• Ann-Marie Covert, MSW, RSW

7 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Tonight

Let’s face it, many of us just aren’t getting the sleep we require on a regular basis. We know this is a big problem because sleep is when we restore ourselves, fill up our tanks, and rebuild our immune systems. Sleep is also when we process the events of our day, including the emotional baggage that comes with life. Lack of sleep leaves us not only tired but stressed, easily triggered, and susceptible to illness.

But I probably don’t need to tell you how important sleep is, because if you aren’t sleeping well, you already know the impact it is having on your life.

I hope I can help. Here are 7 simple strategies that you can implement today, that can improve your sleep:

1. Cut out the caffeine.

This is coming from someone who loves coffee, please just hear me out. Caffeine is from the drug class “stimulants”, meaning it stimulates our central nervous system and makes us more alert. This extra pep is great when we need to kick-start or have extra focus, but the impact on sleep is another story. The half-life of caffeine (the time it takes for it to break-down) is 5-6 hours, and depending on factors such as metabolism and weight, it can impact body chemistry 12 hours later. Due to the extended half-life, it is recommended that we stop consuming caffeine after 12 noon to ensure a good night’s sleep.

“But I can drink an espresso and go straight to bed, caffeine doesn’t effect me.” If this is you, the caffeine is still impacting your night hours, because it prevents the brain from entering the restorative stage of sleep. This is why, although you feel like you slept well because you slept as hard as a rock, you still wake up tired. You are tired, so you need caffeine, and this caffeine prevents you from entering deep sleep… so you wake up tired, consume more caffeine, and the cycle continues.

If you aren’t ready to quit your java, perhaps consider a harm reduction approach – limit your intake. Less is more, so have two cups in stead of four, or have a medium instead of a large. If you are like me and simply love the taste of coffee, I recommend Teecino Tea, which is a thick, robust tea that tastes like coffee, its naturally caffeine free, has good stuff that gives you energy, and it is non-acidic. I turned to Teecino when I was pregnant, and I haven’t looked back. Thanks for not getting mad about your coffee, please keep reading.

2. Do five minutes of exercise

In today’s society we are very fast-paced and yet also very sedentary. I am a perfect example of this; at my job I am inundated with meetings, e-mails, phone calls, texts, impromptu sessions with staff, and navigating crises on a regular basis. I don’t stop from the time I arrive until the time I leave; it is “go, go, go.” However, during this fast-paced day I am, well… sitting.

While it is mental gymnastics, I am just sitting at my desk. This “go, go, go” lifestyle triggers the secretion of adrenaline (the active hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies, and the constant sitting or standing still is doing nothing to release it. The result, our bodies are receiving chemical messages to be anxious and alert, even though we feel exhausted.

The solution: work out for 5 minutes. That’s it. I know this may seem counter-intuitive to work out when you already have too much adrenaline in your body, but you will use more than you create. Just five minutes of something that gets your heart beating faster, something aerobic, will alleviate this problem and expend the extra adrenaline and cortisol. Jumping hacks, running on the spot, dancing around your bedroom – doesn’t matter as long as you work up a sweat. Trust me.

3. Limit the screen time

Our phones, TV’s, and tablets emit light that stimulates our brains. While our eyes perceive a single-constant image, our brains perceive the rapidly repeating emissions of unnatural light, and our brains get wired! Seeing so much light into the evening is also affecting our circadian rhythm (our innate understanding of when it is day-time and when is nighttime). These devices are wonderful (and I realize you are likely using one to read this article!) and let’s help them keep being wonderful to us by reducing how much we engage with them at night.

Try to cut off your screen time at least one hour before you go to bed, this will help you drift off to la-la land.

4. Take a magnesium bath

I have to put this one in here for my grandmother’s sake, she swears by this stuff. And she is right. Magnesium is a natural sedative, is very good for you, and my grandmother knew the benefits of magnesium before holistic healthcare professionals were shouting it from the rooftops.

Magnesium is an element that is naturally occurring in our bodies, but because of today’s diets we don’t get as much as we need. Absorbing it through our skin in an epsom salt bath increases our intake and offers the sedating effects. Give it a try, and feel a wave of sleepy peace wash over you.

5. Drink more water

Almost any health article is going to tell you to drink more water. Just do it, you know you need to. We are all dehydrated. Drinking water will help alleviate headaches, will make your body less acidic, help you control hunger, will improve your complexion, and it will also help with sleep! Dehydrated people don’t sleep well, so raise a glass to a good night’s sleep!

6. Make a date with a friend

Life can be stressful, and all those stressors and worries can keep us up at night. Have you ever had an exhausting day, laid your head on the pillow sure you will be out cold in seconds, just to have your mind start racing with worries?

Your mind needs to process things that happen, and we are often too busy during our day to do this. So, make a date with a friend and have a good heart-to-heart. Do it via face-time if you can't meet in person. Process your worries with each other and then when you lay your head on the pillow your brain has already had a chance to deal with what it needed to, and you can drift off in peaceful sleep.

7. Keep a pad of paper and pen beside your bed

Again, because we are so busy during the day, sometimes our to-do lists suddenly make an appearance when we are laying still in our beds. It’s really difficult to fall asleep when you are thinking about all of your appointments and errands, so do your brain a favor, write it down.

Keep a notebook or sticky notes and a writing utensil on your bedside stable, quickly jot down those to-do’s, and now your brain won’t have to worry about whether or not you will forget what you were thinking about. In addition to to-do’s, sometimes I have my greatest epiphanies at night. So, write it down! (You will thank me in the morning).

Did you know the inventor of the sewing machine had a dream about it before they invented it? Keep that pad of paper handy!

Give these a try!

There you have it, 7 simple and practical strategies to improve your sleep. If you try even one of these 7 strategies, it is likely that your sleep will improve. If you are really motivated, try all of them! Why not?

Comment and let me know if you try any of these and notice an improvement, or do you have other recommendations to help with sleep?

Wishing you sleep dreams and peaceful sleep! Ann-Marie

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