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Bedtime Checklist - Do

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Too often we cannot go to sleep because of what we ate, where we sleep, how we sleep, who we share our beds with, the daytime tasks we let spill into bedtime, our worries and a thousand little things that we do not think should matter. But they do. As more people suffer from insomnia and take to sleep medications, it is time to remind ourselves about what we are doing wrong and how we can improve our sleep by making simple lifestyle changes. This article discusses the do’s and don’ts needed to help us easily go to sleep, stay asleep and wake up reinvigorated.

Why We Need Sleep

Sleep represents an important part of our day. It is the period when the body is physically inactive even while it repairs and restores itself. Furthermore, the brain powers down during sleep even though it is also conducting the important task of storing our daytime memories.

When we go to sleep, our body temperature falls, our heartbeat slows down and brain activity enters a restful phase.

Because of the many benefits of sleep, sleep deprivation can have serious negative effects on our health.

Researchers have shown that sleep deprivation significantly weakens the immune system even as it impairs memory, increases our craving for carbohydrates, affects our ability to complete physical and mental tasks as well as raises the risks of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, depression, diabetes, and cancers.

While we are sleeping, the body releases certain hormones such as melatonin and growth hormones.

Besides keeping up asleep, melatonin is also an antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. Growth hormones are needed to promote the development of the body and to stimulate various healing processes.

When sleeplessness interferes with the release of such compounds, it impairs the body’s natural defenses and allows toxins, free radicals and pathogens to override the body’s immune system.

Sleep experts regard chronic insomnia as a public health problem, especially among city dwellers. The size of the market for sedative medications is an indication of the number of people who constantly struggle to sleep at night.

However, sedative drugs are not without their side effects. Depending on drugs to get a good night’s sleep is not only costly in the long run but also harmful to the body.

There are effective non-drug interventions for people who struggle to stay asleep. Most of them only require that you make your sleep environment conducive.

By understanding how sleep works, you can train your body to know when it is time to power down.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleeping hours

  • Adults (above 18 years) – 7 - 8 hours per day
  • Teenagers (13 – 18 years) - at least 8 ½ hours per day
  • Children (5 – 12 years) – 10 – 11 hours per day
  • Children (3 – 5 years) – 11 – 13 hours per day
  • Children (1 – 3 years) – 12 – 14 hours per day
  • Infants (3 – 11 months) – 9 – 12 hours per day
  • Infants (1 – 2 months) – 10 ½ - 18 hours per day

The Do’s

1. Get a Comfortable Bed

This may seem obvious but quite a lot of insomniacs do not get enough sleep simply because their beds are not comfortable.

You should know that the right mattress differs from one person to another. Ideally, your bed should have enough room for you to turn and stretch comfortably. If the bed is too small, your movements will be restricted and your muscles might get tired from being locked in the same position all night.

A good indication that you need a new mattress is the cramped feeling you get when you wake up.

If your back feels sore, it is time to ask for more support from your mattress. The same goes for your pillow. If your pillow is too hard, it may make sleeping difficult and cause aching neck in the morning.

Therefore, test mattresses and pillows with different degrees of firmness to see which ones provide the best support for your spine.

2. Sleep in the Dark


You need total darkness to ease to sleep and stay asleep. Even when you close your eyes, light can still pass through and remind your brain not to sleep. Therefore, the ideal sleeping environment should be in total darkness.

The human body has different sets of hormones for daytime and nighttime. Which set is released is dictated by the amount of light you are perceiving.

For example, the neurohormone, melatonin, is released from the pineal gland only when it is dark. Melatonin is a major contributor to the sleep-wake cycle and its function is to promote sedation.

Unfortunately, the conveniences of modern living leave us with constant sources of light.

To get a good night’s sleep, block all sources of artificial light during the night. This can be done with heavy curtains and blackout shades. In addition, you can also wear an eye mask to provide your own personal total darkness while in bed.

3. Keep Your Bedroom at the Right Temperature

Cold can keep us awake just as much as extreme heat can. Studies show that the optimal temperature range for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also the range to which your core temperature drops a few hours into sleep.

Therefore, keeping your bedroom cooler and in this range can help you get to sleep faster.

4. Keep Your Bedroom Gadget-Free

Our lives have been enriched with electronic gadgets but our sleep suffers from nighttime use of these devices.

