Lying in the dark, eyes closed, I replay the events of the day. I can’t get past it. The stress mounds. I replay it again. My mind spins with thoughts. I lie awake wishing I could go to sleep.
The next day, I’m in a fog. I have very little energy and I’m not thinking clearly. The stressful moments I was ruminating on the night before feel magnified and heavy. I want to cry, and I want to sleep.
I know first-hand that a good night’s sleep can make all the difference in the world. I also know there are so many ways sleep can be disrupted: a busy mind, too much caffeine, physical pain, dehydration, exposure to screens too close to bedtime, or any number of reasons.
Lack of quality sleep doesn't just make us exhausted the next day — it can also interfere with emotions, memory, focus, and even long-term health. Depriving yourself of this much-needed time will affect your ability to meet your wellness goals.
As a health coach, here are my favorite tips I use every night to improve my quality of sleep:
1. Reduce your caffeine intake.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that blocks your brain from producing sleep-inducing chemicals. Studies suggest that having caffeine even as much as six hours before bedtime can have disruptive effects on your sleep.
If you love coffee, try cutting back gently by replacing half of your blend with decaf. And remember that caffeine takes many forms. Keep your eye out for foods like chocolate, tea, soft drinks and energy bars.
2. Unplug at least an hour before bed.
Whether you're watching television or sending out a tweet, the cognitive excitement and lighting of the device may be working against you.
Our bodies’ cycles are driven by an internal clock known as our circadian rhythm, controlled by light that enters your eyes. By exposing yourself to lighted devices, you might be sending a confusing message to your own internal clock, which in turn can cause sleeplessness.
If you like to read at bedtime, opt for a physical copy rather than your Kindle. At the very least, turn down the brightness of your device.
3. Don’t eat within an hour of bed time.
Typically, when I'm reaching for a late-night snack, it’s because my body is sending a signal that I’m tired. Rather than heading to bed, my body craves a sweet snack in hopes of extending my energy.
In the short term, it might keep me up just long enough to finish whatever it is I'm focused on, but in the long term, it lands me in a fit of indigestion and bloating. In fact, research suggests that eating right before sleep makes digestion more difficult (interfering with our quality of sleep) and also messes with our circadian rhythm.
In place of food, I recommend opting for a warm cup of chamomile tea, an herb known for its relaxing properties.
4. Expose yourself to natural light during the day.
Studies show that workers with more natural light in their offices enjoy better quality sleep. That's because our circadian rhythm is activated and ruled through our eyes, and reduced exposure to light during the day can mess with our internal clock.
Make sure you get outside every day. Take a brief walk during lunch — you'll expose yourself to natural light, and get a bit of exercise!
5. Schedule in time to decompress.
Whether it's work, relationships, or the challenges of parenting, everyone has something that keeps their stress levels amped up. And this constant tension might be what’s keeping you awake.
Leaving space in your daily calendar for an hour of peace and quiet might be the fix you need. That could mean a slow walk, a hike in nature or a good book. This quiet time will allow you to let go and return to a more natural, calm state of being.
6. Journal your thoughts at the end of the day.
Journaling is an incredibly powerful way to tackle whatever is bothering you. At the end of each day, use this blank space to write out thoughts, events, challenges, emotions, and ideas as you settle into your bedtime routine. Journaling gives you a place to let go of your thoughts and to-do lists, so that you can rest easy.
I also recommend writing down three things from your day that you're grateful for. This gratitude list is fully defined by you. Maybe it's people you spent time with, or something funny that happened. When we focus our thoughts on what we have, it’s easier to let go of our troubles, and relax into a restful state.
7. Develop a routine.
Having a repeated routine allows your body and mind to know what to expect every night and thus, relax into it.
My own routine includes shutting all electronics down, pouring a cup of herbal tea, and dimming the lights in our home. I will often diffuse lavender essential oil and my son and I will curl up together and read a paperback book. We always finish each night by asking each other, “What are you most grateful for from today?” This routine is the foundation for restful, deep sleep.
Adapted with permission from Lessons for MomPositive Living.