By: Logan Block
Sleep is something most people spend roughly a third of their lives doing, and yet it's an elusive habit for many. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 68% of adults in the United States are struggling to get good quality sleep at least once every week, and 27% said sleep was difficult to come by every night.
Whether you're impacted by a diagnosed sleep disorder or just have a hard time winding down after a busy day, here are some things you can do in the hours before bedtime to improve your sleep.
1. RELAX IN A BATH OR SHOWER
Showering or soaking in a hot bath before bedtime isn't an ideal choice because quality sleep depends heavily on your body reaching the right restful temperature. Boosting your overall temp before you crawl into bed can lead to overheating and discomfort. However, timing a soak or shower an hour or more before bedtime and allowing your body to cool can make a difference in your quality of rest.
Studies have shown that a 20-minute shower or warm bath can lead to less movement in the first few hours of sleep, helping you feel warm and more relaxed. Add in some essential oils or spa-like bath products to enhance stress relief, and your evening bath could also help calm mental waves to prepare you for dreamland.
2. ESCHEW ELECTRONIC DEVICES
According to the National Sleep Foundation, using electronic devices in the hour or so before you go to bed runs interference with your body's natural sleep patterns. These devices (which include smartphones, computers, and televisions) stimulate your brain, causing delays in your circadian rhythm. That's the metaphorical internal clock your body uses to know when it's time to fall asleep and wake up. The blue light associated with many of these devices also causes your body's natural melatonin release to pause or slow down. (Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall asleep).
Turn off as many devices as you can — and stop scrolling social or answering texts — at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you can make it an hour, even better.
And remember that devices can continue to disrupt sleep even after you go to bed. Consider putting your phone on silent or keeping mobile devices in another room when you sleep. The constant influx of notifications — and the vibrations and chimes that come with them — can wake you up at night or impact your quality of sleep even if you don't wake up fully.
3. FOLLOW A BEDTIME RITUAL
Rituals have scientific value; they can reduce stress and help us face unknown situations. They can also prepare our brain and body for a specific action. When you do the same things before bed every day, your mind becomes used to them and may begin kicking into sleep preparation even before your head hits the pillow.
Some ideas for pre-bedtime rituals can include turning off all the lights, reading a short section of a book, praying or meditating, taking a bath or shower, setting out clothing or plans for the next day, or simply arranging your sleeping space for optimal comfort.
Make the most of this ritual time by investing in products that relax you, such as comfortable pajamas or a good nonfiction book. Try to avoid the type of reading that you can't put down, such as a page-turning thriller.
4. DRINK WATER, NOT COFFEE OR ALCOHOL
Some people may need to watch their water consumption before bed, or they'll wake up multiple times to visit the bathroom during the night. But if you can handle 8 ounces of H2O without too much impact to sleep, drinking a glass of water before bed comes with some great benefits for hydration and overall health. You could also get your agua via a cup of decaf herbal tea.
What you don't want to do is drink anything that can stimulate you or interfere with sleep quality throughout the night. Caffeine is an obvious criminal here and drinking it in the late afternoon or evening can make it difficult for many people to fall and stay asleep. If you're an avid coffee or tea enthusiast or enjoy a cold soda with dinner, pay attention to how the timing on your caffeine consumption impacts your rest and set a time to cut yourself off.
And if you enjoy an adult beverage as a nightcap, you may want to rethink that habit. According to studies, while alcohol may help some people fall asleep faster, it's not ideal for all-night sleep quality. It actually reduces REM sleep, which means you wake feeling less rested.
5. EAT THE RIGHT FOOD (AND NOT TOO MUCH OF IT)
Avoid eating a lot of food or especially heavy foods right before bed. Definitely avoid foods you know your body doesn't find agreeable or that could lead to heartburn or reflux. Some people advocate not eating at all after your evening meal, but if you stay up late or tend to have problems falling asleep (or you wake up because you're hungry), have a small pre-bedtime snack an hour or two before going to sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends complex carbs such as popcorn, nut butter or whole-wheat crackers; high protein foods such as nuts and cottage cheese; and items that contain melatonin, such as a piece of rolled up deli turkey. If you deal with blood sugar issues, choose items with low glycemic indexes to keep your body's sugar level on an even keel throughout the night.
Taking some time to understand your own sleep habits, creating ideal bedtime rituals and investing in high-quality bedding that fits your needs can make a huge difference to your nightly rest. And good quality sleep can make a positive impact on your entire life, including your ability to develop relationships with others, your productivity at work and your overall physical health.
About The Author: Logan Block is the Director of Content for Sleepopolis and has personally tested hundreds of sleep products. His goal is to use what he’s learned to help others get a better night’s sleep.