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How to sleep better

The secret is in how you get ready for bed

By Richard Blackburn, PhD LP CBSM
August 7, 2017

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When you think of preparing for a great night’s rest, what comes to mind? Some might say taking a relaxing shower. Some might swear that their favorite pair of pajamas makes for the best sleep. And still others might believe that reading just before getting under the covers is the key.

Indeed, none of these ideas hurt. From my experience, it’s true that having a relaxing bedtime routine is important. But you might be surprised to learn that you really need to start preparing for a great night’s sleep long before turning in for the day.

In fact, what’s even more critical in getting great sleep at night is making mindful decisions about your sleep during the day. I promise that being mindful about your sleep doesn’t have to be hard. And it doesn’t have to be time-consuming, either. It’s really about making small lifestyle changes that can lead to a more restful you.

Here are a few tips I give people for what you can do during the day to make your night’s sleep a better one:

In the morning

  • Wake up at the same time every day. This is important to do no matter what you have planned for the day. And yes, it’s even a big deal on the weekends. Keeping your sleep cycle as regular as possible will put you to sleep faster at night.
  • Make your bed and do some cleanup. Having a neat bed with clean sheets can be enough in and of itself to improve your sleep at night. Also, try to pick up any messes or do some light cleaning so you can return home to an inviting sleep space.
  • Enjoy a big, healthy breakfast. It’s best to have larger meals in the beginning of the day and smaller ones before going to bed. This is a great time to start your day off with healthy fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
  • Try some morning exercise. If you have difficulty waking up in the morning, exercise right after your alarm sounds. A 15-30 minute walk or other exercise can increase your body temperature and help you stay more alert.

In the afternoon and early evening

  • Cut out the caffeine. If you grab a cup of coffee in the afternoon, it’s likely it will disrupt your sleep. Be sure to get in your caffeine before the lunch hour. Try your best to limit caffeine to about 200 mg a day. That’s about 2 cups of coffee.
  • Avoid napping. This can interfere with your sleep pattern and send your sleep habits in the wrong direction.
  • Bring on the water. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Dehydration increases fatigue and disrupts sleep at night. Aim for about 64 ounces a day.
  • Get in your exercise now. A regular routine of exercise is a great way to deepen sleep. But beware, if you enjoy more intense exercise like weightlifting, speed walking, running or high-intensity sports, do these at least 4 hours before bed. These exercises boost your body temperature, making it tougher to sleep.
  • Soak up the sun. In order for our body to know the difference between day and night, we need to get natural daylight. That way, when it’s dark in our bedroom, our brain can tell our bodies to get to sleep. So step outside on your lunch break, or take a walk when you get home!

A few hours before bed

  • Adjust the temperature in your home. Set your home heat system so that the temperature is slightly different than what it may have been during the day. On average our bodies sleep best at night when it’s around 68 to 72 degrees. And these cooler temperatures can help you fall asleep faster, too.
  • Wean off your electronics. The blue light that comes from your electronics actually tells you to stay awake since it mimics natural daylight. To allow your body to relax before bed, put away your devices about 90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Think about tomorrow, tomorrow. Limiting mental stimulation, such as worrying about tomorrow’s meeting or thinking about your to-do list, is a must before bedtime. These thoughts can induce stress, making it much more difficult to fall asleep.

Talk to your doctor if you’re having problems sleeping. They can help determine if you might benefit from seeing a sleep specialist. Our organization has experts at:

About Richard Blackburn, PhD, LP, CBSM

Dr. Richard Blackburn is Board Certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine. He practices at the Regions Hospital Sleep Health Center in Maplewood and works to help patients overcome sleep problems to improve their quality of life. Dr. Blackburn specializes in treating chronic insomnia, delayed and advanced circadian rhythm disorders and nightmares. And he’s passionate about helping patients who are struggling with CPAP be successful with that treatment. In his free time, Dr. Blackburn enjoys bicycling and motorcycling. Each year, he and his wife take a long motorcycle trip. Past destinations have included Lake Michigan, Vegas and Yellowstone. And this year, they’re headed to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

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