Besides taking up attention, the backlit displays of your electronic readers, smartphones, tablets, computers, portable gaming systems, and the TV simulate daylight and trick the brain into keeping sleep-promoting hormones in check.

Therefore, do not bring these gadgets to bed with you. Sleep experts recommend that we stay away from electronic devices at least 2 hours before we go to bed.

5. Go to Bed Early

While the amount of sleep you get at night is important when you get it is also very important.

Most of the restorative processes the body undertakes at night happens between 11 pm and 1 am. Therefore, you should be asleep during those hours.

This also means that going to bed by 10 pm and waking up at 6 in the morning is a better way to get restful sleep than going to bed past midnight and sleeping in the next day.

6. Have a Bedtime Ritual

An excellent way to guarantee that you sleep well every night is to establish a bedtime ritual. Your bedtime ritual may involve light reading, taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music but it has to be consistent.

A regular task that you do before you go to sleep trains your body to recognize when it should start powering down. This is important because sleep is most restful when it is a gentle transition from wakefulness to drowsiness.

In addition, an established bedtime ritual can quickly put you to sleep when you don’t have to but want to.

Lastly, you should keep a regular bedtime routine. This means that you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day even on days when you are not required to turn in or get up early. This is also another way to train your body to know when to put you to sleep and when to wake you up.

7. Eat Foods that Promote Sleep

Foods rich in the amino acid, tryptophan, can help you sleep faster. This is because tryptophan is used to synthesize serotonin and melatonin.

Proteins are common sources of tryptophan. However, you should use a protein source with higher tryptophan content than other competing amino acids.

Such tryptophan-rich foods include milk, brown rice, turkey, banana, cereals, and nuts

In addition, you should consider foods rich in melatonin. There are only a few such foods but they are easy to find. Grapes and tart cherries are melatonin-containing fruits that have been proven to promote sleep.

8. Relax to White Noise and Soft Voices

There are mediation CDs and white noise audio recordings that can help you relax. Studies show that the sounds of nature and guided mediation can promote deep sleep entrainment. These audio samples can cause deep delta sleep in some individuals.

Therefore, you should consider them to help ease you to sleep at night.

9. Do Some Light Reading

Light reading can also help you relax. The kinds of books to read at night are inspirational, feel-good, non-fiction titles. Thrillers will only keep you turning the pages into the early hours of the morning.

10. Journal, Don’t Count Sheep

If you are the type of person who lay in bed with his mind racing, it might help to take up journaling.

Consider writing down your thoughts as a way of emptying your mind just before you sleep. Journaling at bedtime is very much like talk therapy and can be just as relaxing and therapeutic.

11. Exercise Regularly

Exercise is a good use of pent-up energy as well as stored calories. It can help your body uncoil and ensure that you will be physically tired at bedtime.

However, you must not exercise close to bedtime because the adrenaline rush will only keep you up.

Regular exercise can also improve your cardiovascular health. It will also help you lose weight. This is important because the risk of sleep apnea is increased when you are overweight.

Therefore, exercise can keep your body weight down and prevent sleep apnea from disturbing your sleep.

12. Take Natural Supplements

There are a number of natural supplements that can help you sleep at bedtime. These include tryptophan and melatonin supplements as well as sedative teas such as chamomile.

When taking herbal teas to get to sleep, make sure you get the decaf variety.

Other natural supplements that can improve the quality of your sleep include herbs such as valerian, hops, lemon balm, and kava as well as magnesium, potassium and B vitamins.

13. Nap Rightly

Sleeping during the day can put off your nightly sleep by interfering with your sleep-wake cycle. However, afternoon naps can also improve your memory as well as mental and physical performance.

You can get the best of naps without letting them disturb your night's sleep by taking your nap in the early afternoon and restricting it to no longer than 30 minutes.

14. Let Light in During the Day

To sleep better at night, increase your light exposure during the day. This means that you spend more time outside during daylight. If you are indoors, let in more sunlight into your home or workspace.

During the winter months, get a light therapy box to get your daily dose of sunlight.

Light exposure during the day is important because it helps your body differentiate between daytime and nighttime.

This means that your body can establish a definite sleep-wake cycle and know when to keep you awake and when it is time to go to sleep.

The Don’ts

15. Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine is the most popular stimulant consumed. It is found in coffee, teas, chocolate, soda drinks, energy drinks, and diet pills.

