Sleepy time! How to sleep better
Without a good night of sleep, reaching your goals is very hard. Sleeping well improves brain functions, makes us feel less hungry and repairs the body where needed. When you have trouble sleeping, it can be either of two things: quantity or quality. Now for quantity I can only say two things: find out if you have to go to bed earlier or sleep longer in the morning to get the recommended 8 hours. Creating a strong and sustainable rhythm will be a very important thing as well. If you do reach the recommended hours of laying in bed, but not falling asleep or not sleeping deep enough, there are a few things you can do.
1. Prepare your body
Bodies run on rhythms, so as I said earlier, being firm in when you’re starting to go to bed is a very important step. But due to several reasons (like blue lights or stress), sometimes this is not enough. That is why you can strengthen the signals you give to your body that it is time to go to bed. Now, this is definitely not a quick fix. For me, it took about half a year (!) to make it work, but it was totally worth the wait.
Music to my ears
What I did was creating a ritual based on things I would only do at night and on things that were recognised immediately by my senses. These are the ones that are registered by the more primal parts of the brain: smell, taste, and sound. I chose a really relaxing song to me (Arabesque No. 1 and 2 – Debussy) and started listening it every night when I got into bed. At first, the song soothes you because of the tones, but when you keep repeating it, it also starts serving as a trigger for the body. This process is called conditioning or more specific ‘the Pavlov-reaction’.
I also created a trigger the same reaction by drinking a cup of Rooibos tea before going to bed. Apart from the recognition of the taste and the smell, rooibos also is known for it relaxing effect on people. In addition, it contains no caffeine at all (the rest of the tea’s I drink do). This way I practically scream at my body to go to sleep. Since the subconscious is often a lot stronger than the conscious, I will sleep in no time now.
Since I’ve learned this 5 years ago, I now don’t have to do it every night anymore (although I still like to). Nowadays, I only use these techniques when I am stressed or I need a good nights rest. However, the first year after it started working, I would recommend doing it every night. It makes sure the body recognises the triggers, even if you skip it later. An important rule is however that the signals can only be used before you go to bed. I never listen to that song or drink Rooibos tea at any other times. Otherwise, the trigger will be less strong or not even be there at all.
2. No blue lights
In every screen, there is something called blue light. This light makes you more focused on the screen. However, it also lets your brain think that it is the middle of the day instead of at night. This will then mess up your biological clock. The best thing to prevent this, is to just put your phone/laptop/tv/tablet aside and just read a good book. However, I have to admit I am one of those people that loves writing in the evening on my laptop. Therefore, I don’t feel putting it away is very practical for me.
This is when a blue light filter might help. You can install blue light filters on most of your devices. You can also have special glasses made with a blue light filter in. I don’t usually wear glasses, since I don’t need them for better sight. Therefore, the filter does not bother me in my everyday life. However, when I’m up studying or writing late, I’ll put on my filtered glasses until I am ready to go to sleep. I also use the filter on my phone. I did not install them on my laptop however. The blue light keeps me awake during the day when I have my exams and study all day long and thus it is more useful for me there.
3. Diet: serotonin and melatonin
As I told you in The Happy Brain diet, the body needs a few things to be able to make serotonin. Melatonin, the hormone that stimulates sleep, is then made out of serotonin. The diet you have is therefore an important factor in the quality of your sleep. So make sure you eat healthy and you get all your veggies, fruits and fatty acids in. You will thank yourself in the evening for this. In addition, a healthy diet gives you a lot of energy produced by the calories you eat. This will make you less likely to feel sleepy throughout the day.
4. Getting thoughts out of the way and shifting focus
Before going to bed, you need to be relaxed, meaning you should stop working. In an ideal way, you just focus on something else for about an hour, like reading or writing. But sometimes, this is not enough to really stop thinking about something that stresses you. In that case, it might be better to first write out everything to get everything out of your head onto paper. This way, you’re less likely to start thinking about your stressor again.
If this still is not enough, you can also meditate after the writing or reading, since this relaxes you enough to fall asleep right after while distracting you from your thoughts. An exercise I often do is to focus on my toes first and start relaxing them consciously. Then, I focus on my calves and do the same, working slowly up to the top of my head. By the time I’m there, I am often so relaxed that I can sleep after right away.
5. Safe and still surroundings
An important part in feeling relaxed is making sure you feel safe. Without the feeling of safety, adrenalin is still being made, preventing you from sleeping well. The feeling of safety meant here is completely subjective and is apart from how safe the situation actually is. Locking your door could help with feeling safe.
