*Reprinted with permission from the Boozy Gardener. Originally posted September 2018.
I doubt I’ll get any arguments from anyone over the age of 10 about the importance of sleep. As any gardener knows, seeds must be dormant in the winter before they can germinate in the spring, and human beings need to sleep or they are miserable creatures.
Sleep improves our memory and mental processes, and sleep deprivation can lead to a host of emotional and physical problems. We all know the importance, but many of us struggle to get the recommended 7+ hours of sleep each night.
Full disclosure: I continue to struggle with sleep, so I’m coming to you more in the spirit of “let’s figure this out together” than as your favorite gardening guru. However, since I have (*knock on wood*) successfully slept for over 7 hours a night for nearly a month straight (give or take an errant day), I will share what has worked for me.
A Sleep Alarm/Schedule
I have an iPhone, which comes preloaded with a Bedtime alarm that allows you to schedule both your bedtime and your morning alarm. Thirty minutes before your scheduled bedtime, a lullaby plays that is a gentle reminder to "go the f*ck to sleep."
When my bedtime alarm goes off, I get into bed, read for a few minutes, turn on my meditation sleep app (more on this in a moment) and have been asleep around my bedtime. While this hasn't helped me STAY asleep, I am at least going to sleep at an earlier time, which means I'm getting more sleep.
Is there a similar Android alarm? I have no idea. If you know, comment below! If nothing else, I'm sure there is a third-party app you can use.
Headspace is my favorite meditation app that I could recommend for many reasons, but since we're talking sleep, I'll stick to that. I'm midway through the "Sleep" pack of the meditation app. These daily meditations do not put you to sleep, but they help you get into a calmer mindset so that sleep comes more easily. A calm mind is imperative, particularly if you're prone to anxiety or depression. While I have not yet reached the narrator's state of "not caring whether or not [I] get to sleep," I have found that the exercises make it easier for me to clear my mind at night.
About 15 minutes before my official bedtime, I also listen to the "Sleeping" single, which is a meditation designed to put you to sleep. I have fallen asleep before the end every time I've used it, which seems like a victory to me.
Less successful is the "Falling Back to Sleep" single meditation. I have tried to use this when I've woken up in the middle of the night, and it just doesn't work for me. He asks you to count back from a certain number (either 10,000 or 1,000, depending on the length you choose). I'm a clever person and perfectly capable of counting backwards in broad daylight, but this is an impossible task for me at 4 a.m. when I desperately want to fall back asleep.
What does help me get back to sleep? I turn on one of the sleep sounds in the app and focus on my breathing. Generally, that helps me fall back to sleep within about 20-30 minutes. Most of the time.
Consistent Wake-Up Time
Trust me, the Boozy Gardener hears the siren's call of sleeping in on the weekends, but if you truly struggle to sleep, you are better served waking up at your usual time. Our bodies like consistency, and if we get into a sleep rhythm, falling asleep comes easier. No, it's no fun waking up at 6 a.m. on Saturday when you have a hangover, but it's also no fun to lie awake at 2 a.m. when you have an important meeting in the morning. Speaking of hangovers...
I know. The Boozy Gardener should not tell others to limit their booze, but it is imperative if you want to sleep. I suggest no more than one or two drinks, no matter your tolerance level, if you hope to get a good night's sleep.
If you drink to excess, you will likely go to sleep (though, as Jason Isbell sings, that ain't really falling asleep, it's fading to black), BUT you will likely wake up after a few hours, dehydrated, slightly panicked, and unable to fall back asleep.
No Caffeine After 3 p.m.
Everyone is probably different here, but I absolutely CANNOT have any caffeine after mid-afternoon, or I can kiss sleep good-bye. Even if you are dragging at the end of your workday, I recommend pushing through. If possible, take a brisk walk or do some jumping jacks in your office to wake up. If you're anything like me, quitting time will perk you up.
Enjoy a Healthy Snack
For a long time, if I felt hungry before bed, I would ignore it because I thought eating late at night would negatively impact my sleep. I was wrong. If your sugar levels drop too much, you might wake up feeling shaky, sweaty, and confused (which may also be why alcohol consumption leads to erratic sleep--it wreaks havoc with your blood sugar levels).
Now, if I'm peckish before bed, I'll eat half a Larabar. I've noticed this helps me sleep through the night. I've read that dairy (such as string cheese or cottage cheese) also gives your metabolism something to burn slowly, which make them good late night snacks.
No Mobile Devices Before Bed
Smartphones and tablets keep us up at night for a smorgasbord of reasons. I've already confessed my addiction to Farm Heroes, and I've blown my bedtime many times playing that inane game. Scrolling Instagram or Facebook can leave you feeling energized or anxious. The blue light emitted by our devices signals our brain that it's time to get up and party.
Whatever specific plague your smartphone rains on you, our mobile devices are destroying our sleep. I leave my iPad in the living room, because there is no way I can sleep without playing Farm Heroes if it's by my bed. I use my smartphone as an alarm and for the aforementioned meditation apps, but I place it on my nightstand after I start my meditation so that I'm not tempted.
If you cannot resist the temptation of your smartphone, don't beat yourself up! Just put it in a different room and buy yourself a cheap alarm clock from Dollar General. Your well-rested future self will thank you.
The tips above have helped me improve my sleep, but a quick Google search will reveal a gajillion more. I suggest that you try everything until you find what works for you.
If you are practicing good sleep hygiene (following a schedule, putting away mobile devices, etc), and you STILL can't sleep, it may be time to see a medical professional. It could be the symptom of an underlying problem.