Caffeine has a rather long half-life and the body takes a while to fully get rid of it. This means that caffeine can keep you awake long after you need its stimulant effects. Therefore, you should avoid sources of caffeine.

If you must take caffeine, make sure to take it in the morning and not in the afternoon when its effects can carry over into the evening and disturb your night’s sleep.

16. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol is a paradoxical compound. On one hand, it is a stimulant. On the other, it has a depressant effect on the central nervous system too.

Therefore, alcohol may make you drowsy and even knock you out but it hardly will be a restful sleep.

Alcohol prevents the body from going into the deep stages of sleep and its effects can linger in your system. Even the hangover effect it produces in the morning is enough to wreck your sleep-wake cycle.

17. Avoid Stimulant Drugs

Certain drugs have stimulant effects. In fact, insomnia is a common side effect of drugs especially those that act on the central nervous system.

Even certain sleep medications such as benzodiazepines can cause rebound insomnia.

Therefore, you should ask your doctor whether the drugs you are taking can cause sleeplessness.

18. Quit Smoking

The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant. Therefore, it can also disrupt sleep.

In addition, smoking is often an addiction. This means that smokers go through nicotine withdrawal while they sleep. This nightly craving for a smoke can interfere with sleep.

19. Don’t Take Work to Bed

It’s late and you still need to get more done. Sure, it is tempting to try and multitask by bringing your work with you to bed. Don’t.

Working in bed reduces the association your body makes with sleep and bed. Not only will working in bed make you sleep later than you plan but it will make it even more difficult to sleep on nights when you are not working in bed.

20. Don’t Sleep With Loud Alarm Clocks

The sight and sound of alarm clocks can disrupt your sleep. An alarm clock is a constant reminder that you will soon need to wake up. It makes you consider sleep as a necessary evil.

If you use a digital alarm clock, the glow of light coming from its LED is another source of light that should not be in your bedroom.

A loud alarm clock is the next worse thing. The jarring, loud noise which is intended to wake you up will roughly pull you from sleep. It is no wonder then that many hate the sound of alarm clocks in the morning.

The ideal way to wake up is to gently ease into consciousness. When you wake up naturally, you wake up at the right sleep stage and feel fully rested.

Therefore, if you must own an alarm clock, get one that simulates the typical morning environment. An alarm clock that wakes you up to the sound of a radio station and that has a waking light that grows in intensity is a much better way to transition from sleep to wakefulness.

21. Don’t Share Your Bed with an Intrusive Other

If you share your bed with a partner or a pet, it may disrupt your sleep especially if the other person snores or toss around in bed during the night.

Therefore, moving to another bedroom where your sleep will not be disturbed should help you get to sleep and stay asleep.

22. No Fluids Close to Bedtime

You should avoid drinking any fluids at least 2 hours before your bedtime. It takes a while for fluids to pass through your digestive tract and then you will feel the urge to urinate. Therefore, drinking close to your bedtime is a guarantee that you will wake up during the night to pee.

Caffeinated drinks are a big no also for this reason. Caffeine is a diuretic. This means that it promotes water loss through urination. A caffeinated drink will make up you get up multiple times during the night.

Lastly, make sure to empty your bladder just before you go to bed. This will ensure that your sleep is not disturbed by the need to go during the night.

23. No Big Meals at Night

Big meals make your digestive system grind for a long time as it tries to digest foods.

Therefore, avoid big meals for at least 2 hours before going to bed. This means that you should eat dinner early in the evening.

You should also avoid spicy or acidic foods late in the day. These can keep you up by causing heartburn or reactivating your gastrointestinal ulcer at night.

24. Don’t Eat Sugar before Bedtime

Sugar provides the body’s primary source of energy. Therefore, eating sugary foods or taking sugary drinks at night is bound to keep your brain and muscles flooded with glucose.

Sugar-fueled hyperactivity is not restricted to children. Adults may not feel the need to romp after consuming sugary foods in the evening but they also cannot stay inactive long enough to sleep.

25. Don’t Worry About Sleep

Sleep anxiety is actually a leading cause of insomnia. Too often we worry we will not get enough sleep while we are in bed.

Anxiety over sleeplessness also involves worrying about how sleep deprivation will affect our mental and physical performance the next day and how insomnia can cause long-term damage to our health.

Worrying about sleep is a habit. And it can be broken. In one study, researchers were able to improve patients’ quality of sleep simply by telling them to give up worrying about getting sleep.





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