Sleep is an important yet underappreciated part of our lives. Without a good night’s sleep we can often suffer different physical and mental issues, such as fatigue, stress, and distracted thinking.
Over time, these can build up and contribute to bigger problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Getting your sleep right can make a big and noticeable difference in your life. If you are currently experiencing difficulties with your sleep patterns, here are the key principles behind a good night’s sleep.
Know if you’re an “early bird” or “night owl”
Psychologists and biologists know that humans often fall into two main categories when it comes to sleep. These are based on differences in our circadian rhythms or “biological clocks.”
An early bird prefers to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, while a night owl prefers to stay up later and wake up later. This is because early birds tend to feel most energized in the morning and night owls tend to feel most energized in the evening and night.
Understanding your biological clock is important in catering your sleep schedule to meet your biological needs.
In general, getting 7-10 hours a sleep is usually the range most humans need, but when we should get this sleep can depend on whether you’re more of an “early bird” or “night owl.”
Stay consistent with your sleep schedule
One of the most important things you can do in developing healthy sleep patterns is to try to keep the same schedule everyday. You should be going to sleep and waking up at relatively the same time everyday.
This is important to recognize, because many people will spend a night or two a week staying up really late, and then try to overcompensate by sleeping a lot the next day (usually on the weekends).
This inconsistency can really throw off your biological clock and hurt you from developing a steady rhythm to your sleeping patterns. Try your best to follow the same sleep routine everyday.
You can use an alarm clock to help set your sleep schedule, but ideally when you find your biological rhythm you should be waking up naturally at the same time everyday.
Be physically active during the day
Often a good night’s sleep follows a good day’s work. The more energy we exert while we are awake, the easier it is to fall asleep once the day comes to an end.
If you spend your days being lazy, not being physically active, or even taking a lot of naps, then that is going to make it much more difficult to fall asleep when it’s actually time to get some rest.
All that energy you don’t use throughout the day can make you very anxious and fidgety. Your body often needs to engage in physical activity to release this energy.
Our lives are often a cycle of “work” and “rest,” so often you need to get the “work” part down if you also want to get the “rest” part down.
Use your bedroom for only sleeping, limit other distractions
If you spend a lot of time in your bedroom not sleeping, then your mind begins to associate it with all different types of activities.
One of the best things I’ve personally done in my bedroom is get rid of the television and computer. In this way, my bedroom is almost solely used for rest and sleeping. If I want to do something else then I have to go into another room.
This helps a lot, because our minds can be very sensitive to environmental cues, so limiting these distractions in your room helps you just focus on sleep.
Minimize alcohol and drug use
Alcohol and drugs can be a kind of sleep aid, but often they don’t give you a healthy and productive sleep (they just knock you out and don’t give you the proper amount of REM sleep).
Not to mention, it’s not good to have a dependence on certain substances to manage your sleep cycle. For example, if you need a drink every night to fall asleep, it could be a sign that you need to find healthier sleep aids.
Learn relaxation techniques to use before sleep
Learning relaxation techniques to practice before sleep is often a better aid than relying on alcohol or drugs. One of the most popular techniques to use is called progressive muscle relaxation.
In this simple exercise, you focus on each muscle in your body, stretch it, and then release it, all while focusing on calmness in that specific area.
Start with focusing on the muscles in your toes, feet, bottom leg, and upper leg. Stretch and clench each muscle, then release until each muscle is free from stress and tension. Next move onto your groin, abs, chest, shoulders, arms, and back. And finish by focusing on the muscles in your face, around your mouth, eyes, and forehead.
With each muscle you move onto, you’ll become gradually more relaxed, until your whole body is in a state of calmness. Your breathing begins to slow down and you’ll begin to feel less sensation in your body until you’re ready to let go completely and fall into a state of sleep.
Use positive affirmations
Affirmations can be applied to almost any area of your life, including sleep.
Sometimes people who have trouble sleeping begin to have negative, self-fulfilling thoughts like, “I will never fall asleep” or “My mind is racing too much.” We ruminate over these thoughts before we go to bed, and they become more and more difficult to overcome.
Instead of filling your head with negative thoughts before you sleep, you can use affirmations to fill your head with calm, relaxing thoughts. For example:
“I am falling asleep…”
“My body and mind are going into a calm and relaxed state…”
“All of my stress and anxiety is floating away…”
These simple affirmations can help prepare your body and mind to begin going into a state of sleep. And often times using these types of affirmations in addition to the progressive muscle relaxation can make this exercise even more effective.
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