If you are struggling to get a good night’s rest, you may want to address these common sleep disruptors.
I used to be really good at sleeping. I would crash out as soon as my head hit the pillow and barely move until there was light in the sky. Then I had kids and found out what sleep deprivation is all about. When I could finally sleep through the night again, it was like rediscovering a long lost friendship. (Get more sleep with this simple restorative yoga practice.)
Ironically, when my kids were old enough that I wondered if they would ever wake up in the morning, I stopped sleeping through the night for no obvious reason. In retrospect, I was grieving the loss of my father, but I would startle awake around 1:30 am, unable to get myself back to sleep until nearly dawn. It felt like a cruel kind of heartbroken torture.
I’m not up alone in the middle of the night. According to a 2007 National Sleep Foundation study, 67 percent of American women frequently experience disturbances to their sleep. That’s a lot of tossing and turning. Shelby Harris, a sleep disorder specialist and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, suggests addressing these five common sleep disruptors as a first step to getting a good night’s sleep:
- Drinking within three hours of bedtime. This means no alcohol within three hours of bedtime because, although it may help get you to sleep, you get less quality sleep as its effects wear off. You also want to limit any kind of liquid within these three hours because nothing disrupts a good night’s sleep like needing to use the bathroom.
- Keeping your bedroom too warm and bright. Your body naturally cools down as you sink deeper into sleep. If your room is too warm, it counteracts this natural process, disrupting your sleep cycle. Similarly, any light sources, even very dim electronics, will mess with your body’s production of melatonin, which is a crucial hormone that directs your sleep/wake cycle.
- Exercising and bathing right before bed. Harris suggests working out four to six hours before bedtime, which will give your body a chance to warm up, and then, importantly, cool down enough to support your body’s prime temperature for sleep. Similarly, having a warm shower or bath is best done one-and-a-half to two hours before bed, maximizing the chances that, come morning, not only will you be clean, but you’ll also be rested.
- Sleeping in on the weekend. It feels so luxurious to roll over and go back to sleep on a Sunday, but if sleep is not your best friend yet, it’s best to keep your bedtime and your waking time consistent. It might not be the most fun friendship, but Harris insists that your alarm clock will be your BFF if you wake to it every single day.
- Sneaking a peak. With our current obsession/addiction to technology, it can be tricky to turn off our devices an hour before bed—and to keep them off. Blue light is especially harmful to levels of melatonin, which means our body is not being supported to sleep. Also, avoid peeking at the clock when you wake up in the middle of the night. All it will do is make you stressed out or anxious about not getting enough sleep.
Harris lays out a program that begins with keeping a sleep diary so you can get a sense of your natural schedule and notice any areas where you could improve your sleep hygiene. She also stresses the importance of your sleep drive and includes ways that you can increase your “sleep appetite” and combine it with your circadian rhythm to maximize your ability to sleep through the night. If you are hungry for sleep, this is an interesting path to meander down. Essentially, you are meant to use your sleep diary to structure your time in bed so that you are only in bed while you are sleeping. That means getting out of bed if you wake up in the night and getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off.
For anyone who hasn’t had to deal with sleep issues, Harris’ advice can feel restrictive—indeed she calls it sleep restriction—and daunting, but if you’re operating on many nights (or months) of poor sleep, try it. You could finally get the sleep of your dreams.