Updated: Oct 27, 2020
When I tell people that I'm a pediatric sleep consultant, a person's response usually goes something like this: "Wow, that's neat. Do you help adults too?" It's often a half-joking, half-not-joking type of question. Whether or not they want to admit it, many adults do have trouble sleeping. There's so much stress, busyness, and media keeping us up at night. With everything on the to-do list, who really has time to get a full night's sleep anyway? Even if you try to get enough sleep, sometimes the to-do list follows you to bed and your mind won't let you sleep. Some moms out there just want alone time by the end of the day, which keeps you up too late. (<-----This has been me many times.)
Sleep is so important. It literally keeps you healthy, builds your immunity, keeps your brain sharp, makes you less cranky, gives you energy, and the list goes on... You need good sleep to be a healthy, thriving person. The Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 18-64 get
7-9 hours of sleep every night. How are you doing with that recommendation?
While I don't do adult sleep consults, there are some good sleep practices that are true for everyone. Therefore, I've put together a list of 3 key tips for any adult to get better sleep, plus a bunch of little bonus tips too!
If you find yourself waking up often at night, noise is a likely culprit. Everyone goes through multiple sleep cycles at night. Each sleep cycle starts with light sleep, transitions into deep sleep, and then goes back into light sleep again. At this point, you either wake up or connect into another sleep cycle. If there is noise happening while you are in the light sleep stage at the end of the cycle, you'll most likely wake up instead of go through another cycle of sleep. A thunderstorm, neighbors, dogs, other people you live with, trucks...you name it. All of these noises can wake you up at night.
A sound machine helps block all of the surrounding noise that could wake you up. Static sounds, like white or brown noise, are the best. Sounds like rain, waves, or music stimulate the brain, which is not what you want while sleeping. Not all sound machines are equal. You want a non-looping one. Simply put, looping sound machines play a recording. There are two issues with this. One, a recording is predictable, which can again stimulate your brain to recognize the pattern. Two, a recording ends and there is a break before it beings again. A non-looping sound machine plays continuous random frequencies so your brain can really be at rest.
The Lectrofan Micro is my favorite sound machine. We own multiple of them! It's non-looping, has multiple sound and volume settings, and it runs on USB plug but also has a rechargable backup battery. This is key in case you lose power during a loud storm. This sound machine also fits into the palm of your hand, so it travels easy. It doubles as a bluetooth speaker too, but I haven't used it for that purpose yet.
Have you ever wondered why we sleep at night and are awake during the day? The answer comes from nature: there is light during the day and darkness at night. You can't change that. We all have a circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, that aligns itself to the natural flow of day and night. Light tells the brain that it is time to be awake. As you've probably guessed, darkness tells the brain that it's time for sleep. Therefore, when you're trying to sleep, you want your bedroom to be as dark as possible. If you can see your hand in front of your face, there is too much light.
Darkness is especially important if you often wake up in the early morning, before you actually want to. We've all seen those commercials, usually for some sleep aid or allergy medicine. After taking the medicine, the person sits up in bed in the morning, takes a big stretch, and breathes in a giant breath of fresh air and sunshine. It's idyllic...unless you don't want to wake up with the sun. So, what do you do about too much light?
Block Outside Light
Light-blocking curtains are a big trend right now. However, a lot of light can still come in through the sides and top of light-blocking curtains. If you have these, go into your room when it is sunny out, shut the door and lights off, and see how much light there is coming in your windows. You may be pretty surprised. Street lights and car headlights can also shine unwanted light in the middle of the night. My favorite product for actually blocking all outside light is BlackoutEZ window covers (affiliate link).
These covers can be cut to your exact window size. They are attached to your window frame with Velcro, so they can very easily be taken off when you want the natural light to come through. In seconds, you can put them back up when you want to block the light again. We use these in both of our kids' rooms, and our room as well (5 windows total). These covers are the only product I've found so far that totally blocks 100% of the outside light, and they are very affordable.
