What About Better Sleep?
A few months ago, while visiting with good friends, I shared my husband’s Stronger Down the Stretch book and the beginning of the website. He had asked me to share details of my better aging journey on the site with his audience, to add a different dimension to it, and my friends were thrilled that I was sharing my journey to better health. After I read my first “possible” article to them, one of my friends asked me, “What about getting better sleep?” to which I quickly replied, “I don’t really have any problems with sleep.”
About a skinny minute later, I realized I had no problems sleeping because I had already dealt with it… years ago, before I knew I was even on my journey to better aging. Long a proponent of adequate sleep, I had forgotten what had gotten me to that belief. As I thought about my current “must haves” for a good night’s rest, I started remembering the changes I have been making over the years. There are so many aspects to a good night’s sleep, and none of the ones I investigated and now use involve a prescription. I hope you will try all these techniques before resorting to medication yourself.
Table of Contents:
- The First Step to Better Sleep
- 9 Tips for Better Sleeping
- 1 – Sunshine Helps Improve Your Sleep
- 2 – Screens, the Moon, and Caffeine
- 3 – Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep Before Bedtime
- 4 – Check Your Calendar in the Evening
- 5 – Consider Natural Remedies
- 6 – Take a Bath to Improve Your Sleep
- 7 – Keeping It Cool Can Improve Your Sleep
- 8 – Try Some Noise
- 9 – Go to the Bathroom
- 6 Things to Do Once You’re In Bed to Improve Your Sleep
- Wrapping It Up
- My “Better Aging” Journey Series:
The First Step to Better Sleep
The first step for me began sometime at almost 40 years old when I started having weeks and months of restless sleep. It wasn’t a huge hormonal change at that point; it was general discomfort. For quite a while, I was waking up all night, constantly tossing and turning. Then, on vacation, I realized I had the best night of sleep in a very long time. We figured out it was the firmness of the mattress – ‘Voila!’ It was a great vacation week, and Dennis and I determined to buy that kind of mattress, so we could both rest better.
After vacation, the mattress had to wait, of course, because they are so honkin’ expensive! I did endeavor to find “ the right pillow” to see if that would help in the meantime. (I have bought many over the years and still occasionally try out different ones.) Then, one day Dennis left to do things with a buddy and came home with a new mattress- just for me. What a wonderful surprise! I have slept better ever since; the firm variety was just what my body needed to relax and sleep comfortably.
9 Tips for Better Sleeping
With a comfortable mattress, I eventually figured out the next step in my better sleeping journey. I needed 7 hours of sleep to function optimally; that number worked best for me and still does. The average amount of sleep required differs for each person and age and even changes over time- especially if you have hormonal changes. If you don’t know, you should figure out how much sleep your body needs and prioritize getting that amount each night. Also, do this for your children and elderly parents, if possible.
Watch carefully for symptoms indicating poor sleep quality or improper amount of sleep. Take a look at this information from some sleep experts- How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? and Sleep Calculator: How Much Sleep Do You Need? From Healthline, the sleep guideline chart by age and the section on the consequences of sleep deprivation are especially helpful.
1 – Sunshine Helps Improve Your Sleep
Recently I’ve learned so much more about getting the right amount of sunshine daily, so my melatonin kicks in at the proper time to allow me to fall asleep at a decent hour. This works even if it’s cloudy. Facing the morning sunshine helps our skin produce enough Melanin (affecting our pigmentation, which acts like a type of sunscreen). It also helps secretions of Melatonin at night and even helps with our natural biological rhythms (circadian rhythms). It isn’t going to help you get Vitamin D, so don’t leave out getting that midday sunshine, as well, on as much exposed skin as possible.
Dr Janine Bowring (as well as others) suggests eating dinner outside facing the sunset, too. Not only is it a relaxing and beautiful way to eat, but it also helps in other ways, setting the proper rhythms of our bodies. Sounds like a true win/win to me. There is so much research available that you could do here to learn more.
2 – Screens, the Moon, and Caffeine
Alternately, exposure to blue light at night and “screens” can block melatonin production and keep you awake, too. So avoid electronic use earlier in the evening if you have problems falling asleep quickly. Cover up blue lights on electronics in the bedroom or any glaring artificial lights keeping things too bright and sending the wrong signals to your brain. Simply use a small piece of black electrical tape or cardboard in front of the sensor, or turn the lights backward.
Get room-darkening draperies to block the outside lights. Even a full moon is so bright coming thru the windows that it can keep me from falling asleep… at times, I drive my husband crazy.
