“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” ~ William Shakespeare
Nothing can be more frustrating that having a string of nights where you’re not sleeping well. For some this becomes a chronic sleep problem that lasts weeks, months, or longer.
Here are some things to help you sleep that are simple, free, and work with your body to produce deeper, more restful sleep. They may also improve your health and overall well-being, so let’s get started!
Habits That Help You Sleep
My most favorite things to help you sleep are the simple ones that anyone can do, without cost. Here are five of them:
1. Make sure the room is pitch black.
Natural melatonin will not be produced in the amounts necessary for good, deep sleep in a room that is not pitch black. Even night lights can easily interfere with proper sleep in very sensitive people.
2. Exercise 3 hours before intended bedtime.
The reason that this is one of the best things to help you sleep has to do with what happens inside the body over time, after appropriate daily exercise.
Initially, there is a burst of adrenaline that is released to get the heart pumping and the systems going.
However, over time, the adrenaline fades and is replaced by calming neurotransmitters, like dopamine. Think of dopamine as your own internal chill pill. You can activate it with proper use of exercise.
What is proper use of exercise? It depends. Any movement is better than none. If you haven’t jogged in 5 years, it will be best to consider taking a brisk walk, and working up slowly if need be.
A 1997 sleep study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “older adults with moderate sleep complaints can improve self-rated sleep quality by initiating a regular moderate-intensity exercise program”. Exercise consisted of “four 30- to 40-minute endurance training sessions (low-impact aerobics; brisk walking) prescribed per week at 60% to 75% of heart rate reserve based on peak treadmill exercise heart rate.”
If you’re reasonably fit, I encourage you to strongly consider sprints, also know as peak fitness. Recent research has shown that short, all out sprints on a regular or stationary bicycle are much better than long, drawn out cardio workouts.
Personally, I do 200 jumping jacks, which takes about 2 1/2 minutes, and I’m done.
3. Set a waking time that is slightly earlier than normal
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it turns out to be one of the key foundational things to help you sleep.
Think about it: you have no direct control over when your body gets sleepy enough to go to fall asleep. By the same token, you have complete control over when you wake up.
Waking up earlier creates a sort of pressure that will make you sleepy earlier in the evening (or whenever you sleep), and can be just the push you need to get your body back on a healthy wake/sleep cycle.
One word to the wise: this may take several weeks for your body clock to reset. Be patient.
4. Hydrate to help you sleep
My wife an I wandered into a mattress store recently, since we knew that we needed to replace our old mattress and were thinking that getting a new one would help us sleep better.
To my surprise, the salesman mentioned that proper hydration, and not the mattress you’re sleeping on, was the single best thing you could do for yourself to help you sleep.
Most of us probably are chronically dehydrated. If you have trouble just drinking water, try putting a little something in your water, like lemon or a half ounce of fruit juice.
5. Put away the electronic gadgets, 1-4 hours before bed.
One to four hours? Yes, but it depends on you. For most people the 1 hour limit will most likey be sufficient. However, if you or a loved one has some sort of sensory integration issue (like ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism), recent research suggests they need additional time for their brains to process stimulation from electronic media.
Other Things to Help You Sleep
If you have found little or no relief from this simple list, please consult my more exhaustive page How to Get Better Sleep, also located on this website. Additionally, consider making an appointment for nutritional evaluation, or by consulting your doctor or a sleep clinic in your area.
King, A. C., et al. Moderate-Intensity Exercise and Self-Rated Quality of Sleep in Older Adults. JAMA; 1997277(1):32-37.
Yehuda, S., et al. Essential Fatty Acids and Sleep: Mini-Review and Hypothesis. Med Hypo, 1998;50:139-145