I wish I could say I used to be one of those teenagers that could sleep 12 hours straight but I never was. I have what I would call, a farmer’s sleep schedule. It really doesn’t matter what time I go to bed, when the sun is up, so am I. And once my kids came along, my sleep turned light. I would wake at the smallest noise. So needless to say, I have never been a great sleeper.
Imagine now throwing menopause on top of all that. I rotate between weeks of sleeping “ok” through the night to weeks of tossing and turning and sometimes insomnia. If I thought I was tired during other stages of my life, truly that was nothing compared to the zombie I am now somedays.
For sanity’s sake (and my relationships) I have had to make a conscious effort to improve my sleep quality. I’ve done the research and found some tips that really do help. I still have a few sleepless nights here and there but I have noticed a real improvement in the weeks that I normally would have just slept “ok”. I fall asleep faster and wake less often. The weeks that are not so good, are shorter and farther between the cycles now so overall, my new sleep habits are working.
I hope at least some of these tricks will help you improve sleep quality too.
How to get a good night sleep
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1. Limit caffeine after dinner
I am the youngest of 4 children so there is a huge gap in age between my oldest sister and myself. I use to think it was silly that she never drank tea or coffee after 4pm but not anymore. Once I implemented the same rule for myself, I vastly improved my chances for falling asleep quickly at bedtime. If you consume caffeine late in the evening, it may be affecting your ability to sleep well. Start by experimenting with the latest time you ingest caffeinated products. And yes, unfortunately that includes chocolate. Keep moving the time back till you see a noticeable improvement in sleep quality.
2. Keep a regular sleep schedule
It’s funny how when we have babies, we put them on schedules because we know it is good for them but then ignore all the same rules for ourselves. My uncle, who turns 97 this year, goes to sleep at the same time every single day. He wakes at the same time and he naps at the same time. I honestly believe that his routines are the secret to his long and healthy life.
Try to set up a regular sleep schedule for yourself that can work 7 days a week. Your body will respond to routine and you will reap the benefit of a better night’s sleep.
3. Reserve your bed for sleeping (and whoopie of course!)
I used to have a really bad habit of working in bed. It was so easy to prop my laptop up on pillows and type. But I found that my brain would never shut down. Even on nights that I didn’t work. By eliminating all other activities from the bed, I taught my body that when it lays down there, it is time to sleep. It is amazing how I have been able to stop my mind wandering to work when I made a rule to eliminate all activities that don’t belong in the bedroom.
4. Keep the bedroom at a cool temperature
I am one of those lucky people that never really experienced hot flashes. However, it seems like my body is always running warm. And when I am hot, I simply can not sleep. To combat this, I have a ceiling fan plus I leave the window open a crack, even in the dead of winter. Reducing the temperature in my bedroom allows me to snuggle deep inside my blankets and I love it. Try keeping the temperature lower in your home at night and if you still run hot, try a cooling pillow. I absolutely love mine!
5. Keep the light out and cover any lights from equipment
The farmer in me needs complete darkness. If I so much as get a hint of light, I wake up and then I am unable to get back to sleep again. Room darkening blinds and drapes dramatically reduce light from the outside. You can also opt for a sleep mask for extra protection from light.
Inside your room, there may be other light sources keeping you awake that you are unaware of. Close the curtains and turn off the lights in your bedroom at night and look around. If you see any sources of light, like the on or off glow of any electrical device, cover it up with duct tape. I also turn my clock radio away from my face to prevent its glow from directly hitting my face.
6. Remove electronics from bedroom
I know this is probably the hardest rule to follow. It is so easy to make crawling into bed with your smartphone or iPad a habit. And even when you set them to silent, the urge to check on them and the distraction when they buzz on your side table can severely impact the quality of your sleep.
And yes, TV’s in your bedroom are bad too. Basically anything that keeps your mind active or jumping from one activity to another are bad. Especially when you want to shut your brain down. If you are plagued by racing thoughts when you get in bed, you really need to remove all of these distractions. It will be hard at first but hang tough. It will get easier and it will improve your sleep.
7. Read in bed if not sleepy
The worst thing in the world that I can do in bed is try to sleep when I am clearly not sleepy. This is made even more annoying by the fact that my husband has fallen asleep in less than a minute and is now lightly snoring. Sometimes I will get up and do a small chore but the best thing I find is to stay in bed and read a book. A real physical book with a book light. Eventually I get weary and tired and put the book away. Unfortunately, sometimes I forgot what I read the night before because I fell asleep so quickly after putting the book down!
Don’t force yourself to just lay there if you can’t sleep. You tend to make your mind race. Get up and get a glass of water or read. Your mind will hopefully settle enough to induce sleep.
8. Use a sound machine
I freaking love my sound machine! Remember above when I said I was a light sleeper when my kids were young? Well that clearly has not changed. I hear everything! Having a noise machine not only signals to my brain it is time to sleep, but it blocks out all the little noises that normally wake me up. This is the sound machine I have and I use the crickets mode. There are many other sounds on there and I am sure you can find one that will soothe and settle your brain as well as distract from other noises.
9. Create a nightly routine
Routines build memory. The body knows exactly what to expect and when. My own routine includes getting into my pyjamas, drinking a warm, herbal tea, washing my face and brushing my teeth, turning off all the lights and getting into bed. I do the exact same thing every single night, no matter how tired I think I am and no matter where I am. Sleeping while travelling is really hard for me but my nightly routine triggers my body to go into sleep mode and it really helps when I am away from my own bed.
10. Use the calming, soothing properties of lavender
When my mother was really ill and in hospital, she had real trouble sleeping as you can imagine. My sister, came from England to visit, and brought with her a lavender mist. We would spritz my mother’s wrists and temples as well as her pillow. And you know what? It really worked! I bought myself this one and use it all the time. You can also buy a lavender room deodorizer to keep your whole bedroom smelling nice as well as get the benefits of lavender for improving sleep.
Sleep is so important to your over-all well being. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, don’t assume it will improve on its own as you age because let me tell you, it doesn’t. You must take an active approach to improve sleep quality. I suggest trying each of the tips above and finding the combinations that work for you. You will not only benefit from a more restful sleep but you will wake refreshed and ready for the day.