As we discussed in our article on postpartum depression, sleep is a crucial aspect of mental health. Not only is it a natural antidepressant, but it’s the basis of proper mood balance and optimal overall health. The days of saying you’ll catch up on the weekends are over as well. According to a Harvard Medical School study cited by The National Sleep Foundation, it’s nearly impossible to recover lost sleep, and the results can be disastrous: “According to the study, even when you sleep an extra 10 hours to compensate for sleeping only 6 hours a night for up to two weeks, your reaction times and ability to focus is worse than if you had pulled an all-nighter.” Not only does it have an effect on your performance at work or at school, it can impact your overall health. See also: it makes you a dangerous driver.
So, how do you focus on getting a better night’s sleep? Here are some tips that have helped me, a chronic insomniac:
Have a standard bedtime – Because I work out at 6:00 am pretty religiously, that means I have to be in bed by about 9 pm. Your bedtime might vary, but I keep that time pretty religiously. When I travel, I try to maintain the same sleep and wake schedule on their time zone, but generally it helps to have the same bedtime regularly so your body knows when to rest.
Create rituals around sleep – Rituals are powerful, and creating a behavior pattern that starts to slow the brain down and prepare it for bed can be a powerful tool in preparing the body for sleep. Turning off the phone, making a warm cup of tea or warm almond milk with cinnamon and a touch of honey, a warm bath (or cool shower in the summer): all of these are rituals send signals to my body that bedtime is imminent.
No glowing screens or artificial lights – No more phones or tablets in bed. I also set the “Sleep” feature on my iPhone so no calls or texts will come in. That also means I have a time after which I can’t check email or voicemail, which is 7 pm for me. Whatever’s in there can wait until 5:30 am, which is when I get up. Also, The TV is turned off an hour before I hit the sack, and all glowing lights are covered (that clock on your DVR or alarm clock can really cast a glow in the room, believe me.) The darker the room, the better your sleep.
Cool the room – Experts say optimal sleep is achieved in a room that’s approximately 65 degrees. Air conditioning, a fan – I do whatever it takes to take my room down to the coldest temperature I can. It helps: not only do I fall asleep faster, but I can stay asleep.
Try reading and/or journaling – The only items allowed in bed with me now are of the paper variety. I always have a book on my bedside table, and I keep a journal with a pen nearby. The book helps me tire out pretty quickly, and I try to create a gratitude list before I go to sleep to set my mind in a positive place before I go to bed. That journal also comes in pretty handy: if I awaken in the middle of the night with my to-do list running through my head, I write everything down immediately until it stops. I tell myself I will handle it first thing in the morning, and that makes it possible for me to go back to sleep pretty quickly.