Tossing and turning more than usual lately? You’re not alone. As we get older, changes to our sleep patterns can be expected with different health conditions, menopause and even medications.
Much of Dautovich’s research focuses on sleep rhythms across the lifespan. She shared with us some of her do’s and don’ts for getting a good night’s sleep.
1. Manage your light time.
While many of us spend our days indoors working, Dautovich says it’s important to get outside first thing in the morning to get plenty of natural light. It might seem difficult at first ― the last thing many of us want to do is even draw the curtains in the morning― but light is believed to be a major factor in setting our circadian rhythms. Getting light first thing in the morning can help your body set its internal “clock.”
It might seem even harder to do if you’re groggy from a restless night, but it should actually help you feel more alert.
That being said ― light isn’t always your friend. You might want to curb your TV watching and put away your phone around bedtime. “Light from electronic devices can be stimulating and suppress the release of melatonin, which is associated with feeling sleepy,” Dautovich warns.
2. Resist the urge to sleep in.
As tempting as it might be to have a late lie-in on your day off, it’s best to stick to a regular sleeping pattern. Doing this will help synchronize your internal body clock. Once you get used to it, you should be getting adequate sleep every night and may not even feel the desire to sleep in past your usual wake time.
For people with a major sleep debt ― the difference in the hours of sleep you should be getting minus what you actually get ― you won’t recover with one marathon sleeping session. Some experts say it’s best to tack on an additional hour or two each night until you get into a healthy pattern.
3. Use exercise to your advantage.
Sleep is one of the best reasons to exercise, other than staying fit. Exercise actually boosts your energy ... so if you don’t already make it a part of your routine, it might help you be more alert without needing (as much) caffeine. Even if consumed early in the morning, caffeine can disrupt sleep at nighttime, for some people, Dautovich says.
Exercise will also help tire you out and can help you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, but make sure you aren’t hitting the gym too close to bedtime. Some experts recommend you don’t exercise any later than three hours before your expected bedtime.
4. Make your bed a sacred place.
Sex and sleep are the only things you should be doing in bed, Dautovich says. Make it a point to create an association in your brain between bed and sleeping. That might be harder to do if you’re constantly checking work emails on your company phone, or rolling over to scroll through your social media feed when you can’t sleep.
5. Take bedtime seriously.
Like eating or drinking, sleeping is a basic human need. Just like eating a home-cooked meal off of an actual dinner plate is so much more satisfying than eating a microwave-heated instant meal, you can make bedtime a pleasurable daily ritual. If sleep doesn’t come naturally, you have to help relax your mind and body to prepare for it.
Arianna Huffington is a major proponent of this. Set aside 30 minutes or so before bedtime to wind down. Turn off your cell phone or put it in a different room. Take a relaxing bath. Put on your favorite, comfortable pajamas. Pamper yourself with a skincare regimen. Whatever it is for you, make bedtime something to look forward to rather than just something you have to do.
However, if you can’t sleep, remember #4. Don’t force yourself to lie in the dark, tossing and turning. This might ruin that sleep-bed association we mentioned. Get out of bed. Do something relaxing, like reading or meditating.