Bad sleep can leave anyone struggling for answers. Why can’t I sleep? Why am I so tired in the morning? Where’s my motivation to exercise and focus at work? What did I do wrong?
Using a wearable device to track your sleep a good way to capture longer trends. It all too easy to excuse a bad night as rare occurrence, missing the truth of how easily short nights become the new normal. Examining trends over time reveals when it’s time to stay the course and when change is in order.
There isn’t a single one-size-fits-all answer for great sleep. Recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation show that our sleep needs change over time. You may need to experiment a bit to find out what works best for you. This is another area where an objective summary of your sleep results comes in handy. You can follow along to learn which strategies and solutions are the most effective for you.
Paradoxically once you go to bed, there is little you can do to improve your sleep. Trying to sleep harder can even have the opposite effect. Anxiety, worrying about bad sleep easily turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many find breathing exercises to help set the stage for a good night. Effective sleep improving strategies, however, start with what you do well before you get into bed.
Expert Tips for Better, More Restorative Sleep
1. Establish a regular routine before bed.
We are all creatures of habit, and for the most part we have good instincts for what constitutes a good evening routine. A good stable routine signals that it’s time to start winding things down. This helps your body get head start on the work of recovery.
2. Avoid strenuous physical activity in the late evening.
Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but your body doesn’t stop working when you do. Your body can remain in an elevated state long after you finish a workout. As a result, your nighttime recovery levels may be delayed and diminished.
3. Watch what you watch.
Late night TV used to be a landscape of talk shows with familiar formats. Tune in for a few laughs, musical guests and easy conversation. Streaming services like Netflix, HBO, Amazon and Disney+ have changed our TV habits forever. Endlessly rich entertainment options are on demand and only a click away. What hasn’t changed though is our need to shift gears and wind down before going to bed.
Prestige dramas with strong narratives and high-stakes plotlines demand your attention and stimulate your brain. Excitement close to bedtime can delay the onset of recovery, even after falling asleep. You may be able to improve your sleep quality by changing your viewing habits.
4. Regulate alcohol consumption.
A glass of wine in the evening is a popular way to relax in the evening, or a few drinks may help unwind after a stressful day. More than a few drinks, however, will almost certainly delay the onset of recovery at night and will result in poor recovery.
Studies show that alcohol can help healthy people fall asleep faster. This creates a false sense of your situation. Falling asleep easier is offset by significant changes in sleep structure and reduced sleep quality. REM sleep in particular suffers as a result of alcohol consumption. The more you drink the worse it gets.
5. Improve your fitness (VO2max) with regular physical activity.
As if there weren’t enough reasons to improve your fitness level, here’s one more. The fitter you are the less your body is impacted by stress. You also become more resilient, so that when you do experience stress your body recovers more efficiently. This is true both day and night.
6. Sleep more.
It’s almost cruel, but sometimes the cause of bad sleep is … wait for it … bad sleep. Chronically poor sleep diminishes your body’s ability to repair itself. It also impairs your ability to interpret situations. This includes the ability to assess your own performance levels, losing touch with yourself and the impact of bad sleep on your effectiveness.
As you think about stress, recovery, and sleep in relationship to your own daily routines and lifestyle decisions, it’s worth keeping in mind that stress increases your body’s need for good quality sleep. This is important because busy, hectic schedules that often produce a lot of stress also tend to result in the devaluation of sleep and recovery in favor of doing something more. In the long run, however, the health and productivity benefits of a balanced approach to stress and recovery are well worth it.
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