and exercise regimen can have a big impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It's critical that you avoid drinking caffeinated drinks before bed, or exercising too close to bedtime.
Those two factors will make it very difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. This can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep.
Mindfulness to Help You Sleep
Lots of people struggle with their thoughts when trying to fall asleep. It can often sound like there are a million voices in your head, all discussing the same subjects on a cycle.
This can become very stressful and the more you try to silence them, the louder they become. This leads people to then become upset about thinking, and this can quickly lead to the formation of a vicious cycle.
If this sounds all too familiar for you, it's important that you learn how to properly tackle that issue with mindfulness training.
There are lots of meditation exercises that you can use to fall asleep quicker and hit mute on your intrusive thoughts. You might want to read a book on the subject to get some great techniques, for instance, or you might prefer to engage in a guided meditation.
There are applications like Headspace that can offer you a quality guided meditation that is proven to help people fall asleep faster. Whatever medium you choose, it's important that you avoid a video - you don't want to stimulate yourself too close to your bedtime.
The Importance of 8 Hours Sleep
Most of us know that we should be aiming for eight hours of sleep, but many of us still fall short.
There are lots of reasons that we fail to secure the eight hours of sleep that we so desperately need: our schedules are packed, staying asleep is difficult, and many other reasons.
Studies have shown, though, that getting the appropriate amount of sleep is important because it provides the brain with the opportunity to release critical hormones and compounds. Those various hormones protect you against a range of health conditions, help you to maintain a healthy immune system, and boost your memory.
Some people brag about the little amount of sleep that they need, but studies have shown that consistently failing to achieve the appropriate amount of sleep is correlated with premature death.
These are the reasons that it's so important to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Set a Regular Bedtime
Are you inspired to turn around your approach to sleep? The best way to get started today is to set a regular bedtime.
If you make a commitment to get to sleep by a certain time, you'll often find that the other elements of good sleep hygiene fall into place. You will find that you eat earlier, for instance, and that you fall into the habit and find it easier to fall asleep quicker.
We hope that these tips help you to get the sleep you need to live a full and happy life.