The approach that many people use to solve sleeping issues is to is take pills. If you cant sleep, you take Ambien or Lunesta. Trouble is, its a very poor long term solution. Knocking yourself out is not the same as sleeping. The real solution to a good sleep is more difficult and time consuming than popping a pill but much better in the long term.
Before we get into how to sleep better, lets talk about expectations. Not all people need the same amount of sleep. Not everyone needs 8.00 hours of sleep, its not a magical number - some need more and many need a bit less. Having said that, their is a sleep deprivation epidemic in America and its affecting their productivity. If you are mentally alert all day long operating at peak cognitive efficiency then you got enough sleep. If you are yawning, daydreaming, nodding off, or having trouble focusing then you need more sleep. The older humans get, the harder it is to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you are over 40 then its probably not realistic to be able to hit the pillow, konk out, sleep soundly all night, and wake up 8 hours later. When I tell Helen, my 95 year old neighbor, that I didn't sleep well she always chuckles as she has told me before that I have no idea how bad its going to get - in her humorous and honest way of course. In my opinion, if an alarm clock wakes you up then you are sleep deprived.
Heres what you can do to sleep better regardless of your age:
- Stop ALL caffeine. No colas. No coffee. No tea. No energy drink. No chocolate. Not even in the morning. Caffeine has a long half life and even that morning cup of coffee can be a problem. Very commonly what people experience is that they fall to sleep but wake up in the middle of the night and cant get back to sleep. When they go to bed, they are SO tired that they fall to sleep. Trouble is, when they wake up at 3am they are not nearly as tired and the residual caffeine can easily make the difference between return to slumber and tossing and turning
- Exercise every day. Getting tired is a great way to sleep better. IMO cardio is better than weights but weights is far better than nothing
- Finish your exercise before 6pm. You need time to calm down.
- Stop ALL supplements. Many supplements contain stimulants that can really screw up your sleep, even if they are not on the label. Virtually anything that is advertised for fat loss will cause sleep problems.
- No big meals before bedtime. A big, fatty meal right before bedtime is a real sleep killer. There are a lot of reasons to make your pre-sleep meal small, high protein, and low in calories - add sleeping better to that list.
- Google "follow your breath". I hesitate to call this medidation because of all the bad connotations. Many people cant get to sleep because their minds are racing about what they didnt do, what they need to do, and what they should have done. See the below video for an example.
- Avoid stress before bedtime. The last hours before bed, do something enjoyable, not something stressful. Before bedtime is a bad time to pay the bills or open mail. Its a bad time to discuss plans for a wedding. Watching the Movie "Aliens" right before bedtime may not be the best idea either. Some people get all worked up about politics, if thats you, then the last thing you need is to work yourself into a frenzy about who said/did what. You know what pushes your buttons, raises your blood pressure, and starts your heart racing - avoid it before bedtime.
- Get rid of alarm clock. Depriving yourself of sleep so that you can get everything done is not the best time management tool. If you are groggy, slower, and accomplish less. A much better idea is to organize your life and do the important things first, rather than the easy fun things. Save watching TV and surfing Facebook until *after* you have written your resume for that new job you want to apply for. Please check out my time management series.
- Turn off your phone! Either put your cellphone in another room or put it into airplane mode until 7am. Everything on your phone is designed to put your brain into high rpm launch mode, do NOT turn it on until 7am. Reading kindle books is fine but again, put it in airplane mode!
- Consider white noise. Modern life is noisy. Car alarms, drunks stumbling home from bars at 2am, sirens, jets overhead. A "white noise" app helps mask these intrusions. These "white noise" apps for both iOS and Android often have a library of sounds like rainfall, babbling brooks, crickets, and waterfalls you can use to mask the noise. Couple this with a $15 wifi speaker and you can mask most sounds ... as well as save your phone battery.