If you had to commit one-third of your time each day to something, the National Institutes of Health recommends you choose sleep. Research shows we need seven to eight hours of sleep to be well-rested and stay healthy. The consequences of not sleeping well include mood problems, decreased ability to focus, pay attention, or respond quickly, and higher risk for health problems including infections, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
If a stressful lifestyle is keeping you from getting enough sleep or causing you problems with daytime drowsiness or exhaustion, it’s time to pay attention to sleep habits and try some natural sleep aids.
Sleep hygiene, or routine, refers to the activities and practices surrounding daily sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene is required to get a restful, regenerative night’s sleep and contributes to health and well-being. Poor sleep hygiene disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to sleep disorders and mental and physical health problems.
Good Sleep Hygiene
- Limit or avoid stimulants including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before sleep; also avoid eating too close to bedtime.
- Keep a regular bedtime routine, such as changing into pajamas, brushing your teeth, and doing some light stretching before getting into bed.
- Use the bed for sleep only, not other mentally stimulating activities such as watching TV, listening to a radio, knitting, or reading.
- Arrange your bedroom environment to be relaxing and non-disruptive. Remove clutter and control outside light sources with effective window coverings such as dark shades from The Shade Store. Also, keep a comfortable temperature, and eliminate distracting noise.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time daily.
- Use a mattress that supports you properly and bedding that is comfortable, clean and breathable. Affordable organic mattresses and bedding are available at Nest Bedding
Poor Sleep Hygiene
- Engage in stressful, stimulating activities before sleep, such as drinking with friends, watching a scary or emotional movie on TV, or arguing with someone.
- Stay up late the night before you have to get up early for work or travel.
- Partake in strenuous exercise late at night.
- Eat spicy or very sweet food right before sleep.
- Smoke or drink coffee or caffeinated soft drinks in the evening.
Natural Sleep Inducers
Instead of turning to sleep medications that may be addictive or have unpleasant or dangerous side effects, try some natural ways to improve the quality of your sleep. The Sleep Disorders Center of the University of Maryland Medical Center reports several relaxation techniques can help alleviate sleep problems. Try adding one or several of these to your bedtime routine:
- Progressive Relaxation: Lie down in bed on your back and pay attention to individual body parts and consciously relax them, starting with your toes and moving through your entire body, to ankles, knees, upper legs, etc.
- Toe Tensing: Lie down in bed with your eyes closed, concentrate on your toes and tense or curl them tightly, holding for a count of 10, then relaxing them for a count of 10. Repeat 10 times to release the tension from your entire body.
- Deep Breathing: Settle in bed with your eyes closed, relax your body, and breathe in slowly to the count of 10 and fill your lungs, holding for a few seconds, then slowly exhale. Repeat until you fall asleep.