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July 26, 2019 • read
5 tips to help you fall asleep tonight (and every night after)
If you’re one of the millions of Canadians grappling with falling and staying asleep, then this blog’s for you. We’ve already covered the reasons why sleep is important and what the side effects of sleep deprivation can be. This time we’re speaking to one of our favourite sleep therapists, Aaron Arkin, for some of his favourite sleep hygiene tips. Sleep hygiene, in case you’re wondering, isn’t about how clean your sheets are, it has to do with the healthy habits and behaviours we put in place to help us get a better night’s rest. So read on to learn how to sleep better at night, naturally.
1. Respect the function of your bed
Arkin is a stickler for this one and for good reason. Sleep hygiene is crucial for a good night’s sleep, and the pinnacle of it all is your bed. That means that other than getting busy, and getting some shut-eye, there’s nothing else you should be doing in your bed. There’s no need to start answering emails or jumping on Slack for one last look. Making sure you use your bed for only sleep or sex, cues your body that it’s time for one of those when you lie down. So save the snacking, movie watching, Facebook scrolling and sit-ups for basically anywhere else in your home.
2. Pay attention to your sleep environment
Have you ever fallen asleep on the beach or out in the sun? Besides the risk of waking up with a sunburn, you’re also likely to feel groggy and decidedly unrested. Dehydration likely has something to do with it, but also the heat. Our bodies much prefer a cool space. Nocturnal lowering of our body temperature is associated with the production of melatonin, and is one of our body’s cues that it’s time to go night-night (it’s called thermoregulation). Keeping your sleep environment quiet, cool and clean is key to a good night’s sleep (and yet another reason why you shouldn’t eat in bed). So grab some blackout blinds, wash your sheets and look into a fan or a white noise machine to mask your noisy neighbours.
3. Have a soothing pre-bedtime routine
If you’ve ever sleep trained a baby, you’ll know how important this is. A bedtime routine cues our brain that we’re winding down, and it’s important to make it as calming as possible. Some find a warm bath helpful — as your body cools, it mimics the thermoregulation process. If you’re not a bath person though, sticking to the same actions in the same order should be enough. Wash your face, brush your teeth, change into jammies and read a chapter of a good book. Don’t read on a screen, though — you’ve heard it many times before, but screen time should end an hour before bedtime. Electronic screen light messes up our body’s internal clock, so we don’t produce melatonin when we should. Even if it doesn’t stop you falling asleep, you may experience a less restful night and have trouble staying asleep.
4. Make pro-sleep lifestyle adjustments
No one’s suggesting you reconfigure your life around sleeping, but consider small practical changes. Move your afternoon coffee back earlier in the day — instead of a cappuccino every afternoon at two, try to finish your last cup by noon. Try to take time to walk outside, since getting enough sunlight is crucial. The bartenders and shift workers of the world know that sleeping until 3pm never made anyone feel good. Even if you’re in that line of work, make an effort to get up and get an hour of sunlight before getting ready for work again, it can make a huge difference. And don’t forget to exercise — it’s the best way to help yourself to a better night’s sleep. Plus it’s good for your heart.
5. Develop an overall routine
While those weekend sleep-in sessions can be delicious, they can mess up your circadian rhythms. If you’re normally up at 6:30, sleeping until 10 am is likely to delay your bedtime that night and may make it harder to wake up the following morning. And if you have work or school the next day, you’re likely to end up with a sleep deficiency. Sticking to the same wake up and bedtime each day means your body knows what’s coming next. If you do have a late night and have trouble keeping it together the next morning, your best bet is to try a short (20 to 40 minute) power nap. Our bodies get used to sleeping at certain times and for a certain amount of time. Sticking to a regular routine all week keeps you from having to prop yourself up with three million cups of coffee to make it through the day. So try and stay with a consistent schedule, seven days a week.
Most of us have trouble sleeping from time to time. Ideally we’re able to get back on track and recover after a day or two. If you find that you’ve tried these tricks and you’re still dealing with a lack of sleep, treatment from a professional might be your next step. The effects of lack of sleep can cause all sorts of issues. And it’s hard to do much of anything when you’re not sleeping enough. Our sleep therapists are here for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.