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The notion that we should get 6-8 hours of sleep to have our alertness, and memories functioning at their best, and to keep diseases at bay is discussed in a growing body of sleep research, print literature, such as magazines and newspapers, and educational websites. Yet despite knowing this, sometimes for us, drifting into an all-nighter (or way past the time you expected to be asleep) is inevitable, but could be in other situations, very avoidable.
There might be times when we have stubbornly distracting noises or overwhelming thoughts that keep us rolling around in bed, or we do things that make us go unaware of time passing and we are more interested in keeping the activity going than disrupting it. In this state of mind, it’s hard to regain the awareness of our bodily needs, but with the right mindset, a few small changes, and practice, you might be closer to achieving a better sleep routine.
To Improve Sleep Patterns – Prepare mentally
For this routine to work, you should convince yourself of all the benefits you will gain by converting and how much of your body you are damaging by staying in your irregular sleeping pattern (perhaps you can stick a reminder list of these somewhere you can constantly see it). This works the same with exercise: To want to do it, you have to be convinced psychologically of the purposes behind your goals. Now think about a time that you want to shut all electronic devices by and go to bed. Does this time allow reasonable amount of sleep hours till the time you will wake up? If so, seriously commit to these bed times and waking times by setting them as priorities in your head.
Now that you have a set time to sleep by, you should also remember to do a pre-sleep ritual that will help you be ready to sleep at that time every day. This includes minimizing and slowly cutting contact with all kinds of electronic devices and stimulants that keep your attention running wild, which instead should be winding down at this phase.
Try avoiding (for best results) or reducing these activities and foods (including fluids which may keep waking you up in the middle of the night to attend to your bathroom needs) within three hours of the new sleeping time:
- Napping in the evening, though there’s extensive research advocating the benefits of power naps during the day, especially to boost your energy and memory up when you are sleep-deprived or you work the night shift. See Aibek’s post on a tool to enrich your naps.
- Smoking (nicotine is a stimulant.)
- Eating fashionably late (a Swiss research study shows that individuals who dined at 6PM had stomach acid 20% lower throughout the night and experimented less discomfort at bedtime than people who dined at 9PM.)
- Big meals
- Alcohol (which may make you drowsy but will definitely awaken more easily later on.
- Caffeine (which lures you in soft and energy drinks, painkillers, and desserts such as chocolate and coffee ice cream and should be avoided within six hours of bedtime).
For those who do try to stick to a bed time but end up lying in bed and rolling around for what seems a lengthy amount of time. A number of additional factors may be stopping you from being able to improve your sleep patterns:
- Distracting noises (ear plugs or cotton balls may help.)
- Temperatures (WebMD, a very accessible and good health resource, recommends temperatures between 75° F (24° C) and 54° F (12° C) to ensure a comfortable sleep.)
- Lights/colors (dimming lights of your screen can help you nod off and sleep better)
- Thoughts (finances, relationships and a multitude of worries can be dealt with more efficiently at another time, when you can actively think about them.)
- Comfort of the bed (your bed should be comfortable, durable and provide good support. SpineHealth recommends mattresses that support alignment of the spine to prevent muscle soreness and that medium-firm mattresses that allow shoulder and hips to sink a bit may provide more back pain relief. Another MD at the blog suggests which sleeping positions alleviate different back pains.)
- Associate your bed with sleeping. If you sit on your bed to watch TV, use your laptop or read, you may want to switch places.
- Take a warm bath
- Do some light reading, nothing like a suspense book that will keep your attention up.
- Listen to relaxing music or equally relaxing non-musical sounds from Jackson’s article, and Kaly’s article on SimplyNoise. If you prefer to use your iPhone to present you with soothing sounds while you lie in your bed, take advantage of our promo here!
- Turn off the TV and computer, and dim lights an hour before bed.
- Do some light yoga or tai chi which can help you fall asleep faster (there are some wonderful videos at ), but not right before bed. Studies have shown that people with sleeping problems were able to sleep without waking up for almost an hour when they practiced tai chi. Working out in the late afternoon, is also thought to contribute to better sleep. When you can’t go to the gym, you can try some easy exercises (WebMD has a section on 60-s aerobics and Mayo Clinic’s website has an exercise video collection for desk jockeys) at your desk.
- Try some mental relaxation techniques by a sleep medication website: Sometimes, instead of thinking that must sleep (which can cause you to worry more and stay awake), try thinking that must stay awake for as long as possible. You can also try breathing deeply and thinking that tension in your body leaves as you exhale, counting backwards slowly in different scenarios with your eyes closed, or thinking about floating down and feeling calmer.
Help fellow readers improve sleep patterns by telling us your suggestions in the comments.