You too have likely been there… It’s the umpteenth hour in the middle of the night, and you’re staring — wide awake — at nothing in particular. Thoughts of why you need to be asleep NOW are only fueling that restless energy and you can’t seem to settle yourself into that fast-disappearing chance of some decent shut-eye.
Good news — there are tactics you can employ now to help you get your best sleep now so you can be your best self tomorrow. Wellness educator, speaker and mental health advocate, Chivon John, shared these five pro-tips. “Sleep is definitely important because it can impact not only our physical health, but also our mental wellbeing,” says John. It can even manifest in the form of physical pain and contribute to feelings of stress, she adds.
Tip 1: Give yourself time and space to properly wind down
John stresses the importance of proper sleep hygiene… Consider having a “technology time out.” She adds: “If you find yourself having a difficult time falling asleep quickly or winding down in the evening, look at and be diligent about how much exposure to light you’re getting.”
The reason for this, explains John, is that light signals our body to be alert and awake. In the daytime, such light is no problem. But in the evening, we need to help our brain wind down and signal that it’s time to rest. “When we look at bright lights, things that emit them like smartphones and laptops, it instead tricks our brain into thinking, ‘Hey, I should actually still continue to be awake.’”
For this reason, taking a time out from our smartphones devices two hours before bed, or putting down that phone and not scrolling right before going to sleep can signal your brain that it’s time for bed. She recommends leaving your phone out of your room if you get especially tempted, or wearing blue light glasses. “If you’re checking in on your socials before bed, maybe try swapping in a book instead,” she advises.
John, herself, is a fan of the Calm App and its Sleep Stories read-alouds. “I’ll hear maybe the first five or 10 minutes and then I don’t know how they ever end.”
Tip 2: Look closely at your environment… and then tweak it
“It’s about creating a really cozy environment for rest… Think of when you go on vacation and sleep at a hotel. I always get the best sleep versus when I’m at home,” says John. She thinks about the types of covers those hotels use, and those environments don’t have the same sort of things that your typical bedroom might have. For example, “think about what sheets you might have; are they making you feel really hot or are they cooling to your body to allow you to feel rested and more relaxed?” Is it bright in your room? If you have windows that emit light, John recommends wearing a sleep mask or even using a weighted blanket; these blankets weigh about 15-20 pounds and essentially feel as though someone is embracing you. Also consider noise, room temperature; is it too warm or hot? We tend to sleep better in cooler temperatures. The Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your thermostat at a cool 5.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius.
Tip 3: Run a warm bath or take a hot shower
“Taking a warm bath close to bedtime can help improve your sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster,” shares John. “I’m not a bath person every single day, but even dropping essential oil of eucalyptus or peppermint on my shower wall allows my body to feel more relaxed and ready for rest.” Such habits may not only help you fall asleep faster, but may improve the quality of that sleep so you feel more rested when the morning arrives.
Tip 4: Work in a workout
If you don’t already, exercise throughout the day can help with the quality of sleep you get. However, working out too close to bedtime can actually have the opposite and undesired effect of keeping you up by boosting your adrenaline. “If you workout in the evening, it’s better to do something that’s a bit more low-impact…so things like yoga or stretching.” So skip the Peloton and opt for something more relaxing – even mediation or deep breathing.
Tip 5: Create a sleep ritual for yourself
Find a routine that works for you and then stick with it, advises John. Find the same time to go to bed everyday, and try to line it up with the rising and the setting of the sun as much as possible (shift workers don’t always get to choose). “Pick a time to shut down your phone. Drink a warm cup of chamomile tea. Read a book,” says John. “Creating a daily ritual will allow you to set the stage for when it’s time to wind down.”
Related: 20 most sleep-deprived jobs in Canada.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.