Sleep plays an important role in our physical health and mental well-being. When we are sleeping, our body and brain release hormones to help us process energy, heal, and recharge for the upcoming day. Although sleep won't necessarily prevent us from getting sick, a lack of sleep can negatively impact our immune systems, which can leave us susceptible to a bad cold, flu, or virus. Read our guide below for strategies to help you achieve your best sleep:
Follow a schedule! If you are now working from home full time - or maybe you are working overtime as an essential worker - following a sleeping routine is more important than ever before. Try to go to bed around the same time every night (even on weekends) and wake up around the same time every morning. Set an alarm to cue you to begin your evening routine, and a gentle alarm to wake you in the morning. Eat dinner earlier in the evening - around 5 or 6 PM - and avoid alcohol before bed as these two factors can interfere with your sleep quality. Avoid caffeine after 3 PM to keep from tossing and turning at night. There's no such thing as catching up on sleep on the weekend! Sleeping in on a weekend can cause a disruption to your biological clock, making you less rested and interfere with sleep quality.
Turn off the screens! Technology - phones, tablets, TVs, anything with a screen - can affect your quality of sleep. Information and entertainment can keep our minds engaged and stimulated, meaning it might take longer for us to wind down for bed and achieve REM sleep, a vital component of our sleep cycle. REM, or rapid eye movement, is responsible for dreaming and is thought to play a role in memory, mood, and learning. Screens can also suppress melatonin, the hormone responsible for controlling our sleep and wake cycle. Set some ground rules for technology use before bedtime. Experts suggest cutting off screen time around 1 hour before bed, and incorporating some activities to promote calmness. Try adding some bedtime stretches, listen to some calming music, read a book, drink some decaf tea, or slow down your bedtime routine (brushing your teeth and hair, washing your face, etc.). Do you keep your phone on your nightstand? Do notifications and alerts keep you connected, but distract you from falling asleep? Move your phone away from your side, perhaps keeping it on your dresser or across the room. Keep your phone on vibrate, or turn your notifications off for the night.
Focus on your breathing! If you struggle with occasional insomnia or anxiety before bedtime, focus on your breath. Intentional breathing, being mindful of the speed and depth of your breathing, can promote calmness and relaxation. There are several techniques to try, but we love diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing involves focusing on your diaphragm, the area between your chest and abdomen, to achieve a full, deep breath, slowing us down for bedtime. To start, lie in your bed, on your back, and prop your knees up with a pillow. Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your diaphragm (abdomen). Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your abdomen rises and falls with each breath. Continue breathing in using your nose, but breathe out with pursed lips. Box breathing, a common technique used during meditation, promotes mental focus and relaxation. To practice box breathing, sit upright and breathe in, then try to push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale. Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number. Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head. Slowly exhale through your mouth - counting to 4 - focusing on getting all of the air out of your lungs.
Create a sleep sanctuary! To establish a healthy relationship with sleep, only use your bed for sleeping and intimacy. Dim the lights during bedtime to create a calm, relaxing atmosphere. Create a space between blinds or curtains for sunlight to enter in the morning, signaling your brain to wake up. In winter months, add a few extra soft blankets for warmth; in summer months, use a sheet and a light, woven blanket to avoid getting too hot. Use a ceiling fan for ambient noise, or crack a window slightly to hear the wildlife. Keep a cooler temperature in your bedroom for comfort. De-cluttering your bedroom can encourage better quality sleep. Keeping your physical environment (your room and bed) organized can promote emotional calmness. Remove the technology from your room, if possible.
Listen to your body! During times of stress, our body's needs change; this means we may need more sleep. The suggested 7 hours of sleep per night might evolve to 8 or 9 hours on average; however, sleep needs are individual. What is normal for you may not be normal for your partner or your children*. If your eyes are getting tired in the afternoon, take a short (15-30 minute) nap. Avoid taking naps of an hour or longer as it can disrupt your nighttime sleep schedule. Having trouble getting used to a new sleep schedule? If you are in bed and can't fall asleep within 20 minutes or don't feel drowsy, get out of bed, sit up and read, or do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy. Then, try going back to bed.
*If you notice that your children are struggling with sleep or are sleeping more, check out these tips to help them get on the right track.
If you are struggling with chronic sleep issues or disturbances, talk to your doctor.