Let me say at the beginning that the following lesson contains general suggestions, suggestions which many people have found helpful. However, they are not iron-cast. You might find they don't work for you and if that is the case, don't waste time with them. Use the ones that work for you and discard the others. If you've found alternate tips that work for you, I'd love to hear about them.
When my children were young, they used to call me in the night, disrupting my sleep. Maybe they needed reassurance that I was still there, maybe they had had a nightmare, or maybe they were afraid to go to the bathroom alone. My sleep was often disturbed. I was a single mom so I decided that we would use the smallest bedroom as our 'sleep room'.
Our three beds were moved into that room and there was room for little else. I got more sleep because if the children woke in the night, they could hear my breathing and be assured I was there without waking me. If they needed to talk to me, I didn't have to get out of bed and could fall asleep more easily later. Before falling asleep we would have a gentle time of talking together as a family.
This system worked well for us. The largest bedroom was turned into a playroom and the third bedroom became a library/office. This was all before I researched sleep but now I find that several things were right with this setup:
- There were no distractions - no playthings, no TV - it was a room set aside for sleeping. This association helped us all to fall asleep more easily.
- We all went to bed at the same time - early!
- The children felt safer and slept better because of it and I also slept better because they didn't call me.
- The room itself was one where we could darken the one window and control the temperature effectively.
You may not want to duplicate this for yourself, but look at all the suggestions and select what you'd like to try.
The Bedroom Itself
- A bedroom should be as dark as possible. Use heavy curtains to block out street lights. You can get black-out curtains that also insulate, saving energy on heat or air conditioning.
- The room should also be cool. In winter, turn down the heat when you go to bed. If you have an air conditioner, set it to a comfortable coolness for sleep in the summer.
- A quiet room helps. You can use indoor water fountains to block street noise or other undesirable sounds. Use earplugs if you find them comfortable. Or you can play relaxing music to fall asleep to. Just make sure to use a player that will turn itself off after you fall asleep. 'White noise' can block out less desirable sounds - use a radio tuned to static or a running fan. Children may be afraid of the dark or afraid of noises they hear in the night. My daughter used a fan to block the noises that scared her.
- Use the room just for sleeping. Don't have a TV or other distractions in the room.
- Colours can affect us. Paint your bedroom a calming colour. For me, it's a pale green. Other colours that are generally calming are pale hues like ivory, light blue, lavender and pink, cool colours, such as turquoise blue and verdant green, yellow-green, green, and blue-green.
- Don't have any electronic items in your bedroom. Don't use an electric blanket. These items generate large electromagnetic fields which disrupt delicate biological mechanisms within us and may predispose us to degenerative diseases as we get older.
When to Sleep
When it's dark outside is the best time to sleep. Our bodies are more geared to light and dark cycles than we realize and some hormone production and activity is regulated by the daily cycle of light and dark. If we alter this cycle, our hormones cannot function at their best. Melatonin, a hormone that guards the immune system and regulates sleep among other duties, needs darkness.
Folklore says every hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight. Now studies are confirming this. Go to bed by 10 pm at the latest.
Whatever time you decide is bedtime, stick to the same time each night. Don't vary it by more than half an hour even on weekends because you will upset the rhythm of your circadian cycle.
Many of us hardly notice the cycle of night and day any more. We go to work while it's still dark, at least in the winter, we work in artificial light and stay up late with more artificial light. To help your body distinguish between night and day, get lots of natural light during the day. Go for a walk just after sunrise - both the light and the exercise will do you good and help you sleep better when night rolls around again. Or find another time to walk outside. Take a walk at lunchtime or sit outside to eat.
Go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time each morning. If you are getting enough sleep you shouldn't need to sleep in on the weekends. Your days will be available for many hours of rich activity and a feeling of coping well with life.
Make the last hour before bed, a quiet one. Do things that will relax rather than stimulate you. Turn off the TV, don't exercise. Take a bath, listen to relaxing music or a tape with sounds of nature (like rain, waves or bubbling water), have a snack of turkey and lettuce or drink a cup of chamomile tea, meditate or pray, write your journal. Some people are helped by the use of a relaxing scent like lavender. Read a boring book - one you know you 'should' read rather than one that will grip you in its pages. But read in a comfy chair rather than in bed. You want to associate bed with sleep.
For children, make bedtime a happy, relaxed time - something a child will look forward to rather than resist. Give them a bath, read a story, listen to them talk about the day, include a backrub, sing a lullaby. Establish routines that will help with sleep. No TV or video games or other stimulating activity for an hour before bed - fill the hour with the activities just mentioned. No carb-rich snacks but perhaps a small glass of milk before going to the bedroom. One ritual I used when my children were younger was to rub the bottom of their feet with essential oil. We used different oils and didn't always like the scent but rubbing the bottom of the feet was pleasurable and then, with the feet deep under the blankets, the scent was hidden. The children really looked forward to this 'rub'.
Help school-aged children complete any homework well before bedtime so they won't worry about school and have trouble falling asleep. At my house, I put away the TV on school nights so there is no distraction in that direction. Homework must be complete before chatting with friends or playing video games.
If you have trouble falling asleep, there are some simple 'exercises' you can do to relax. The simplest is to breathe deeply and slowly - in and out - while lying on your bed. Try counting your breaths rather than sheep. I rarely get to six before I'm gone. Other relaxation techniques are given in the page on stress and sleep.
Other Do's and Don'ts
- Don't use alcohol as a sleep inducer. You may well fall asleep sooner but you will also waken too early and have trouble falling asleep again.
- If you drink coffee, drink it in the morning only. Avoid other foods with caffeine (like chocolate or black tea) for several hours before bedtime.
- Avoid nicotine
- Avoid eating too close to bedtime. There is more information on eating and sleeping in the section on diet.
- Make sure you and your children get some exercise during the day. Walk your dog together or go to the park and play tag. If you live in an apartment building, you can have a race up the stairs (or some of them!). Find some enjoyable activity that will exercise your bodies - preferably something you can do together.
Need extra support?
Maybe you have already created your bedroom oasis, but STILL cannot sleep? You may need to consider any physical, or even mental health issues causing sleep deprivation. Contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic for either a free sleep consultation or sleep study to determine the issues.
About the author: Hannah Butler works as a content writer. Besides, she likes sharing her experience in the form of articles. In this case, she has her own section at WriteMyPaper4Me service. In the future she is going to start writing a blog in order to describe her working methods to others.