Know that too much caffeine can be a huge culprit, so don’t give it to children (they certainly don’t need it), and adults should stop caffeine consumption by 5 or 6 pm, depending on bedtime. Senior citizens should probably not consume caffeine later than 3 pm especially, since they may go to bed earlier than younger adults. If you are extremely sensitive to caffeine, you may even need to limit consumption to no later than lunch; I have known several people who chose to do this.
3 – Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep Before Bedtime
Dim indoor lights early on and start trying to wind everyone down a few hours before heading up to prepare for the night. Try switching energetic evening activities to more calm ones. Have the whole family sit down for some silent reading with relaxing instrumental music every evening. This can be a group/family reading time or everyone’s individual reading time. Coloring or writing in a journal works too. Lowering the volume of your voices helps set a quieter tone for the evenings in your home. Being aware of the environment and your surroundings a few hours before bedtime can be super important- especially for children to get better sleep.
One of my daughters always had difficulty falling asleep as a child, and we did many things over the years to assist her with this problem. These techniques helped her a lot, and they’ll help everyone in the house fall asleep better, too. For my daughters, most nights, once they were in bed, I would quietly sing them their favorite bedtime songs and rub their hair, which calmed them down. What sweet memories.
4 – Check Your Calendar in the Evening
Before getting ready for bed, look at your calendar for the following day. Seeing your “tomorrow” schedule at the end of the day should clear your mind from worrying about “hoping” to remember something upcoming. Double-check your alarms now, too. As a regular nightly routine, this should relieve your brain of constantly “trying not to forget” the upcoming events or to-do lists and allow it to fully (& finally) relax to fall asleep sooner.
5 – Consider Natural Remedies
If you know it usually takes an hour or more to fall asleep, consider melatonin 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Our body naturally makes this hormone, so it’s non-addictive. There are other natural remedies to try as well, like lavender aromatherapy, eating foods with tryptophan (an amino acid known to induce sleep), like turkey, and drinking a warm cup of “sleepy time” tea with chamomile or one with warm milk and honey. By the way, chamomile is anti-inflammatory and works on the same brain receptors as in some anti-anxiety meds! Here’s a link for other nighttime tea remedies 11 Best Bedtime Teas to Help You Sleep.
6 – Take a Bath to Improve Your Sleep
Take a nice, long hot bath to relax your mind and body. Try adding lavender and bath salts. If you don’t have time for a full bath, try a hot foot soak, then lotion up for a short but soothing foot rub. Years ago, Will’s doctor taught him that deep breathing can slow down your heartbeat, which also relaxes you. This is especially helpful if you know you have a faster-than-average resting heart rate.
7 – Keeping It Cool Can Improve Your Sleep
Turn down the temperature setting at bedtime for better sleep; make sure to place extra covers at the foot of the bed in winter for cold-natured people in the house, or just in case it gets too chilly while figuring out that perfect nighttime temperature. Cool air facilitates better breathing, and you’ll be glad you did. It’ll prevent unnecessary hot flashes for those of us with hormonal changes. Many people naturally wake up if it gets too hot, even children! Get a fan to help circulate air if that would help; many people enjoy the background noise, too.
8 – Try Some Noise
Consider white, brown, or pink noise on your phone, which helps some to relax and fall asleep. Don’t ask me about the differences in the colors; I suppose it’s just a matter of preference, but it’s something to look into if you haven’t.
9 – Go to the Bathroom
Remember to take one final (?) trip to use the bathroom before going to bed. Well, we can always hope, at least. Also, consider a probiotic like my husband uses to prevent getting up in the middle of the night to pee. He’s getting much better sleep now.
6 Things to Do Once You’re In Bed to Improve Your Sleep
1 – Read Yourself to Sleep
I recently heard that regular reading increases falling asleep faster, so once you’re fully ready for the night, start a routine of reading in bed. It can be an easy way to drift off to sleep, naturally. The book or article you select shouldn’t be an exciting thriller, provoke deep thought, or anything you can’t put down, of course- so choose your material wisely. Select some light reading that is interesting enough but not so interesting as to keep you wide awake. Choose something you have read before so you’re not tempted to read on; maybe something you can continue each night, a little at a time.
If you don’t already have an idea, try the Bible and let that be the last thing on your mind when you drift off. This is a great way to get in extra wisdom from the Scriptures and hear from God before falling off to sleep.
2 – Play Light Music
If reading just isn’t your thing or will keep you awake, try playing extremely soft instrumental worship music on your phone. Create a song list, especially for sleeping. Choose songs with a slow tempo and gentle tones that aren’t jarring since they could wake you up just as you fall asleep (speaking from experience here). Try making the playlist around an hour long to give you plenty of time to fall asleep without needing to fiddle with your phone again.
3 – Practice Gratitude and Prayer
Use this time to reflect on the day and your goals for tomorrow. Jot thankful moments from the day in a grateful journal. This was another technique I did with the girls in bed, but it’s good for everyone to keep a grateful journal. Then follow up with a good, long prayer; there’s always so much to pray about, right?
