“I can’t get to sleep.” I was young child when I had that happen and I got out of bed to tell my parents while they were still up. It didn’t happen often, so when it did, I was frustrated. My mom had a perfect solution that worked. As I got older I didn’t need to go tell her I couldn’t sleep, I had that solution. When our kids were young and couldn’t sleep, they were given the secret as well. It wasn’t counting sheep although that was a tactic also shared.
Let’s talk about sleep. What constitutes a good sleep? There is a lot of data out there about sleep and what is necessary for health. The time needed, type of sleep needed for restoration (quality) and quantity. I have had a Fitbit for many years and currently there is a sleep score recorded daily based on the average for ‘women my age’. Some insights from Fitbit about sleep:
- You go through sleep cycles of awake time, deep sleep, REM sleep and light sleep and they are all important.
- We awake 10-30 times a night but most are too short to be noticed
- Deep sleep is often at the beginning of the night and helps with physical and mental recovery as well as memory and learning
- REM sleep is also contributes to memory. It too is important for mood and is the time when dreams are vivid. It occurs later in the night.
- Light sleep is essential. It is dispersed between the other sleeps and wake times and contributes to physical and mental restoration.
I generally sleep well. There are things that I have learned over the years to contribute to getting a good night’s sleep along with that little trick my mom taught me as a kid. Let’s dive in.
Eye Mask: Did you know that even the smallest amount of light can affect your sleep. The news has been out, and the chatter is firmly entrenched (although not always followed), that we need to shut down our blue screens at least half an hour before bed. The lights stimulate our system and keep us alert. Even when we fall asleep quickly, the quality of our sleep can be affected by the screen light from earlier. Our sleeping space should be free from light as well. That includes all those things that have the time illuminated, as well as the lights shining in from the window. Black out curtains are recommended. Dave Asprey has a great article on light and it’s affects on the body day and night here. Since we do not have black out curtains and there is light coming in from outside lights, I use an eye mask to black out the light.
Ear plugs: This may not be practical if you have a baby or young children who wake at night that need your attention. If that is where you are in life, know it will pass and you will get to a place where sleep is no longer illusive, at least for a couple years until you are at the age where it is again. Back to the ear plugs. I have not invested in expensive earplugs…yet. I have sound eliminating head phones which would be nice to use if only I could move in them. They are even difficult on a plane when I want to lean my head against a jacket on the window. For sleeping, I use the orange ones from the pharmacy that are rated at 30 decibels. They reduce sound but not completely so I can still be awakened by a cat jumping off furniture onto the floor. They seem to like to loosen in the night so I have a trick for that too.
Head band or buff: I started using a buff a couple years ago to go over my hair and ears. This was to protect my hair from the elastic of the eye mask and also because I don’t have satin pillowcases to protect my fine hair from rubbing on the flannel. I realized I don’t actually sleep much on my back so the pillowcase isn’t much of a problem. I have had a little problem with the buff being too loose because my head is smaller than most adults (kids/youth hats fit, adult ones not so much). I found a headband that is nice and snug and it keeps my earplugs secure and adds another barrier of sound. I am totally loving that cute little headband I got from Monat but will have to see how warm it gets come warm vacations and summer. Tim Ferriss mentioned a head band he uses in one of his podcasts that also goes around his ears but I have yet to look it up so, no link for that here now.
Cooler Room: Having a cooler sleeping space helps you get a better sleep. The recommended temperature is 60-67˚F (15.5-19.5˚C). There is a variation because we all have an internal thermostat that is ideal. Although being too cold is not conducive to a good sleep, our bodies cool as we get sleepy. Having a cooler room promotes a good sleep but we will awaken and have trouble going back to sleep if the room is too warm or too cool. You can read more on ideal room temperature at Sleep.org’s post here.
Raised bed: Not the kind for plants; something we can do with our own beds. Before our trip to Mexico we were listening to a podcast with guest Dave Asprey. He was talking about the health benefits of raising the head of the bed. Some of the benefits are: better sleep, better recovery, sharper mind during the day, improved blood pressure to name a few. You can read more here, in Dave Asprey’s blog Bulletproof which goes into greater detail on the benefits of sleeping on an incline. We waited until we got back and currently have our raised at just under six inches, but will experiment further. It is funny how when I close my eyes, I can’t really tell I am at an angle and it reminds me of how pilots can go sideways and upside down when flying if they don’t have a sight reference and need to rely on their equipment. I haven’t noticed any concrete changes in my sleep or daily health but sometimes those things take time so time will tell.
Magnesium: I take magnesium before bed. Whereas calcium in the muscles helps them contract, magnesium is essential to help muscles relax so our muscles need a balance to work properly. A simple google search will bring up a lot of information on the benefits of taking magnesium. Don’t discount the sites that have a product. They have done their research. I also take a probiotic at night which helps replenish healthy gut bacteria and has a special way of eliminating yeasts and molds in the system. When I started taking it, I noticed an instant improvement in my sleep. The magnesium also flushes out waste products in our system which goes along with the restoration that happens during the night.
Different environment: This would be the trick my mom shared when I was a kid. When I couldn’t sleep she would tell me to sleep at the other end of my bed. I would take my pillow and go to the foot of my bed and would fall asleep pretty quickly. That doesn’t work as well when you share a bed or at least not for me. As an adult, I have learned to move to a couch or a different bed in the house. If I feel really wide awake I will use a small flashlight and read for a few minutes to half an hour until a feel a little sleepier. I usually wake up an hour or two later and go back to bed and sleep through the night.
The tricks I have shared are more or less physical things to promote sleep at night. What we do during the day also affects our sleep. Most of us have struggles that make a good sleep seem impossible at times, but we can also experiment with methods and life/health choices that can enhance our sleep, which in turn will enhance our quality of life. What have you found that helps your sleep?