Sleep is a complex process. There are so many factors to consider when talking about what you can do to improve it. However, there are three crucial habits that are probably responsible for 80% of improvements.
Habit #1: Disconnect from electronic devices
Disconnecting from electronic devices might be a challenging one for many, but oh so essential!
First of all, your devices such as cell phones or laptops release blue light. This blue light messes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep because it blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes you sleepy.
Secondly, if you watch TV, the news, are active on social media, read news sites, or check your work e-mail before bedtime, your mind remains busy or even stressed.
It is highly recommended to stop using electronic devices at least 30 – 60 min before bedtime and surely not to do it in bed! If it’s difficult for you to stick to this rule initially, start with at least 15 minutes.
Here are some tips to gradually reduce usage:
- Sometimes willpower doesn’t work, and we a bit of external pressure. Maybe use a mobile application to block your phone for a certain timespan, or until the next morning. These apps allow you to use your phone for emergency calls, but stop any other function.
- If you have a habit of using mobile devices in bed or charging phones on the bedside table, try to leave it out of reach, maybe even in another room to avoid temptation.
- Try reading an easy book instead of using your phone when in bed. Reading a novel is much more relaxing and calming for your mind. Before you know it, you get sleepy after 2 pages.
Habit #2: Reduce caffeine
I’m sure that you know about the effects of caffeine and that it can disrupt your sleep. But why and how?
Next to the melatonin hormone, the chemical called adenosine is responsible for making you sleepy. As it accumulates throughout the day, you get more tired. Adenosine is created in the brain, and it binds to adenosine receptors of nerve cells. As a result, brain activity slows down, and we become sleepy.
Did you know that molecules of caffeine and adenosine are very similar? To a nerve cell, caffeine looks like adenosine. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor – but it doesn’t slow down the cell’s activity as adenosine would. As a result, the cell can no longer identify adenosine because caffeine takes up all the receptors. Instead of slowing down because of the adenosine’s effect, the nerve cells speed up. That’s why you feel the boost after drinking coffee!
Reducing caffeine is crucial for having a healthy sleep. It doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks (think Coca Cola or energy drinks). Just drink it smartly. A golden rule is to not drink coffee or caffeinated drinks after 3 PM and less than 2 cups a day.
Habit #3: Slow down
Is your mind is still full of the day’s mental input, do you even feel stressed and is your body not quite ready yet to sleep in the evening? The levels of adrenaline and stress hormone cortisol are high, and they block your ability to sleep.
That is why relaxation is one of the foundation blocks to good sleeping habits. It is simple: take time to relax and slow down 1 hour before sleeping.
So what can you do in those 60 minutes?
- Spend the first 20 minutes to finish the small tasks that give you immediate mental pressure. Finish hanging tasks: do the dishes, prepare your kids lunch, write down a to-do list for tomorrow. And don’t shy away from delegating some of the jobs to others who live in your household!
- Secondly, follow your hygiene routine, which can already be very relaxing on its own. Take a shower, brush your teeth, and do everything that makes you ready for bed.
- Third, truly relax for the last 20 minutes. You can do slow yoga, meditate, read an easy book, listen to a relaxing playlist. Or try, for example, this yoga nidra relaxation technique.
How do I get there?
One of the most effective ways to improve your sleep is changing your habits before going to sleep. Yet, this is not easy. The change won’t happen overnight, it is essential to be consistent when implementing new patterns.
It takes time for your mind and body to get used to these changes. To make these changes long-lasting, they should also fit your life. Try experimenting at the beginning with what works best for you. For people who need to work late nights or shifts, the schedule might differ from people with 9 to 5 jobs or people with small children.