Creating the opportunity for optimal sleep
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Everyone sleeps. When, where, how long, and how well are determined by our environment. Have you ever fallen asleep on the couch at the end of the day while watching the latest binge-worthy show, only to wake up in a haze a few hours later to Netflix asking if you want to continue watching? Your bed feels so far away, and you are left with a choice: embark on the long journey to your bed which not only involves the trek there, but changing into your night clothes, brushing your teeth, and completing your night routine, or stay asleep on the couch in your jeans.
Both scenarios will likely result in non-restful sleep just based on how the night started, however, the option of going to bed will yield a more positive result because the environment was made for sleep. We cannot predict whether we will sleep well every night as sometimes due to life circumstances we might not be able to complete all the steps of our routine, or maybe there is something personal happening that requires our attention. We can, however, set ourselves up for the opportunity and possibility of having a great night’s sleep by creating healthy habits and ensuring our environment supports that.
If you have or know someone with kids, you probably know they have an intensive nighttime routine. This routine creates predictability… i.e., a habit! So why don’t we as adults do the same for ourselves? Now if the kids go down at 7:30 pm, and you still need to clean dishes from dinner, make lunches, and set yourself up for the next day (maybe you are making some overnight oats *wink*), it can be 9 pm before you can finally unwind for the day. It might be worth it to get the kids involved in cleaning up before bed as they will also learn a sense of independence, or maybe pick a day to prep your lunches and/or breakfasts ahead of time so you are not scrambling the night before or the morning of. Maybe you do not have kids, but you get home from work late, or maybe you have the time but simply get caught up watching TV or scrolling online. No matter the situation, setting yourself up for success ahead of time makes things run so much smoother and helps you get to bed at a decent time. What you do to optimize sleep is not limited to the few hours preceding your head hitting the pillow. Implementing healthy habits all around will improve your sleep.
Pick a bedtime and stick to it
Your bedtime does not necessarily mean the time you fall asleep. If that is the case, even better! But it is likely you do not fall asleep right away when you get into bed. If you continuously get into bed at the same time and create the opportunity for sleep, you will eventually fall asleep easier and have a more restful sleep. Most people tend to procrastinate when it comes to sleep. We have had a busy day, so we want to wind down with a show or catch up on social media. But this form of winding down is doing us more harm than good. The screens we look at emit blue light which helps to boost our attention and stimulate us during the day, but when viewed at night can throw our circadian rhythms out of whack. It does so by suppressing melatonin. Researchers at Harvard conducted a study comparing blue vs green light which showed that melatonin was suppressed for about twice as long after blue light exposure and that circadian rhythms were also shifted by twice as much. So, shutting down the screens at least an hour before bed can help to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and help with getting a goodnight’s sleep.
Another thing is the actual content we are viewing on these screens. Social media can be overly stimulating and at times negative, the same goes for TV shows. It can be hard to wind down after the latest episode of The Walking Dead or scrolling through Facebook.
Your Sleep Sanctuary
The space you sleep in is a crucial part of getting a good night’s rest. When setting up your sleeping quarters there are a few things to consider. Let us start with the temperature of the room. If it is too hot or too cold you will be trying to get comfortable and regulate your body temperature all night. Not very restful! The Sleep Foundation recommends a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, however, most doctors recommend a temperature range anywhere between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. There are also products you can purchase to make your mattress and pillows cooler, but we have not tried them.
Another important factor in your sleep sanctuary is whom you share your sanctuary with. Maybe you have a pet that shares the bed with you, a child, or a significant other. It can be hard to maintain your habits around sleep when there are other people or pets involved. It is probably easier to tell your pet to take a hike rather than a child or spouse, but if you are in a situation where you are suffering then maybe it is time to evaluate your sleeping situation. Some people sleep in a separate room when they have a significant other who snores incessantly. If you think you will be more pleasant around that person during the day, then give it a shot! Just do not forget the emotional aspect of sharing a bed with someone and making time for some cuddles, as that is extremely important as well!
Just as it is important to avoid blue light before bed, it is equally important to filter all light out when in bed. Light again, can throw off circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin production. It can also hinder the transitions between the essential sleep cycles we enter during slumber and create frequent wake periods. These frequent wake periods stop us from getting into that deep restorative sleep that is crucial for our well-being. An easy fix for this is blackout curtains or shades. They are simple and easy to install and will make a world of a difference in sleep quality. If you want to take it a step further, you also can refrain from turning on the light when using the bathroom in the middle of the night. We are not saying do it in the dark, but installing a small nightlight to light your way rather than creating that exposure to bright light in the middle of the night will make it easier to get back to sleep and will not stimulate melanopsin which is an important receptor in the eye that helps with hormone secretion and regulation of circadian rhythms.
There are many things on the market that you can purchase to help you sleep, but the biggest difference will come from the healthy habits you create around sleep. When you invest time in planning ahead, sticking to a rough schedule, and setting up your environment, the returns will be immense. Optimal sleep is available to everyone, it’s just about what you are willing to do to ensure you achieve that good night’s rest.