Stop Taking Dangerous Sleeping Pills (and Start Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene Instead)
Taking sleeping pills in the short-term may help alleviate some of your restless nights, but becoming dependent upon them can seriously harm your health. This is especially true when it comes to your brain health, and your ability to fall asleep naturally. Many people feel like taking prescription sleep aids is their only choice because they don't know what else they could possibly do to help themselves relax before bed. But we have the answer: good sleep hygiene. With a few simple life hacks, you can train yourself to naturally wind down and feel drowsy just in time for bed.
Start Slow, Start Simple: Healthy Sleep Hygiene Basics
Many people, especially if they've had bad sleep habits for many years or perhaps decades, may find it difficult to dive into the deep end of good sleep hygiene. We recommend getting started by changing a few simple habits and gradually ramping up as you get used to your new bedtime routine. Here are a few of the easier suggestions to help get you started:
- Manage your light exposure properly. Modern electronic devices, especially when you use them at night, are one of the worst things to happen to the human sleep cycle since the 40 hour work week. All kidding aside, your body was designed to feel awake and energized when the sun is out, and to feel drowsy shortly after sunset. Avoiding computers, television, and cell phone use after dusk is the best way to help your body get ready for sleep. Alternatively, blue light eliminating glasses can help neutralize the harmful effects of electronic devices at night.
- Adjust your diet for better sleep. Drinking coffee at the wrong time of day, eating the wrong foods with your evening meal, and drinking too much water before bed can all interfere with a good night's sleep. Any caffeine after 12:00 PM can leave you wide awake at night. Eating the wrong foods can cause indigestion which makes it difficult to sleep due to the discomfort. And waking up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night interrupts your sleep cycle. Feel free to try any or all of the above to improve your nightly rest.
- Include evening exercise in your routine. This can be as simple as taking a brisk walk for 15 to 20 minutes after dinner, or you can choose to shift your daily workout to the evening hours. While daytime exercise does have its own benefits, getting your heart pumping and raising your body temperature a few hours before bed can lower your body temperature later, which will make you sleepy right when you need to be.
- Make your bedroom more sleep friendly. Speaking of lowering your body temperature, you should also lower the temperature in your room before you go to bed (if possible). The human body has evolved to sleep its best in dark, cool, relatively quiet environments. After all, that's basically what happens in nature after the sun goes down. Sleep masks and/or blackout curtains can help block out the light which may otherwise wake you up and keep you feeling restless. Lastly, if you can, try to teach your pet to sleep in its own bed and not with you. Animals don't have the same internal clock as humans, and their nocturnal activity can wake you up and throw a wrench in your sleep cycle.
- Avoid taking a prescription sleep aid! Take a natural sleep supplement instead. Prescription drugs (as well as some OTC sleeping pills) may make you feel drowsy, but your brain won't sleep as healthfully or as completely as it would if it fell asleep the way it's supposed to. Natural sleep supplements, especially those that contain ingredients like chamomile or melatonin, are your best bet for helping you get to sleep so that you can reap all of the benefits of a good night's rest.
Taking Your Sleep Hygiene to the Next Level
Many of the suggestions above will help you, at the very least, take the edge off of your sleep troubles. Heck, they may end up solving your problems completely. But if you're still struggling, we urge you not to ask your doctor for a prescription just yet. After you practice the habits above and get good at them, take your sleep hygiene to the next level by doing the following:
- Keep track of your sleeping habits with a sleep journal. Write down important information such as when you went to bed, how long you slept, and whether or not you woke up in the middle of the night. Also make notes about how well rested (or not) you feel the next day, as well as whether or not you had any dreams. Dreams are a good sign that you are entering REM sleep, which is essential for a healthy sleep cycle.
- Mindfulness meditation at night can help distract your brain from the stress of your date and prevent you from the anxious thoughts which may keep you awake at night. It can be as simple as counting your breath for 10 minutes, praying, or listening to a meditation tape. It'll train you to calm your mind so that racing thoughts don't keep you from feeling sleepy.
- Waking up and going to bed at the same time each day helps many people establish a healthier sleep pattern. Some even develop the ability to wake up exactly when they need to without the help of an alarm! Although we know this is quite possibly the most difficult step, it is also the most profound in terms of helping you feel well rested and energetic every morning.
The thing about changing your sleep hygiene habits is that it is a process. If you are impatient or desperate for relief right now, we strongly emphasize relying upon a natural sleep aid as opposed to a prescription medication or a drugstore sleeping pill to help you transition into better daily and nightly habits. Even if you do use medication, practice your sleep hygiene anyway! Eventually, you can gradually wean yourself off of any prescription medications and still reap the benefits of training your body to practice healthy sleep hygiene habits.