Good sleep is a foundational part of human health. Without it, the brain can’t function properly, and the body can’t do the amazing things it’s able to do like stave off disease or crush the latest TikTok dance challenge.
What controls our ability to fall asleep? There are three main factors.
- Circadian rhythm. As the body’s built-in 24-hour biological clock, circadian rhythms regulate essential functions like metabolism and brain function, and govern feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness.
- Sleep pressure. The longer you’re awake, the higher your sleep pressure, and your “risk” of falling asleep. A low sleep pressure decreases your chances of falling asleep at bedtime.
- Activation level. Innumerable forces are competing for our attention and ramping up our dopamine systems. Heightened stress or emotions before bed can increase your activation level, which can mask tiredness.
What are healthy sleep habits?
While we can’t always control when we fall asleep, we can control how we think about it. Here are 10 healthy habits to help you get better sleep and keep your circadian rhythm, sleep pressure and activation level in check.
- Avoid things that create stress or strong emotions before bed. Getting wound up on social media, for example, can super-charge your emotions, making you feel more alert and sending you down a rabbit hole of rumination.
- Introduce relaxing activities into your bedtime routine. Read a book, take a bath, do a few yoga poses, meditate or listen to music or a sleep story.
- Avoid naps late in the day to ensure you have adequate sleep pressure at night.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day. You know this. We know you know this. And we also know that sometimes grabbing a 4:00 coffee for a mid-day boost is going to happen. And that’s okay, but keep in mind that it might impact your sleep. Whenever possible, try to make a conscious effort to curb caffeine.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Again, we’re all human here. Occasionally we slip and over-imbibe. It’s worth noting that while alcohol can seem to help you fall asleep, research shows that alcohol is linked to poor sleep quality.
- Be smart in how you use technology before bed. In a perfect world, we’d turn off our screens a couple of hours before bed. In the real world, most of us are plugged in well into the evening. If giving up technology every night is unrealistic, set an attainable goal. Go one or two nights a week reading a book instead of watching TV, using a phone, computer or playing a video game.
- Go outside during the day. Light is important to the circadian rhythm. Getting natural light during day and dimming artificial lights in the evening helps triggers the sleep-wake cycle.
- Meditation can be a great way to get the mind and body prepared for sleep. If you’ve never tried to meditate, or if you’ve fallen out of practice, it can seem like an insurmountable task. Start small by dedicating a couple of minutes at a time to it.
- Create an environment conducive to sleep. Sleep spaces impact sleep. Do you have good air flow? Is your bedroom full of distractions? Is it cluttered? Is it clean? Does it make you feel relaxed?
- Factor in time for self-reflection. Ask yourself, “What is distracting me from sleep?” Write a list of everything you do in the evening, then figure out what helps calm you and what you can implement into your routine. Experiment. After a few months, revisit your list and see if there’s anything you should change.
Kicking old habits is hard. So is adopting new ones. As you work toward your goal of better sleep health, don’t be too tough on yourself. Changing habits requires taking small steps and repeating them many times over until they feel second-nature. If you try changing everything all at once, you’ll probably have a lower chance of success.
If you only improve two things listed here, that’s a big step to better sleep. Celebrate the accomplishments along the way and be kind to yourself. With time you will get there!