Mistake #1: Not keeping a consistent sleep schedule.
We often think we can make up for lost sleep by going to bed extra early another night but the body clock’s ability to regulate healthy sleep patterns depends on consistency. We stay up late on weekends, expecting to make up sleep later or use the weekend to make up for lost sleep during the week. Both practices disrupt bodily rhythms and late night weekends in particular can cause insomnia during the workweek.
Solution: Create a routine and stick to it. Getting up and going to bed around the same time, even on weekends, is the most important thing you can do to establish good sleep habits. Our bodies thrive on regularity and a consistent sleep schedule is the best reinforcement for the body’s internal clock. Waking and sleeping at set times reinforces a consistent sleep rhythm and reminds the brain when to release sleep and wake hormones, and more importantly, when not to.
Mistake #2: Using long naps to counter sleep loss.
Long naps during the day especially after 4pm or even brief nods in the evening while watching TV can damage a good sleep rhythm and keep you from enjoying a full sleep at night.
Solution: Nap for no more than 30 minutes. If naps are absolutely necessary, make sure you only nap once a day and keep it under 1/2 hour and before 4 pm. In general, short naps may not hurt sleep and in fact a short siesta for half an hour after lunch or a 20 minute power nap before 4 pm works well for many people.
Mistake #3: Not preparing for sleep
Expecting your body to go from full speed to a standstill without slowing down first is unrealistic. Our bodies need time to produce enough sleep neurotransmitters to send feedback signals to the brain’s sleep center, which will result in the release of sleep hormones to allow you to sleep.
Solution: Take the time to slowly shift into sleep.
- Create an electronic sundown: Sitting in front of a computer screen (or TV screen) does not tell our brain that it is time to sleep. They are too stimulating to the brain and can cause you to stay awake longer then you would if you were doing something less stimulating like reading, chatting or cuddling.
- Prepare for bed. Dim the lights an hour or more before going to bed, take a warm bath, listen to calming music or soothing sounds, read an easy to read book, do some yoga or relaxation exercises, chat, cuddle, laugh. Getting your mind and body ready for sleep is essential. Remove any distractions (mentally and physically) that will prevent you from sleeping.
Mistake #4: Not giving your body the right sleep signals.
Our bodies depend on signals to tell them when to fall asleep and wake up, the two most fundamental ones being darkness and light. But we live and work in artificially lit environments and often miss out on the strongest regulatory signal of all, natural sunlight. When we go to sleep and our bodies need complete darkness for production of the important sleep hormone, melatonin, our bedrooms are not pitch dark, thereby interfering with this key process.
Solution: At night, keep the room as dark as possible. Look around your bedroom: the alarm clock read-out that glows in bright red; the charging indicator on your cell phone or PDA, the monitor on your computer, the battery indicator on the cordless phone or answering machine, the DVD clock and timer. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of sleep hormones and therefore disturb your sleep rhythms.
Conceal or move the clock, cover all the lights of any electronic device and use dark shades or drapes on the windows if they are exposed to light. If all of that is not possible, wear an eye mask. It is a good idea to have a very dim light beside your bed so that if you need to get up during the night your eyes will not be subjected to a bright light.
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