Hey y’all, I’m about to get personal today with a topic that’s been on my mind a lot over the past year: the elusive (for some of us) and ever-important (for all of us) good night’s sleep. So let’s back up a bit. I’ve always been one of those people who barely gave sleep a second thought; for most of my life, when my head hit the pillow at night, I easily drifted into a deep slumber that lasted until morning. And like most good sleepers, I totally took it for granted.
But all of that suddenly changed a couple years ago when I had a sudden, unforeseen bout of insomnia that hit me out of nowhere and left me exhausted and searching for a solution.
It was especially frustrating because I had a 5-month-old who was suddenly sleeping through the night, and there I was wide awake at 2 am and panicking about how I was going to accomplish all that I needed to do the next day running on so little sleep. For me, it was a cycle of anxiety: after a couple nights having a hard time sleeping, I was so afraid that my insomnia would return that I’d lay in bed worrying about it, and (as any insomniac will tell you) there’s nothing worse for falling asleep than telling yourself that you need to fall asleep. And the day after was the worst: as much as I tried to be in a good mood, my lack of sleep made me feel dulled, anxious, and depressed.
I was desperate not to let insomnia become a lifelong struggle, so I went on a total quest for answers, talking to everyone I knew who had dealt with it in the past, reading books and articles on the topic, and seeing my doctor to talk through solutions.
And you know what? I’m happy to say that for the last few months, my good sleep has totally returned, the anxiety is gone, and I’m back to waking up feeling happy, rested, and ready to take on the world.
Scroll down for the 12 effective tips I learned on my journey to getting a good night’s sleep — these really work — and I’d love to hear in the comments about any of your sleep issues or tips.
Establish a bedtime routine.
This is probably the single most important habit you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep, since the right bedtime routine signals to your body that it’s time to start winding down and moving into sleep mode. Here’s a great post about establishing a nighttime ritual; mine includes putting away my iPhone an hour before bed, drinking a cup of herbal tea, closing the blinds to darken the room, and reading in bed until I feel sleepy.
Turn down the room temperature.
I cannot sleep if I’m the slightest bit hot, and I learned that there’s a scientific reason why our body temperatures are an integral part of falling asleep. Experts recommend keeping the room temperature around 65 degrees F, which actually sends messages to the brain to make melatonin, a chemical that helps control our sleep and wake cycles. I turn down the thermostat every night as part of my bedtime routine.
Take a hot shower before bed.
There’s something really relaxing about getting into the habit of a hot shower before bed — it almost feels like washing away the worries of the day, and I feel so much calmer and ready for sleep afterwards. Plus, heating up your body temperature and then stepping into a cold room helps your body cool down faster, which is key to getting into sleep mode.
Shut down the screens at least 1 hour before bedtime.
This one has been crucial in my path to better sleep. On the rare nights that I’m working against a deadline and bring my laptop into bed with me, I find that no matter how tired I am, my mind needs at least an hour between shutting down my computer and actually feeling sleepy. Some experts will tell you to turn off all screens before bed; I find that for me, it’s really just important to disconnect from work, email, news, and social media well before bedtime. I can still read a book with my iPad turned on Night Shift mode (see next slide) until I feel sleepy.
If you must have your phone, turn on Night Shift.
You’ve probably heard that the blue light of our electronics is really disruptive to sleep, since it disrupts melatonin production and tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime. Enter Night Shift mode: if you’re not already acquainted with this nifty little iPhone and iPad setting, get ready to have your mind blown. If it’s activated, every night when Night Shift mode kicks on, your phone automatically adjusts its display to give off a warmer light that isn’t as disruptive to sleep as the typical blue light. Here’s how to enable it — I have mine set to the From Sunset to Sunrise schedule.
Make the room really dark.
This is important for falling into that really deep and restful sleep, since even small sources of artificial light can signal to the body that it’s daytime. Every night before bed, I turn off all the lights in the bedroom, in surrounding rooms (like the bathroom), and close our blackout curtains. I’ve also eliminate sources of subtle light, like moving charging electronics into other rooms and putting my iPhone in the drawer of my bedside table.
Master this breathing technique.
This is a tip my doctor gave me for achieving a relaxed state, and I’ve been shocked at how well it works. Dr. Weil (an amazing functional medicine doctor who we’ve featured before) champions the 4-7-8 breathing technique for relaxation. It’s a quick practice that can be done anywhere, and induces a sense of relaxation almost immediately. Watch Dr. Weil demonstrate it here, and I’d love to hear what you guys think if you give it a try. If my mind is racing when I lay in bed at night, this is my go-to way of achieving relaxation, and the more you do it, the better your mind gets at going to that restful place.
Find a supplement that works for you.
When I first started dealing with insomnia, I sought the advice of everyone I personally knew who had dealt with it in the past (turns out, this is a more common issue than I’d previously thought!) Everyone had different advice on what supplements and sleep aids worked for them, so the takeaway here is: you might have to try a couple before you find the right one for you. I headed to a nearby pharmacy that specializes in natural remedies and talked to the pharmacist about all the different options. I really like Kavinase, a natural calming supplement that supports healthy levels of GABA and calms anxiety. I’m also a big fan of the supplement Lumity, which really enhances the quality of my deep sleep and helps me wake up feeling super rested.
Try muscle relaxation tricks.
Another technique my doctor showed me is progressive relaxation, which involves tensing and then relaxing all the individual muscles in your body.
The Mayo Clinic describes it this way:
- Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes.
- Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
When you reach the end, your body should feel heavy and relaxed; and you might even fall asleep before you can complete the entire exercise.
Don’t try to force sleep before you’re really tired.
This was a big “aha” for me, since I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get a certain number of hours of sleep — and panicking about how tired I was going to be if I didn’t get it. Now, instead of stressing myself out by thinking “I’ve got to get to bed by 10:30 tonight,” I just make sure that I’ve followed my bedtime routine early enough, nix the email and social media 1 hour before my target bedtime, then I just read a book if I’m not tired yet. When my eyes start to feel heavy, I simply turn off the lights and let my mind drift off.
Don’t try too hard.
Don’t pressure yourself or think it’s the end of the world if you’re having trouble sleep. The harder you “work” at going to sleep, the more elusive it turns out to be. Hide the clock so you’re not checking the time and worrying about the amount of sleep you’re getting — laying there wide awake may cause your mind to race which will just induce more anxiety. If all else fails, clear your mind of stressful thoughts by getting out of bed and reading or doing something else that’s relaxing for 10 minutes before returning to bed, hopefully feeling more sleepy.
Find a happy visualization.
For me, it’s the beach. I picture myself walking along the surf and watching the undulating waves, hearing their hypnotic crash, and feeling the sand beneath my feet. Cliché? Maybe, but the beach is my happy place and even picturing it in my mind makes me feel calmer. The key is to have a go-to visualization that you can easily bring to life in your mind, of an environment that makes you feel peaceful and happy. Focusing your mind on the sights, sounds, and smells of the place engages your mind with something besides falling asleep, and also induces calm, feel-good chemicals in your brain.