Sleep Habit Tips For Regular Folks
Do you ever fall down these lengthy, “best sleep habits” rabbit holes online?
You’re tired all the time and not getting the kind of sleep you need. So you hop on Google or Pinterest to see what the experts are saying. The most common medical advice for better sleep is pretty straightforward:
- Go to bed at the same time every day.
- Don’t eat or drink caffeinated or sugary drinks too close to bed time.
- Make your room sleep-friendly.
There’s nothing earth-shattering there. We know this stuff. And yet, we still manage to fall short.
So we dig a little deeper and get hit with things like, “9 things I do every night for perfect, goddess sleep.” In front of you is a smiling, twenty-something woman writing about nightly warm baths, maybe some essential oil diffusing, thirty minutes of meditation and a warm drink concoction that seems overly complicated.
Who has time for that?
How are the rest of us supposed to get good sleep?
You know, those of us with demanding jobs, or inconsistent work schedules, or kids!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an hour of free time every night to engage in some spa-like ritual. But I can find ways to integrate some best practices in ways that fit my routine and lifestyle.
And that’s what I want to help you do.
The basics of healthy sleep habits
When deciding how to make some habit changes in order to improve your sleep, you need to address a few key areas:
- When you’re going to sleep.
- What you’re eating and drinking at night.
- Activities that prevent you from winding down.
- Your sleep environment.
- Your level of physical activity throughout the day.
You can get as fancy as you want with your strategies, but those are the fundamentals of good sleep habits. So let’s explore each of those a little further, shall we?
1. Go to sleep around the same time every night (yes, even on weekends)
This is not a convenient tip for many people, but I fail to see an adequate workaround. If you’re waking up every day at 6 AM for work and then sleeping in until 11 AM on the weekends, you’re screwing with your sleep cycle.
Because of our circadian rhythms.
What’s that exactly? Circadian rhythms are the internal clocks that our brain uses to cycle through alertness and wakefulness. You want your internal clock running smoothly.
When are lifestyle and circadian rhythm is aligned, our body is healthier. We enjoy improved digestion and immunity. Our focus and productivity improve. We’re more emotionally stable.
The inverse is also true.
Once our lifestyles and circadian rhythms start colliding, we increase our risk for various diseases, become groggy, and develop a very short emotional fuse.
Pick a bed time and try to stick to it as much as humanly possible. You will feel like an entirely new person, I promise!
Let’s also mention naps here.
I love naps. I’m sure you do too. Give me a couple hours on the couch with a warm blanket around 2 in the afternoon and I am set!
Whereas shorter naps do have some restorative benefits, anything longer than 30 minutes or so runs the risk of leaving you feeling worse AND throwing off your bedtime routine.
If you’re coming home from work and crashing in your bed for a couple hours, you’re never going to get your sleep sorted. You’ll be groggy, a bit disoriented, and then way too awake to go to bed at any reasonable hour.
Taking naps too late in the day all but guarantees a 1 AM bed time. Then you get to play the ever popular game, “If I go to sleep now, I can get X amount of sleep before my alarm goes off.”
2. Addressing your nighttime eating and drinking habits
The common medical advice is that you should cut off caffeine intake by 3 PM. Caffeine has an ability to impact your sleep up to six hours after you consume it.
Depending on when you go to bed, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. Personally, I try to make 5 PM my cut off because 3 PM just doesn’t suit my lifestyle and because I don’t drink alcohol, a caffeinated fizzy drink is my one little treat and that’s just where I am right now.
As far as dinner goes, sleep experts recommend eating at least three hours before bed time. This gives your body time to do it’s thing and digest.
What do you do if you don’t have time to sit down and eat until 8 o’clock at night after you finally got the kids down for bed? You have a few options. If you don’t go to bed until 11 PM, this might not be too much of a problem.
