Autumn brings cooler weather, football, back to school shopping, and usually, a downpour of new activities and projects that kicks us out of our sleepy summer stupor back into the world of obsessive scheduling and never having enough time in the day. Students and parents understand this cycle well, and even long after we've graduated college and entered the workforce, it still seems that work and social responsibilities ramp up every September. Sometimes it seems impossible to fit everything into the day, and unfortunately, most people tend to cut out those things most important to their well-being first, such as mealtimes or sleep. Study after study has shown the negative ramifications of not getting enough sleep. Yet many of us continue to forego this essential human necessity in favor of a deadline or social event. Other times, the stress of an overbooked schedule is an unintentional barrier to falling asleep, even if we do get to bed on time. Prioritizing a good night's sleep will enhance your ability to tackle everything else on your schedule, and with a few tips, it shouldn't be as daunting as it seems.
GETTING TO BED
- You schedule everything else, so why not schedule sleep too? Going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning is immensely helpful, so write it down in your planner or set up a reminder on your phone. Tell yourself the same thing you say to your kids when they protest their bedtimes with cries of "just ten more minutes!" Nope!
- Find your ideal sleep requirement. Not everyone needs exactly 8 hours of sleep per night. Knowing how much time you require will help you schedule appropriately. You may need more or less, so make a note of when you get to bed on a Friday or Saturday and then let your body naturally wake up the next morning. You may want to do this a few times to get an average.
- Unplug the electronics an hour (or two!) before bedtime. The light emitted by screens is different from that of lamplight, and this frequency has been studied to show disruptions in the REM sleep cycle. So schedule your last computer-centered activity at least an hour before bed. No last-minute phone checks. No falling asleep to the TV. Try reading a lightly engaging novel before lights-out instead. This will help to clear your mind of worries and anxiety as well.
GETTING TO SLEEP
- Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Decorate to your tastes and make it a nice space to unwind. Try to leave the TV in the living room – the bedroom should be dedicated to sleep and relaxation. Invest in quality bedding and 100% Supima cotton sheets because everyone knows there's nothing like the feeling of cool, crisp sheets at the end of a long day.
- Mind the temperature: if it's too hot or too cold, you won't get your best sleep. For southerners, summer weather holds out into October, so if things are still warm where you live, crisp cotton sheets may be all you need to stay comfortable. In the north, if temperatures are falling, be sure to have a great down comforter so that you stay warm.
- Avoid big meals, alcohol, and caffeine within two hours of getting to bed. Light snacks or a mug of caffeine-free tea are fine. Although alcohol is a depressant, it can cause disturbances in the brain that lead to less restful sleep, and eating before bed will keep your body up with digestion.
When you feel overwhelmed during the day, remember that nothing is more important than your well-being. Don't be afraid to say no to an activity or ask for help if you need it. Always keep in mind the importance of sticking to your sleep schedule. Making time to sleep is simply making time to honor one of life's great pleasures – falling into a comfortable bed at the end of a long day.