4 – Support Yourself with Pillows
Use a knee or lower back pillow—or both. If you’re a side sleeper with back pain or your legs get too hot or sweaty, prop them apart with a small pillow. If you’re a back sleeper, get a low-height support pillow to go under your knees, immediately removing the pressure from your back.
I asked for a pregnancy pillow for Christmas last year, and my sweet son bought it for me (not kidding!). My unmarried daughter and niece Olivia were throwing the idea around as a joke because neither has a husband yet. It was an epiphany for me… “Perfect!” I knew I could use one too! I wanted to be able to turn over on either side and have a pillow already there to throw my knee/leg onto. You shouldn’t have to toss and turn all night searching for the little pillow lost amongst the covers at the foot of the bed. Believe it or not, this could disrupt your sleep phases and take its toll on you by “wake up” time; it was me, anyway.
Y’all, I know you all think I’m so weird. But listen, better sleep is SO important! Even just a few nights of poor sleeping will catch up to you, dragging you down, especially the older you get. So invest in the right items to promote a full night of restful sleep.
5 – Switch to Cooler Sheets
I switched to natural fabrics like 100% cotton to stay cool all night. Synthetic, manufactured materials got me hotter and hotter as the night progressed and instigated hot flashes, waking me up. I also switched to cooling bamboo sheets, lightweight 100% cotton blankets, and thin 100% cotton pajamas. This change made a HUGE difference for me and gave me much better sleep.
6 – Consider Sleeping Tools
If your bedroom setting is not ideal (loud neighborhood kids outside late) or someone in the house snores super loud, but you need your bedroom door kept open, remember to use tools like an eye mask, ear plugs, or an anti-snoring device if necessary (for you or your spouse). These tools can be a lifesaver on vacations too or family visitations too.
Wrapping It Up
After such a long article, I’m sure you can now see how far off-kilter I was when I told my friend I had no significant sleep issues. The reflection on all I had done over the years for better sleep was a real eye-opener (no pun intended, lol).
I hope you found this information useful and will try many of the techniques I have used.
Sleep is so critical to our well-being, so please…
Do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get a good night’s sleep… every night.
1 – What’s the first step you can take for better sleep?
The first step is understanding that the firmness of your mattress makes a significant difference in sleep quality.
2 – How can sunshine help improve your sleep?
Sunshine helps improve sleep by aiding the production of melanin and melatonin in the body. Exposure to morning sunlight helps regulate the body’s natural biological rhythms and promotes better sleep.
3 – What should be avoided in the evening to ensure better sleep?
To ensure better sleep, it is advisable to avoid exposure to blue light from screens, as it can disrupt melatonin production and keep you awake. Additionally, consuming caffeine late in the day should be avoided, as it can interfere with sleep.
4 – What are some natural remedies that can aid sleep?
Some natural remedies that can aid sleep include taking melatonin supplements, using lavender aromatherapy, consuming foods with tryptophan (such as turkey), and drinking herbal teas like chamomile. These remedies can help induce relaxation and promote better sleep.
5 – How can taking a bath or hot foot soak improve sleep?
Taking a hot bath or foot soak before bed can help relax the mind and body, preparing them for sleep. The warm water and relaxation techniques associated with bathing can contribute to a more peaceful sleep.
6 – Why is keeping the bedroom cool important for sleep?
Keeping the bedroom cool is important for sleep because cool air facilitates better breathing and prevents unnecessary hot flashes. It can also help regulate body temperature and create a more comfortable sleep environment.
7 – What are some things that can be done in bed to improve sleep?
Some things that can be done in bed to improve sleep include reading light material, playing soft instrumental music, practicing gratitude and prayer, using pillows for support, and considering tools like eye masks, earplugs, or anti-snoring devices.
8 – Why should you check your calendar before bed?
Checking your calendar before bed allows you to clear your mind of any worries about upcoming events or tasks. It helps you avoid constantly thinking about what needs to be done and promotes a more relaxed state for sleep.
9 – What is the overall importance of getting a good night’s sleep?
Getting a good night’s sleep is critical for overall well-being. It is essential for physical and mental health, and lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on various aspects of life. Prioritizing and taking steps to improve sleep is crucial for optimal health and functioning.
My “Better Aging” Journey Series:
- My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 1) – Introduction
- How to Eat Healthy & Hydrate – My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 2)
- Healthy Cooking & Stretching – My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 3)
- Taking Good Supplements – My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 4)
- Better Gut Health – My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 5)
- Getting Better Sleep – My “Better Aging” Journey (Part 6)
Disclaimer: The information provided on the site is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.