But if you find yourself constantly having to eat dinner close to bedtime, here are some things you might look at changing:
1. Eat earlier with your kids.
The idea of eating dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 might not sound appealing, but if it means you can get to bed at a reasonable hour, it’s worth considering. If you end up having a light snack a little later, you’ll find it has a smaller impact than a heavy meal would right before bedtime.
2. Have a bigger lunch.
Depending on your work situation, you may wish to switch the bulk of your calories into lunch. That’s when you need the most energy any way. Just be careful you don’t overdo it and give yourself a food coma in the middle of the work day.
3. Find ways to simplify meal time.
You’ve got several options here. Essentially you want to find ways to make dinner prep easier. Here a few ways you can do this:
- Pre-chop your veggies on the weekends so you can easily throw dishes together.
- Cook large batches on the weekends to eat throughout the week. Freeze additional portions for later.
- Put together a list of go-to recipes that you can dump into one pot. Crockpot recipes are a life saver in that regard. If you’re super pressed for time, get these nifty crockpot liners and clean up takes two seconds.
3. Take not of activities that prevent or promote winding down. Adjust accordingly.
You don’t need to engage in a whole Instagram worthy nighttime ritual, but you do want to get into the habit of winding down. This looks different for everyone, so tailor these tips accordingly.
You want to avoid engaging in activities that keep you up and swap those habits out for more sleep-friendly versions.
1. Unplug thirty minutes before bed.
But also be mindful about what you’re consuming before your thirty-minute cut off time. Don’t start rage tweeting at 10 PM or engaging with content that will get you riled up. That’s as true for things that are exciting as it is for stuff that pisses you off.
Our screens emit a blue light that increase our alertness and disrupts our circadian rhythm, which you’ll recall, is bad.
If you must be on a screen for an extended period of time after dinner, you can try some blue light blocking glasses to see if that helps. Though I HIGHLY recommend just powering down.
2. Limit yourself to one episode.
There is so much amazing content out there. I, too, want to stay up until 3 AM watching every episode of Dave on Hulu (seriously, why is this show so good?).
But you can’t.
Tell yourself you get one episode and then shut it down. Of course, you’re going to want to watch just one more episode, but it’s not worth being semi-useless the following morning.
3. Give yourself 10-20 minutes of wind down activities.
Most of us don’t have an hour to dedicate to whatever ritual is meant to help us zen out. Sure, I’d love to be able to find a quiet space to write in my journal, have some fancy tea, and meditate for thirty minutes, followed by some light stretching.
But I have a two year old.
It’s just not the way my life works.
Here’s what I can fit in 99% of time:
- A game of sudoku in a regular old Dollar Store game book that your grandma buys for 99 cents. I do this in lieu of watching another episode of something.
- Having a cup of kava tea which does an amazing job of helping me chill out while having the added benefit of tasting pretty good on its own. I love the Yogi brand and it seems to be one of the more affordable kava teas on the market.
- 5-10 minutes of reading my library book.
Drinking tea is about the fanciest thing I do before bed. In total, my wind down routine is all of twenty minutes. I’ve spent double that amount of time mindlessly scrolling social media before bed. Twenty minutes is perfectly manageable if you want it to be.
Not a tea fan? Your Super has a pretty yummy mix called Magic Mushroom that you can add to some warm almond milk (or whatever you like). It’s like a nice, relaxing hot chocolate without the excessive sugar. It’s really good for a wind down drink AND if you’re interested in giving it a go, I have a discount code you can use!
Go to YourSuper.com and enter OLH15 for 15% off your order.
Side note: my fellow Americans! If you want to make tea a part of your life, please, please, please, invest in a basic electric kettle. The microwave has no business in the making of tea. Please, I beg you!
4. Make sure your sleep environment is actually conducive to sleep.
To the greatest extent possible, your room needs to be dark, comfortable, and cool. Part of that comfort involves eliminating distractions, of which you may have many.
Here are some common ones you can get rid of:
- TV! Take it out of your room.
- Don’t have work, computers, or laptops in your room.
