According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours lest we wish to welcome several potential and serious health risks. Unfortunately, the findings from a National Health Interview Survey showed that nearly 30% of adults reported an average of ≤6 hours of sleep per day while only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night. That’s not good.
It’s hard to get to bed these days, let alone fall asleep. With so many devices on the nightstand and to-do lists cluttering up the mind, turning “off” is becoming a lost art. But with our health on the line, it’s a necessity.
Here are 9 Sleep Hacks to ensure you get the zzzzzzz’s your mind, body, and spirit require.
Get clear on your bedtime.
Back out seven to nine hours from your rise-and-shine moment so there’s no guesswork. For example, I wake up at 4:30 or 5:30 each morning so my bedtime is 9 p.m. If we aren’t mindful of when our head needs to hit the pillow, we easily let the hours and minutes roll by robbing us of precious time we could be slumbering.
Do deep breathing exercises.
In times of stress or if the music and darkness aren’t enough, try deep breathing exercises, such as box breathing. To do box breathing, close your eyes, put your hands on your belly, and inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold the breath for four seconds. Then exhale, pushing the air out through your lips for four seconds. Focus on each outgoing breath carrying away the tension or stress from the day.
Wake up naturally.
Wake up without an alarm once a week, if possible. Those of you with kids or early morning responsibilities each day of the wee may not have this luxury. But if and when you can, take the opportunity to allow your body to wake up according to its own rhythm.
Stop caffeine 6 hours before bedtime.
This ought to be a no-brainer, but I need to be reminded of this occasionally. As a former coffee-guzzling maniac, I can tell you that you can wean yourself off, and once you do, it’s not so challenging to resist the urge to grab that late afternoon cup of joe.
Meditate and be grateful.
Meditation or gratitude practices are a great way to program positivity and quiet the mind. I do five minutes of Metta Meditation or reflect on my day to identify the moment or experience that I’m most grateful for. Doing these practices at bedtime is a great way to not only close the day with positivity but also to transition your thoughts from scattered and frantic to calm and reassuring.
Turn off electronics.
An hour before bedtime, turn off the TV and all electronics (yes, including your smart phone). These devices emanate a spectrum of light that suppresses melatonin, nature’s regulator of sleep-wake cycles. If you fail to shut them off, you may find yourself alert and unable to sleep. If you must be on your device (I confess, I like to do a crossword puzzle on my iPhone each night as a wind-down activity), install apps that block the spectrum of blue light wreaking havoc on your pineal gland, which produces melatonin.
Darken your room.
At bedtime, cover all flashing lights in your bedroom so it is as dark as possible. Turn your digital alarm clock so it’s not facing you or drape a towel over it. After all, it’s the sound you need—not the visual. Install black-out shades. And that blinking stereo light? Put black electrical tape over it. In essence, shut down your room so your body can shut down.
Put on relaxing sounds.
Search for relaxation or calm meditation stations on your favorite music app, such as Spotify. There you’ll find luscious, spa-like music that is sure to calm. I prefer white noise and have an app called Sleep Machine where I can dial up three sounds (waves, rain, and a fan) and mix them in such a way that it sends me off to dreamland. If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, experiment!
Take a nap.
If all else fails, take a nap. As multiple research studies have indicated, we need at least seven hours of sleep each night to maintain our health. In those rare circumstances when you are unable to achieve this, take a fifteen- to twenty minute restorative nap during the day. In fact, anytime you sense a need for additional sleep—even if you got your nine hours of sleep the night before—take a nap. Your body knows what it needs.
If you find yourself still struggling to sleep after multiple attempts using multiple approaches, see a sleep specialist. You may have an underlying condition that is preventing you from attaining and maintaining healthy sleep cycles. For example, sleep apnea can disturb our sleep cycles yet not rouse us enough to notice that we have experienced an interruption. By all means, if you toss and turn during the night or wake up on a regular basis feeling tired or experiencing a headache, reach out to a specialist.
For the rest of you, be kind to your nervous system; allow it time to rest and repair. This is the yin, the downtime, to the yang, the uptime. Remember, everything is cyclical. To access our highest potential in the dawning of each day, we must embrace and welcome the quiet power in the closing of each day.
What sleep hacks or bedtime practices do you employ that produce positive results?