Sleep has become a casualty of modern life. If you or your children are excessively sleepy or just don't feel well rested in the morning, what can you do about it? Fortunately, there are many things we can do to improve sleep as individuals, family members, and a community.
Here's a checklist to help you and your family get a good night's sleep.
- Get comfy. Make sure your bed and bedding are comfortable.
- Remove distractions. Get the TV and mobile devices out of the bedroom. Avoid watching or listening to upsetting, violent, or scary materials within 2 hours of bedtime. That includes the news, conflict-filled talk shows, and high-anxiety dramas. (Ideally, don't expose younger children to such material at all. Older children and teens benefit from adults co-watching or close by to talk about any concerns that arise).
- Use the bed only for sleep, not for TV, reading, working, using a smartphone or tablet, or playing electronic games. (Adults with consenting partners can intimacy to the 'okay' list).
- Soothing sounds. Listen to relaxing music, sound from nature, or the sound of silence. Keep the noise level down. Consider earplugs if you can't control the environment.
- Security and safety. Before you head for bed, make sure your doors are locked, the stove is off, the iron in unplugged and the water taps are turned off.
- Darker is better. Turn the light off. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin, an important hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Also, light from screens such as, mobile devices, and tablets contains "blue light" that can suppress melatonin which promotes sleep. Avoid media screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime.
- A good solution is to set up a family overnight charging area for electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones that is far from the bedroom (e.g., on the kitchen table).
- Talk to your doctor if "breaking away" from electronic devices remains a challenge for you or your children. Digital media can be addictive for some people, but making the effort to keep devices out of the bedroom will help improve the quality of sleep.
- Keep it cool. Cooler room temperatures promote sleep and reduce perspiration, discomfort, and itching. But, a non-allergenic blanket close by is helpful if the temperature drops too far.
- Smell the roses, or better yet, lavender or chamomile. Soothing scents such as lavender have proven effective in helping people fall asleep, even in noisy intensive care units.
- Warm it up. A person warmed passively by a hot bath or sauna (not from intense exercise) falls asleep more quickly than someone who is cold. Even just a hot foot bath has proven helpful to ensuring good night's sleep; so even if for some reason you can't soak your entire body, consider a warm foot bath before bed to help you drift into dreamland. Keep the body warm and the room cool.
- Consider eating a light snack containing a protein (e.g., seeds, nuts, low-fat milk, hard-boiled eggs) and a complex carbohydrate (e.g., whole grain cracker or toast, slices of fruit or vegetables) within 2 hours before bed.
- Take a warm bath or shower within an hour before bedtime.
- Make it routine. Head to bed at the same time daily. Staying up late or sleeping in can shift your sleep schedule to make you "jet-lagged" even at home.
- Read something soothing, reassuring, or inspiring. Save the action/adventure stories, headline news, and murder mysteries for daytime reading.
- Manage your stress constructively. Practice mediation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, prayer, counting your blessings, extending good will to others, or other relaxing stress management techniques.
- Keep a journal. Write down or record any worries, anger, irritations, or other negative perceptions. Get them out of your head, set them aside, and let them wait until tomorrow. Write down or record a list of things you appreciate or for which you are grateful. Make notes about little kindnesses you have observed in others or offered to others. Did someone smile at you today? Offer a handshake? Ask how you were? Open a door? Let you go first? Just noting small acts of kindness can help us feel better and more connected to other people. This helps us feel more positive and secure.
- Avoid getting in the habit of using TV or a tablet to soothe your child to sleep. It is important that they learn to calm down by themselves and with your help through a soothing bedtime routine. Reading an age-appropriate book together is helpful for younger children.
During the Day
- Limit daytime naps to 45 minutes, maximum.
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning; this helps set your biological clock so you'll be tired in the evening. Avoid bright lights before bed.
- Exercise during the day. Yoga or other slow, meditative exercises may be helpful in the afternoon or evening.
- Check with your doctor. Make sure you can breathe easily at night; congestions and obstructions to breathing reduce restful sleep. If you snore, ask your doctor to check for obstructive sleep apnea. If you have a painful or itchy condition, discuss optimal management with your health professionals. Review your medications (if any) to make sure they aren't the culprit.
What Else Can You Do?
- Consider a cup of calming herbal tea such as chamomile, lemon balm, hops, or passion flower.
- Talk with your clinician about trying, melatonin, tryptophan, or 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) supplements.
- Get a massage or at least a hand, foot, shoulder, or back rub from someone you trust.
- Consider trying acupuncture, especially if pain makes it hard for you to sleep. Sleepiness and a sense of calm and relaxation are side effects of acupuncture.
What to Avoid
- Avoid alcohol within 4 hours before bedtime. Alcohol use just before bed can lead to rebound wakefulness 2-4 hours later.
- Avoid caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid heavy or spicy foods 4 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid strenuous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid stimulating TV, use of mobile devices and electronic games, and arguments within an hour of bedtime.
If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed, leave the bedroom, and try one of these strategies—snack, warm bath, soothing music, inspiring book, making a list or jotting in a diary.