You’re just a quick Google search from a plethora of sleep buzzwords, gadgets and trends. Sleep tracking. Smart mattresses. Temperature controlled sheets. Clean sleep. Coffee naps. Digital sleep lamps. Digital sleep lamps?
Trying to keep up with the latest sleep trends and tech could cause you to, well, lose sleep. But at the heart of all the fuss are two fundamental questions: How do you fall asleep and stay asleep?
For some people that’s not an issue. They hit the pillow, or couch, or even a particularly cozy section of the wall on the right day, and zonk, they’re out. But for others, winding down, getting to sleep and getting quality sleep without interruptions is a struggle. The good news is that if you do have issues with sleep you don’t need to chase every trend or new gadget to find relief. Michael Figueroa, MD, Director of Critical Care and Sleep Services at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo., has some concrete steps you can take to fall asleep when you want and stay that way.
Getting to Sleep
The act of falling asleep on command is a mix of habits and nightly steps and none of them are truly life-altering unless you’re in the habit of having three cups of coffee after lunch every day. In which case we probably need to have an entirely different conversation.
- Be Consistent: “I think the most important thing with sleep hygiene is to try to have a consistent sleep and wake time even on your days off,” says Dr. Figueroa. If the phrase “weekend bedtime” doesn’t fill you with excitement, we understand. It’s peak adulting. But if you have trouble falling asleep, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. If you keep relatively the same bedtime and wake time seven days a week your body will become used to the routine and you should start feeling tired about the same time each night.
- Set an Alarm: Not to wake up. Hopefully you’re already doing that. If not, you might have a lifestyle we’re very envious of. At night, set an alarm for about two hours before your bedtime. This should serve as your reminder to detach from your digital devices and do something more relaxing like reading a book, meditating or whatever else helps you wind down and unplug.
- Cut the Caffeine: At least after lunch, that is. “Really you shouldn't have any caffeine after about noon,” says Dr. Figueroa. “It can make it difficult for you to initiate and stay asleep.”
- Your Bedroom is for Bed: “Avoid trying to multi-task in your bedroom, like paying your bills or studying for a test,” says Dr. Figueroa. “When you go to your bedroom just try to fall asleep.” So keep your devices, TV and connected smart devices out of your bedroom. It’s a tangible and mental change that assures your room is for sleeping and not lying down and poking at your phone for another 30 minutes.
For some people falling asleep is just half the battle. If you find yourself waking up frequently during the night or just don’t feel fully rested you can take some steps to make sure that when you’re out you are OUT.
- Cool and Dark: Dr. Figueroa recommends trying to keep your bedroom at about 68 degrees fahrenheit and as dark as you can. Both can affect your quality of sleep. Light can be challenging, especially if you live in an apartment complex or in the heart of the city. Heavy drapes and facemasks can be your friends in this instance.
“Your eyes are very sensitive to the light stimulation, which increases your melatonin production and when you are seeing light in the middle of the night it really messes up your circadian rhythm and makes it more difficult for you to sleep,” says Dr. Figueroa.
- Avoid Alcohol: Sure, it can help you get to sleep, but alcohol can negatively impact your ability to stay asleep. “People will often have a rebound effect and it actually increases your wakefulness after a couple of hours,” says Dr. Figueroa.
- Talk to a Doctor: Dr. Figueroa highlights three medical issues that could be causing you to wake up during the night:
- Sleep apnea: A disorder that causes breathing disruptions during sleep. Dr. Figueroa notes that not everyone with sleep apnea experiences classic symptoms, such as snoring. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, consult with a sleep doctor.
- Frequent urination: This can have several causes, but if it’s waking you up during the night often to go to the bathroom you should talk to your doctor.
- Acid reflux: Try not to eat too close to your bedtime, particularly citrus or spicy food. If this is something that bothers you consistently you should talk to your doctor.
Sometimes sleeping is not as simple as just lying down, but it affects many aspects of your life and health. So it’s worth developing a routine that works for you.