It is also important that there are no distinctive noises in the room you sleep in. The only sound that is fine is very soft and monotone. The reason I put them in the same paragraph is that loud or distinctive noises often signal danger. This will start the fight-or-flight reaction, causing adrenalin to be made as well. If you do like a little sound when you’re sleeping, classical music can be used. You could also put on an ASMR podcast or video. The additional benefit of ASMR is the fact that it can make you feel less alone, since a lot of ASMR videos contain a soft voice.
I always diminished the importance of the feeling of safety, until I slept at a hostel a few months ago. I was alone on this trip and I had a room for me alone, since I like some privacy when traveling. One night, I was asleep and I woke up by some sounds behind me; someone had come into my room! The reception had their rooms mixed up and gave the extra key to my room to a new guest. Luckily the boy that came into my room was just as shocked as I was. He quickly left, but I didn’t sleep well until I left that hostel a few days later, no matter what tricks I used to improve my sleep.
6. No caffeine or laxative/detox stuff
This one is kind of obvious, but don’t drink anything with caffeine (coffee, some tea’s, some soda’s) before going to bed. It takes about 4 to 6 hours for caffeine to leave your body. Therefore, if you go to bed at ten, you should not drink coffee after 4 o’clock. Besides effecting how fast you’ll fall asleep, it also effects the quality of sleep and the stages you go through.
Another thing is that you want to complete your sleep cycles to gain the full benefits of your sleep. It would be a shame if that got interrupted by the need to visit the toilet. That is why it is important to drink nothing that works laxative or drink too much just before going to bed in general. If you do drink laxative stuff, like some kinds of tea, make sure you have enough time in between drinking and going to bed. Having said this, I would not recommend using laxatives in most situations. Most of them mostly drain fluids instead of you losing weight or something, which could lead to serious problems like dehydration. This is of course different then if you need laxatives because of constipation or anything. Please consult your doctor in that case.
7. Comfortable clothes, a good bed, fresh air and a chill temperature
I discovered the importance of this tip the first time I experienced the hives. Your surroundings are key to a good sleep. I would wake up being so warm and itchy, because of blankets that were way too thick. This is why I urge you to spend a little money on a good bed, nice pillows and comfortable pyjamas (or none if you prefer that). Also make sure the room is not too hot. The pillows will warm up once you’re in bed, thanks to your own body heat. This will make sure you have fresh air so that you can breath right throughout the night. Set yourself up for success!
8. Tire yourself during the day
This one is also fairly obvious, but make sure your body can lose enough energy during the day! Make sure you walk enough (around the 10.000 steps a day is a great goal) or exercise. It could also be by getting your brain active, by solving problems and playing games. However, in both cases make sure you have enough time in between that and going to sleep. You also need to destress your body and get into a more relaxed mode just before going to bed. This is why I would not generally (!) recommend taking naps. If you make sure your nights are well spend in sleeping, you should not need the extra nap in the afternoon. This is of course unless you are dealing with diseases that effects sleep, like depression, narcolepsy or Pfeiffer’s disease. In these cases and many others, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional, which I am not!
9. How long should you sleep?
I already mentioned the sleep cycles before, but this is very important for how you feel after a night of sleep or even a nap. Generally, a sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes to complete and exists of four stages.
The first stage is the lightest stage, which is a phase of your body relaxing and you feel yourself slowly drifting away. This is a harder stage to get past, since sounds and lights can easily wake you up again.
The second stage is the phase where the heart rate slows down, the body temperature decreases and you are sleeping way deeper already. You stop seeing slow eye movements in the people in this state, that were visible in the stage before this. This is the part where the body is still moving a little and you can twist and turn, but your mind is far away.
The third stage is similar to the second stage, but is way deeper. It is hard waking somebody up in this stage and there is almost no arousal in the body. The brain is very quiet here and the waves in the brain are very slow. This is the state where people can sleepwalk or have night terrors, because the brain is far from reality, but the body is still a little active.
The last stage is called the REM sleep, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This is the stage where you can dream. While the body is almost paralysed in this state, de brain is sending a lot of brainwaves and it is very active. This is probably the stage that you can put everything that happened during the day a mental place. When someone is woken up from this stage, you can feel very groggy and extremely tired. After this stage, you are going back to stage one, where you can wake up a lot easier.
It is very important that when you sleep, you complete a cycle to fully experience the benefits of your sleep. You can therefore calculate these times a little into your routine. By sleeping nine hours, you can complete six cycles, in six hours you can complete four cycles. Although the recommended hours of sleep is eight at a minimum, I don’t always reach that. In that case, I’ve noticed I feel better when I slept seven and a half hour instead of seven. This is only a small difference in time and I can usually find a way to squeeze in that extra half hour.
I hope you liked this article and I am very curious to know what helps you sleep better, so please let me know in the comments below! Also, please follow me on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. You can also subscribe on the right and get an email every time I upload!
Lots of love,
LisaHome » All posts »