Lately, I have often found myself in conversations that wend their way into sleep troubles. Maybe this is just a reflection of my age/stage of my peers! But, I think that the burdens of life, the weight of covid & its out-workings, and the expectations of the day have compounded and contributed to sabotaging our sleep health.
We’ve all heard plenty of the same advice reel: don’t drink caffeine too late; keep a pad of paper beside your bed to write down stressors in the night (? is this actually a thing people do?); have a bedtime routine…
And, maybe these have been helpful!
But, I've also come across some more *quirky* tips & tricks about sleep health, and I wanted to corral all of these into one spot... for me, for you, and for all future reference and conversations!
If you have a baby, or little kids: you are in the weeds! It’s trench warfare! It’s death by a thousand paper cuts! It’s offensive! Tina Fey said, “It’s the year after the baby comes that is like someone hitting you every day in the face with a hammer.”
If you are in the hammer-zone, there is no comfort and no advice for you. I’m sorry if this post is salt in the wound! It’s tiring. It will end. You are doing a great job!!!
Same thing if you have health issues or medical interventions that are disruptive to your sleep. I’m sorry :(
Maybe there are ideas in here that can move the needle even a little bit.
Light has an enormous impact on the cues to our body about sleep! I am no scientist, and you can read all about this by learning about melatonin. Essentially: it’s a naturally occurring hormone that triggers sleepiness.
What’s valuable to know is that the amount of light hitting your eyes impacts your sleepiness. Bright lights at bedtime (or through the night) do not set the scene well for transitioning into a deep, restful sleep.
Install a dimmer for the light in your bathroom. This will allow you to have low light in the evening when you’re prepping for bed (but still have bright light at other times, when you need it!) — I can attest that this is the best feature of my bathroom! Not just for nighttime, but for getting ready in the early morning on those dark, winter days, too.
Similarly/alternately think about lower light in your room at night. Use a bedside lamp instead of a brighter, overhead light, for example.
Eliminate digital light. They seem innocuous, but even tiny lights around the room can disrupt a sleep cycle. Cover all the indicator lights or move plugged-in electronics to another room, if possible. (This may include a clock — read on)
Use an eye mask. They look really extra, I get it. But, when I flew around the world in early 2020 — spending ~40 hours on airplanes — I became a believer! (eye mask + earplugs = able to sleep on a plane, which I had never done before)
This one has also essentially ended the marital argument about differences of timing at bed — one person reading longer, e.g.. It no longer matters if the light is on, because the mask shuts out the light of the room.
Subtle temperature nuances can affect our ability to go to sleep or stay asleep. Some of the following tips may sound simple to the point of stupidity, but our brains aren't working their best when we are tired — think ahead about how temperature factors might be impacting your sleep.
Too cold. Trying to sleep, but you're restless or just can't seem to relax into sleep? Pull on some socks, pjs (or warmer ones), or grab an extra blanket.
- Too hot. Conversely, heat in the night may wake you up, sweaty & restless!
Some ways to tinker with this:
Invest in a programmable thermostat (it doesn’t have to be a wifi/nest-style version!). You can play around with the timing of the heat in the night — maybe it needs to be warm until you fall asleep, then go lower in the night.
Have what you might need nearby: an extra blanket, or a change from pj bottoms to shorts (or vice versa), a glass of cold water, etc.
- Maybe: Sleep with the window open? Warm up your bed with a hot water bottle? Try out different options or get to know your patterns so that you can make adjustments.
Stress / Mind Stuff
This may be the biggest factor to our sleep health! If you have found that since the pandemic, sleep has become more troublesome: stress & emotions may be significant factors.
Don't activate your emotions before bed. I've heard that you shouldn't activate your brain before rest. But, I think that solving a crossword puzzle in bed is less disruptive than (seemingly) brainless doom-scrolling. We were not designed to take in all of the weight-of-the-world info that is out there!
Reading the news is stressful enough. But, if you interact with / follow sources that care about injustice, social challenges, broken systems... what feels like a harmless social media scroll may actually be activating feelings of responsibility, compulsion to action, worry, or guilt— NONE OF WHICH YOU CAN DO ANYTHING ABOUT WHEN YOU'RE SLEEPING.
These are real concerns, and worthy of our time, attention, effort, and money. But, bringing those into bedtime will not help with the rest that is needed to tackle big problems!
Make time to problem-solve in the daytime. Maybe it's not global or societal issues that keep you up at night; rather, it's what's happening with your kids, or an interpersonal conflict, or a scheduling issue. You may need to intentionally carve out time at some point in the day to give your attention to these things, so they don't enter the only mental space available (when you're trying to sleep!)
Distract your brain with an acupressure mat. Ok, this is the most idiosyncratic sleep tip I've ever heard, but blogger Ashley Campbell has — for years — used this solution. She found that at the end of busy days, her mind started running when she finally stopped for bed. Laying on this sharp mat distracted all of the thoughts from her brain, because it is painful! (The post is from 5 years ago, but she has since confirmed that this is still a working part of her routine!)
Take the decisions about sleep out of the equation. Go to sleep and wake up at a consistent time every day, maybe. Decide in advance what hours you "should be" sleeping and when you will be awake.
Do not have a visible clock. You know that stress loop... When you wake up in the night and think, "It's 4:00am, I only have 2.5 hours left to get some sleep"; then, half an hour later, you still aren't sleeping and look again. "Now I only have 2 hours left, I need to get to sleep!" you think, and so your stress about sleeping increases!
One suggestion to deal with this is: not to have a clock visible at all. Set an alarm for the time you need to wake up. Then, if you wake up in the night (and your alarm has not yet rung), you know: this is the time I'm supposed to be sleeping. It might take some resolve to push through the curiosity (I just want to know!). But, it may well put you at ease to not be thinking about timing in the middle of the night.
Exercise. An active lifestyle helps you sleep! Even just a walk a day.
Significant exercise or sports late in the day may interfere with sleep (if your body needs to wind down from the adrenaline, for example). Alternately, a walk around the block in the evening may be a helpful part of your routine. You can figure out your body's nuances.
Stretching before bed has been said to help sleep.
Caffeine / Sugar / Food / Alcohol are all factors that can impact not just falling asleep, but staying asleep. If you are regularly waking up in the night, without explanation, take a look at the latter part of your day's food & drink patterns.