Extra tip: Make sure you measure the window frame, not the glass. I had to use scraps to piece one of them together because I measured wrong. It still works though!
Use the code SAVE10 for 10% off!
Block Other Light
Sun isn't the only source of light that could be keeping you awake. ANY source of light could keep you from getting the deepest Zzz's possible. Other light in your bedroom might come from a lamp, digital clock, TV, cell phone, night light, hallway light, etc. If you are sleeping with any of these items in your room, turn them off or remove them to get optimal darkness. The light given off from electronics (blue light) is the worst for sleep. It confuses the brain into thinking it's time to be awake. This is why you likely have trouble falling asleep while watching TV or right after scrolling through your phone. If you must have a light in your room, red light is the best option. Have you ever noticed that some digital alarm clocks have red numbers? Yeah, there's a reason for that.
With my clients, I always suggest they give their child at least 30-45 minutes to "settle down" before bedtime. This period of settling down includes turning off all electronics, dimming the lighting as much as possible, and reducing noise. Giving yourself 30-45 minutes before bedtime to settle down from light and noise will do wonders for your sleep too! Reading (in an actual book, not on a screen), writing in your journal, prayer and meditation, or anything else "quiet" is a much better way to end your day to prepare your body for sleep.
Remember that circadian rhythm I talked about earlier? Well, it works best when it's on a schedule. Your body makes the natural hormone called melatonin to help you sleep. When your body is on a set schedule, it knows when to produce melatonin so you can rest in peace. If there's no set schedule, your body can't support your efforts to sleep because it has no idea when sleep is coming. Having a set bedtime and wake time isn't just for kids! I encourage you to try it out for a week or so. Your body will need some time to adjust to the schedule before fully benefiting from it.
Sound, darkness, and a schedule are the trifecta of key things to help you sleep better. Here are a few other tips I've scrounged up that could help in addition to those:
I think everyone knows that a large dose of sugar right before bed can cause trouble sleeping (and super weird dreams, am I right?). However, the truth is that too much sugar anytime, even earlier in the day, can actually still affect your sleep at night. A healthy diet is good for your body all around, including for restful sleep.
Similarly, watch your caffeine intake. You may not think you're that sensitive to caffeine. Yet, if you're having trouble falling asleep at night, you really should pay attention to that afternoon cup of coffee. Try to move it earlier in the afternoon so it doesn't keep you up at night.
Exercise also helps you sleep better. Aim for a little bit of movement each day, even if you don't have time for a full workout.
Don't wash your face right before getting into bed. Splashing your face with even warm water will wake you up, so do this step earlier in the night.
Blocking light isn't just for falling asleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night and immediately roll over and grab your phone...there's a good chance you'll struggle to fall back to sleep. If that last sentence describes you: move. that. phone. Your phone can charge and wake you up from across the room, it does not need to be on your nightstand.
If you just absolutely cannot even fathom giving up your bedtime scroll through social media or rerun of your favorite show, at least block the blue light. Most smart phones have a blue light filter. They also sell blue light filter glasses you can use to watch the TV or read a book on a screen. Please let me make it perfectly clear that it would be a much better choice not to view screens at all before bed and during the night. This is just an option if you don't feel like you can make that happen. Sometimes our phones feel like an added appendage to our body. I'm not convinced that's a good thing, but it is the time we live in. However, if you think it's keeping you up at night, ask yourself if checking up on your high school aquaintance's new dog is really worth losing sleep over.
Don't let the sun go down on your anger. This common saying actually comes from the Bible (Eph. 4:26), so there's good wisdom to it. Nothing can derail a good night's sleep better than unresolved arguments. Your mind just mulls it over and over, or thinks about what you should have said or done differently, or what you can say about it tomorrow. Deal with it and let it go before you lay down to go to sleep (and don't wait until 11pm to bring up a topic that will likely start an argument).
Good sleep should be a priority, not a luxury. Do you have any other sleep tips? Leave them in a comment for others!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant