Ah, sleep. Some people love it more than most things; others can never seem to get enough.
While everyone’s individual sleep needs are different, we all need sleep. Some people can function off of 5-6 hours, while others, especially children, need their 8+ hours of beauty sleep to truly function and perform at their best.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, contributing to almost all aspects of life, including your immune system, heart health, mood, productivity, memory, physical health, and so much more. Let’s look at some ways to build a better nighttime routine and kick the bad habits to the curb!
Identify how long you need to sleep
- Spend some time reflecting on when you feel the most well-rested.
Is this on the weekends?
- Is it when the kids are staying at their grandparents?
- How much sleep did you get at these times?
- What helped you sleep so well?
Set realistic, attainable goals for sleep routines and schedules
I like to start by working backwards. What time do you need to wake up in the morning? Count backward how many hours of sleep you need.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your sleep needs to reflect your age, with newborns and infants (<12 months old) needing between 12-17 hours each day, toddlers and preschoolers (1-5 years old) needing 10-14 hours, school age children (up to 12) needing 9-12 hours, teens needing 8-10, and adults needing 7-8 hours.
While the ideal amount of sleep might seem unrealistic, it’s important to work from where you are at and not try to go from one extreme to the next overnight. Instead, find what will work for your schedule and unique needs, including what is realistic and achievable.
Now that you’ve identified how much sleep you need and what might work for your lifestyle and schedule, it’s time to dive into the world of bedtime routines.
The science behind sleep is relatively simple when broken down: as our bodies begin to feel tired and it gets dark out, our brain begins to produce a chemical called Melatonin (yes, the same as the sleeping pills you can buy OTC). This chemical essentially causes us to yawn, get heavy eyes, and eventually fall asleep.
However, we often trick our brain into thinking it’s daytime through the blue light and bright screens of our electronic devices, and then our brains stop producing melatonin, making it nearly impossible to fall asleep. One helpful tip to getting a good night’s sleep is reducing screen time right before bed, usually about 30-45 minutes before you want to actually be asleep. Instead of screens, some helpful and healthy replacements can be reading, meditating and mindfulness, and journaling.
Some specific things you can do are journaling about your day or goals for the week ahead, doing a 5-minute meditation, or reading a favorite or new book that’s not overly stimulating. These are awesome ways to calm our mind after a long day and get that natural melatonin flowing!
Lastly, it’s important to be mindful of the foods we are eating before bed, making sure to not consume too much sugar too close to bedtime as this can also hinder the production of melatonin and interrupt a good night’s sleep. If you get late-night cravings for something to eat, some healthy, pro-sleep alternatives include kiwis, tart cherries, nuts, or even cheese and crackers.
Keeping up the Routine
Now, it might be easy to find a new routine and stick with it for a night or two, but how do we make it last?! Research shows that it usually takes about 21 days, or three weeks, for a new habit or routine to stick. So, start with setting the goal for a few days, and slowly build it up (knowing that it’s okay to mess up here and there).
When life gets crazy, try to stick to the main themes of this post, giving yourself enough hours of sleep, putting the phone/screens down ahead of time, and practicing as much of your routine as possible, even if you’re not on your usual schedule. When possible, keeping routines, even when life gets busy, can be a major help in improving your sleep and sleep routine.
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