I have always been a light sleeper. It takes very little to wake me up. I envy people who can sleep through anything. I made it through college and the baby/toddler years with my daughters by taking naps. Life got busier and naps were harder to find time for. I was always looking for ideas to maximize my sleep.
I was our church youth director for the past 10 years. We would go on mission trips, retreats, and summer camps. Besides having to stay up later than I preferred, we also slept either on the floor or uncomfortable bunk beds. This had me looking for ways to help me sleep in these less than ideal situations.
I wasn’t sleeping well at home either. I would wake up tired and look forward to going to bed at night. Knowing that I was missing out on a good nights sleep, I started to research how to fix my problem. I kept searching for sleep hacks and came across Shawn Stevenson’s book Sleep Smarter.
Sleep has more impact on health than nutrition and exercise combined. - Shawn Stevenson
This book has tons of ideas backed by science to help you sleep better. Here are my favorite strategies for those who struggle with sleep.
1. Sleep in a dark, cool room
Light can be disruptive to your sleep. You want to make your room as dark as possible. Black out curtains do a great job of darkening the room. I had these in our girl’s rooms early on to keep them sleeping longer. I love hotels that have the thick black out curtains that help you sleep longer.
When I was a youth director, I started trying things to give me the best chance of sleep. Most of the sleeping quarters had a security light or some random light shining all night. I started packing a sleep mask to block out this light. This helped a lot. I eventually started wearing one at home too. That helped me not wake up if my husband turned a light on or there was any ambient light in our room.
The temperature of the room can affect your sleep as well. You want to keep the room cool for deeper sleep. A subtle drop in body temperature helps bring on deep sleep. My husband and I have different ideas of what that number is, but you want it cooler while you sleep than when your awake. It is usually recommended to be between 60-67° F.
2. Consistent sleep schedule
I do a lot better with my sleep if I keep a pretty consistent sleep schedule. During the week, I try to wake up and go to bed at the same time. Yes, it’s a little harder on the weekends. I’ve found though once I get on a good schedule that I even wake up on weekends without an alarm clock. I’m not quite as rigid on the weekends but stick to basically the same schedule. Mondays aren’t as hard this way.
Studies have shown that optimal deep sleep time is from 10 PM- 2 AM. You want to make sure you’re getting as much sleep during this window as possible.
If you have the time, naps can be a wonderful way to feel rejuvenated. I’m not talking those long naps that you wake up and take a while to come out of a fog. Power naps less than 30 minutes are the best.
3. No electronics in the bedroom
I know this is a tough one into today’s world. If you want to get a better night’s sleep, you need to get all screens out of your bedroom.
Have you found yourself picking up your phone by your bed just to set your alarm and then realize 30 minutes later you’re still scrolling? We’ve all been there. If your phone isn’t in your room, you won’t have that instinct to google something or check email. Is your phone your alarm clock? Well get a real alarm clock to replace it. Are you afraid you’ll miss an important text or phone call? Tell those closest to you to call you after 10 and then turn up the volume. Let your brain have a break that last hour to prepare for sleep.
This also goes for television and laptops. The flashing blue lights from these plus the stimulating nature of what you’re looking at keep your brain up for an extra hour after shutting them off.
4. Protect your last hour of the day
How you spend the last hour of the day greatly affects how good of sleep you’ll get. As I mentioned, get away from the blue lights and stimulating screens and relax. Develop a nightly routine that helps you wind down and prepare for sleep. This could be drinking decaf chamomile tea, taking a hot bath, talking with a loved one, doing a brain dump in a journal, or reading.
5. Avoid caffeine after lunch
Caffeine is estimated to stay in your body around 4-6 hours. Caffeine raises cortisol, your body’s natural stress hormone, levels which is great for the morning but not the afternoon. Cortisol levels need to drop in the evening so that melatonin levels can rise and signal the body to sleep. Figure out what the best cutoff time is for you and stick to a caffeine curfew.
6. Exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime
Exercise is a key component to better health. It can boost your energy, reduce your stress, and help you sleep better. The key is to give your body time to recover. Your body needs time to come down from the endorphins of exercise. It’s best to get the heart pumping earlier in the day and save stretching and relaxing for the last part of the day.
7. Get 15 minutes of sunshine during the day
Getting some sunshine in the beginning of the day signals the pineal gland to stop melatonin production. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
8. Read fiction
This is my favorite way to wind down. I have been a reader since my teenage years. It’s been a part of my bedtime routine as long as I can remember. My brain tends to go crazy with to -do lists and worries at night. Reading some fiction helps me break that cycle and signal my brain to go to sleep. Some nights I can read more than others. I find it’s better not to read self-development or business books before bed because this gets my mind working. Fiction helps me get involved in a story that requires no action from me.
9. Take a hot bath with Epsom Salts
Many of us are deficient in magnesium which is a key mineral in regulating sleep. Using Epsom salts in your bath can be a good source of magnesium. The bath can also help regulate body temperature and relax your muscles. Even better if you can finish with a quick cold shower which can expedite dropping the body temperature to prepare for sleep.
10. Practice deep breathing and meditation
Part of my challenge to going to sleep is leaving the stresses and worries of the day behind. Refocusing your mind can do wonders for your sleep. Just simply sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on your breath can be extremely calming. Count breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can try a meditation app like Calm or Headspace to guide you in a short meditation. Stretching or yoga with meditation also prepares you for sleep.
These are my favorite 10 strategies for better sleep. You don’t need to incorporate them all at once. Pick one or two at a time to work on making a habit. You’ll figure out what works for your body and your lifestyle. A good night’s sleep sets you up for more energy, a clearer mind, and better nutrition choices since your hunger hormones aren’t on overdrive. Prioritize your sleep and you’ll start noticing how it improves other areas of your life!