- If you habitually reach for your phone at all hours, move it from your bedside table. Keep it out of reach.
Additionally, here are some things you may wish to add in order to sleep better:
- Decent bedding and pillows. I’m not saying you need to invest in pricey, hotel-quality stuff, but make sure your pillows and bedding aren’t contributing to your discomfort.
- Get a fan. Seriously. It provides a cool breeze and some lovely ambient sound. I’ve slept with a fan since high school and probably couldn’t get any shut eye without it. If you can get a good oscillating, floor fan you’ll be all set.
- Try a white noise machine Sure, you can also try white noise apps, but that means your phone has to be right beside you and that might be a bad thing. When my daughter was an infant, she needed noise to sleep and we became a bit acclimated to it as well. It’s soothing for adults as well, so if you like a light noise to help lull you sleep, these are excellent! (And you can get them on Amazon for as little as 20 bucks.)
If you have a busy brain, you may find listening to sleep meditations helpful.
Insight Timer is a free app with an absurdly large and wonderful collection of meditations and music. It’s what I use every night and it’s particularly effective if I listen with noise-cancelling headphones.
My thoughts wander less and I rarely make it past the ten minute mark before I’m asleep. I don’t sleep with them on the entire night. I’ll half wake up an hour or so later and put them on my side table, roll over, and go right back to sleep.
This hasn’t felt at all disruptive to my sleep.
One thing I have noticed is when I listen to a deep sleep meditation right before bed, I wake up less frequently throughout the night. That’s huge for me as I am accustomed to waking up 2-3 times per night (some nights more) to go to the bathroom and rarely feel like I’ve had a proper night’s sleep.
If you’re in a similar situation, give it a try!
I bought an expensive pair of headphones awhile back in a fit of desperation for some quiet in our current living situation. They are so so so so incredible, but also way more than I have ever spent on headphones in my life. In fact, I think this might be the first pair I’ve bought.
So they’d better last because I’m not replacing them any time this decade.
You can find them here, or search Amazon for any number of significantly more affordable options, though I cannot vouch for their efficacy. Hopefully the reviews won’t lead you astray!
5. Get more exercise.
Seems a little counterintuitive, but exercising is actually really beneficial for sleep.
The best part? You don’t have to wait to see results. They’re pretty instantaneous. According to Johns Hopkins, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can lead to better sleep that same night.
Not excited about having to add exercise into your already busy life? I hear ya!
We can get a little creative with our fitness habits, too.
Go for a 15 minute walk twice per day. If you have little ones, run around outside with them after work (that counts!). I like to put in toddler dance videos and get goofy with my kiddo. She’s happy, gets her wiggles out, and I get my heart rate up for 5-10 minutes.
My latest habit hack? I do 10 squats after I use the bathroom while washing my hands. By the end of the day, I’ve knocked out around 70 squats or so.
Pick little ways to add activity into your day and it’ll all add up to thirty minutes, or close to it.
Shoot, even ten minutes is better than nothing. You don’t have to do a whole routine or physically go to the gym. All you need to do is find ways to get your heart rate up throughout your day.
As always, start SMALL.
You don’t have to overhaul your after-work life all at once.
In fact, I highly advise against doing that. Big habit change happens one tiny step at a time.
Choose one area of your evening to focus on and get that working for you before moving on to something else. Over time, your nighttime routine will be significantly better and you won’t feel like it was particularly hard work to get there.
For more resources on sleep and healthy sleep habits, I recommend the following reads:
- Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams by Matthew Walker
- The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken And How To Fix It by Chris Winter
- The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At A Time by Arianna Huffington
- Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life by Dr. Suhas Kshisagar and Michelle Seaton
Don’t have time to read four books any time soon? You can find the first three on the Blinkist app where you’ll get a condensed 10-15 minute version of the books with the main takeaways and insights.
This is my go to for when I want to get a big picture idea of something but lack the time to dive into an entire book. Give it a try!