Are you tired of feeling tired all the time?
You aren’t alone. Studies have shown that on average, people today are getting less and less sleep and that the quality of that sleep is diminishing. And while the relationship between sleep and prediabetes is not yet fully clear, studies have shown that individuals who have poor sleep often have an elevated risk of developing diabetes. Not to mention elevated risks of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease!
So read on to discover 5 easy, actionable steps that you can take to improve your sleep and your metabolic health.
1. Keep Yourself In The Dark
Reduced light levels play an important part in priming your body to both fall asleep, and stay asleep. If you want to help Mother Nature along, you need to refrain from bright light exposure for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
In particular, light from computers, smartphones, tablets, and televisions should be eliminated. Dim the lights in your home, or shut the bright ones off completely. Be particularly careful of the bright white lights found in kitchens and bathrooms. If you have bright lights outside your bedroom, consider using blackout curtains.
Believe it or not, even moonlight has been found to adversely affect sleep, so the darker, the better!
If you like to read before bed, try not to use your e-reader or tablet, and definitely stay off your smartphone and social media.
Instead, grab a physical book and put on a soft, but effective light that illuminates your reading area just enough to read without eye strain.
You can also try a little meditation in the dark before bed. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with falling asleep mid-mantra. That is the point after all!
Do you have a television in your bedroom?
Consider removing it. At the very least, leave it turned off. You may think the sound of the TV helps you fall asleep, but the flickering lights are actually keeping you up.
If it’s noise you crave, opt for some soft music on a sleep timer instead. You can also pick up a sleep machine that generates white noise. Or you can always try the old standard and turn the fan on. A fan will help with proper air circulation as well.
2. Make Your Bedroom Inviting
Make your bedroom a place you want to go to at the end of a busy day.
If your bedroom is in disarray, if your only pets are the dust bunnies under the bed, or 90% of the household laundry is piled on every surface, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and straighten up.
Your bedroom doesn’t need to be pristine, but it should be clean and tidy so that you don’t become stressed out the moment you enter. Take some time every week to make sure clothes are put away, drawers are in order, shoes are picked up, and nightstands are cleaned off.
If you have a desk in your bedroom and you work there, consider relocating it. The bedroom should be for rest only…well, mostly rest anyway! (Hubba! Hubba! 😉 )
If you can’t relocate your work, make sure it’s put away so that you can’t see it. Piles of paperwork and to-do lists and calendars will only wind you up when you are supposed to be winding down.
Is your bed comfortable?
Are your pillows in good shape?
If not, consider replacing them. Pillows have a terribly short shelf life and most people tend to keep them around for far too long. Mattresses need to be replaced regularly and flipped or turned at least monthly. If you sleep S-shaped because you’re trying to avoid getting scratched by a metal spring poking through your bed sheet, then it’s time to go shopping! This really is the place to spend some money if you can afford to. You spend 25-40% of your day using your mattress, so it should be both comfortable and durable.
(Here’s a resource for best-rated mattresses.)
Remember that when you’re focusing on sticker price only.
3. Maximum Occupancy: 2
Sharing your bed with a partner or spouse presents its own problems, especially if your bed isn’t big enough, or if one of you snores – not you of course! But sharing your bed with pets and children is an entirely different dilemma.
Kids young and old seem to love the idea of co-sleeping, but it can really wreak havoc on your restful sleep. If you’re a parent, you know that most children sleep the sleep of the dead and think nothing of whacking you in the face with an arm, an elbow, or even a foot. So keep the kids in their beds during sleep time. You can always encourage them to come in for cuddles AFTER your alarm goes off in the morning!
Pets present an entirely different challenge. How many times have we lost sleep because rather than disturbing Princess Coco who decided that the middle of the bed was the perfect place for her to take a catnap, we tried to fall asleep shaped like a pretzel? Or been woken up by Fido when he needed “outside” at 3 am…or just wanted to check to see if we were open to playing a nighttime game of fetch?
If your pets have gotten used to sleeping with you, it may be very difficult to break them of this habit. Ideally, pets should be kept out of the bedroom during your sleep time. And if either bed occupant has allergies, keep them out of the bedroom entirely, even if the allergy sufferer uses medication. It’s important to have a “clean room” as far as dander goes.
If you have dogs, consider using a crate outside of the bedroom so that they can remain close to their “pack” during the night. If the dog is used to sharing your bed, start with the crate in the room and then gradually move it outside of the bedroom. Leave the door open initially, and then move to a shut door once they’re used to sleeping in their crate, outside the room.
Cats are a bit easier to deal with, but you might have to put up with some scratching at the door and you will definitely be treated to the “paws under the door” “puppet show” at first. Most cats adapt to getting kicked out of the bed rather quickly and honestly, a few treats before bedtime can work wonders for an affronted feline.
4. Cut The Caffeine
Whether it’s coffee or soda, or even chocolate, caffeine can be a stealthy sleep saboteur. For some people, it seems not to affect them, but those people are statistically in the minority. For the rest of us mere mortals, caffeine can affect us in many different ways.
The caffeine found in foods like chocolate, ice creams and yogurts, and even protein bars (read the labels!) can have minimal effect on some, and for others, coffee, some teas, and most sodas can cause them to wonder why they’re still wide awake at 3 am.
If you believe that caffeine is hindering either your ability to fall asleep or to stay asleep, experiment with a cut-off time. If morning coffee seems to be your drug of choice, try to refrain from it after lunch. If you’re in the habit of grabbing a double-espresso after work, consider switching to a decaf concoction instead. Adjust your cutoff time up or down based on how well you’re sleeping (or not sleeping) at night.
Beyond that, keep an eye out for hidden caffeine.
Protein and meal-replacement bars and shakes are little-known culprits, as are energy drinks for obvious reasons. Check labels on medications, anti-aging lotions, ice creams, and yogurts, and of course cocoas and chocolates.
If you’re a tea drinker, double check your ingredients. Many teas contain caffeine or trace amounts of it. If you drink a lot or are particularly sensitive, this can add up over the course of a day and interfere with your plans for a restful night.
5. Follow A Sleep Routine
Routines can be a huge help in getting your mind and body to begin the transition from awake and productive to asleep and restorative. Try and keep the same sleep hours every day, including weekends. This helps support your natural Circadian Rhythms.
An hour variance on your bedtime and wake time is plenty, but anything beyond that can really throw your body off. The body enjoys a rhythm and it wants regularity and predictability when it comes to sleep schedules.
Doing the same tasks as you get ready for bed can also cue the brain up for shut down time.
Getting into your PJs, drinking caffeine-free herbal tea, listening to some music, turning down the lights, reading a real book in bed, all of these things can become a regular ritual that paves the way for a restful night.
Whatever you decide to include in your pre-sleep routine make sure that it’s calming, that it’s not physically demanding and that it doesn’t lend itself to increased stress.
Some people find it relaxing to plan out their to-do list, but others may find that doing that before bed can key them up with worry over all the things they have to accomplish the next day. If you’re in the latter group, consider writing in a gratitude journal or reading some motivational stories before bed instead.
Your best bet is to keep things simple and relaxing and something that you can easily commit to every evening. The more complicated or tedious it is, the less likely you are to adopt it as a ritual every night and the more likely it will have an opposite effect from what was intended.
So there you have it.
5 actionable steps to better sleep as promised at the outset of this checklist. There are many more things that you can explore to improve your sleep, like not exercising before bed, but this list is a good place to start if you’re looking to develop better sleep habits.
Try some or all of these things tonight and see if they make a difference for you.