Does your bedtime routine involve shutting down your laptop or sending that last text and expecting to fall straight to sleep? How’s that working for you?
Experts call that behavior bad sleep hygiene. It’s when you skip past the time needed to help your body properly prep for sleep, and so often you’ll toss and turn.
What really gets the body ready for a good’s night sleep, experts say, are a handful of wind-down practices, like what our parents did for us as children—bath, jammies, milk, bedtime story. What’s the adult equivalent?
Here are eight things you can do for better sleep hygiene—and better sleep. —Jennifer Kass
Rubin Naiman, MD, sleep specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, says turning off your laptop, iPad, and even turning down the room lights at night is important for getting to sleep and staying that way. Both daylight and the blue element from screens suppress melatonin, which is our body’s natural sleep aid. So give yourself some space between Facebooking on your laptop and hitting the hay, so your melatonin levels don’t deplete right before sleep.
This one’s so easy. “Making the time to have a cup of tea before bed eases us into a calm sleep, says Jim Nicolai, MD, medical director of the Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval. “Being mindful of what we’re eating and drinking during the day and before bed can greatly impact sleep. Of course, you’ll want to stay away from stimulants such as sugar and caffeine.” Straight up chamomile tea wins as the most calming before-bed cuppa for us.
Bring back bath time and create space before sleep with a calming lavender bath, suggests Dr. Nicolai. “It aids with insomnia and reduces emotional stress and anxiety.” (No tub? A shower with a great aromatherapy shower gel can work, too.) This simple act is not only relaxing, it’s also a high-level self-care practice. In other words, it’s a way to nurture ourselves. And when was the last time you really did that?
Even a little bit of light in your bedroom—your glowing cable box, your charging phone, your alarm clock—can affect your pineal gland’s production of sleep hormones, and therefore disturb your sleep rhythms, says integrative and functional medicine expert, Frank Lipman, MD. “The most crucial thing for good sleep is a completely dark sleeping environment—or use an eye mask when that’s not possible,” he says.
Ever wish you didn’t need to sleep, so you could get caught up on work or be way more productive? Well, Dr. Naiman wants you to stop right there. For him, getting to sleep is a spiritual practice that should be honored for its own sake, not just as an interfering biological necessity. “With sleep, it’s not just what we do, but how we do it,” says Dr. Naiman. “Sleep hygiene supports us in surrendering. Good sleep is learning to let go on a deeper, spiritual level.”
6. Practice bedtime gratitude
How we fall asleep is how we wake up, so think twice about stressing over tomorrow’s to-do list. Elena Brower, founder of Virayoga and author of Art of Attention shares her nighttime gratitude ritual with her son: “At the end of most days, when Jonah goes to sleep, we acknowledge what we’re grateful for. And sometimes we forget and rush to sleep; on those days I definitely sense a difference in the morning, a subtle disconnect. Recognizing gratitude—whether it’s for his toys (!), his family, his home, his teacher, his friends—is a gorgeous way to end the day. We wake up in a sweeter and happier space when we are grateful the night before.”
Not going to draw a bath? Can’t be bothered to boil water for tea? Then how about you slather on an aromatherapy oil that’s designed to help you unwind? High-quality essential oil blends (we like H.Gillerman Sleep Remedy) can activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. And this sets off chemicals that can make you feel relaxed and even sleepy.
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