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Sleep. It is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. For our health, for our cognitive function, for our mood. Yet, according to the CDC, 1/3 American adults don’t get enough of it, and according to a Gallup poll 40% of Americans sleep only 6 hours or less.
I’m not here to talk about the statistics though, I’m here to talk about my own experience with various sleep difficulties. Namely, the sleep difficulties my son had for years. He’s only 6, and we have spent at least half of his life at this point trying to figure out sleep. He has struggled with getting enough sleep to the point that we would watch him go through cycles of getting more and more tired for weeks, until he finally would sleep so heavily that he would wet the bed several days in a row.
During the period of getting more and more tired we would see his behavior start to change, he would become increasingly hyperactive and fidgety, and have a harder time controlling his reactions. There were more than a handful of times that his meltdowns would get to the point that I had to physically restrain him by wrapping my arms all the way around him & his arms, then sitting down until he could calm himself down.
As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time researching and trying different ways to help him sleep better. Both to help him fall asleep and to get better quality sleep. We finally have a pretty helpful routine in place for him, and while we still sometimes struggle with his desire to sleep (he is only 6, after all) he now has the ability to sleep, and to sleep well.
Here, I am pairing the best of what I learned and that was helpful for us during this time with what I personally do for better sleep, to help you get better quality sleep.
Tips for better sleep
Create a bedtime routine
This is not just for children. Bedtime routines help signal your brain and body that it’s time to start winding down and preparing for sleep. We have so much going on in our lives every day, and as a society we don’t take enough time to relax. This makes it difficult for your body and brain to be ready to sleep. Make it a priority to start to turn off before bed.
Most of the tips coming after this one include things you can add to your routine. Pick a few that sound good to you, and try them for at least 10-14 days to give your body a chance to learn your new routine and start to respond to it. If you don’t see any difference after two weeks, adjust your routine based on what you think did/didn’t work, and try again.
Like anything else, you need to find what works best for you as everyone’s bodies are different.
Turn off all blue light 30-45 minutes before laying down (TVs, phones, tablets, etc)
This one I recommend no matter what sleep issues you may be having. In recent years there has been a lot of talk about blue light. Which makes sense because we stare at it constantly on our phones, tablets, TVs, and computers. Over time this blue light can be really damaging on your eyes, but it can also really affect your sleep. In general, it’s good to lower or even turn off lights a little while before bedtime, as our bodies use light and dark to decide when to start producing melatonin (the sleep hormone). However, it seems that blue light waves, such as those emitted from our electronics, have even more of a detrimental effect on melatonin production.
So, in order to allow your body to really begin getting ready for sleep, put down or turn off your phone, tablet, computer and TV at least 30-45 minutes before bed.
Don’t scroll your phone in bed
This is for the same reason as mentioned above. You may think the scrolling is helping you relax and tire out, but in truth it’s preventing your body and brain from relaxing and producing the hormone needed to sleep. If you need to relax in bed before turning in, use a low light and read a (paper) book for a bit.
Drink a relaxing herbal tea
Stay away from black, green, or even white tea, and grab an herbal brew instead. There are plenty of really delicious nighttime blends, or you can opt for trusty chamomile. This has become an important part of my son’s bedtime routine. He drinks a cup of chamomile tea about 20 minutes before bed every night. This has been one of the most helpful additions to his routine in terms of falling asleep.
I often drink an herbal blend before bed as well, and I can really feel the difference in my sleep when I do. I switch it up a bit more than my son though. I like to have a bit of variety and often opt for a loose-leaf over teabags. Some of my favorites include Evening Repose and Dream Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs, and Tranquility Blend from Home Body Field Goods. For tea bags I like Tazo brand Calm.
Take a relaxing bath
This is not only good for getting your mind prepared for sleep, but can be beneficial to your skin as well. Using a good bath salt or tea, can be very hydrating and softening for your skin. Follow your bath with a lotion that is either fragrance-free or one that has a soft, calming scent.
To easily make your own bath salts, use 1 cup Epsom or Dead Sea salts, 2-3 drops of your favorite calming (and skin-friendly) essential oils (I recommend Dreamtime from Rocky Mountain Oils), and 2 teaspoons Fractionated Coconut Oil. Mix the essential oil with the FCO first, then mix into salts. Dissolve the salts into a warm bath and soak for 20-30 minutes. If you choose to make your own, do a patch test on your skin first to make sure your don’t have a reaction. Dissolve a teaspoon of your bath salts into a cup of warm water and apply to a small spot of your skin, before immersing your whole body in the bath.
Use a nighttime room spray around your room, bed and pillow
I started making a bedtime spray for my son, originally because he was having anxiety about zombies. We called it a “zombie spray” and was designed to keep zombies away. At least, that’s what I told him, that I Googled it, and zombies don’t like lavender or vetiver. The truth is, lavender and vetiver are two great fragrances for helping us calm down, relax, and in turn fall asleep.
He now knows that it is not actually a zombie spray, but we still use it as part of his bedtime routine. Aromatherapy is an especially helpful tool in promoting sleep. Sense of smell has been shown to play an important role in our physiological responses to the world around us.
To make your own bedtime room spray: combine 4oz water, 1 Tbsp witch hazel, and 20-30 drops of your favorite relaxing essential oils in a glass spray bottle. You can add more oil if you want a stronger spray, adding 5 drops at a time and testing before adding more. For the lavender & vetiver spray, I use 2 parts lavender to 1 part vetiver.
Read for 20 minutes
Read a physical (not electronic) book for at least 20 minutes before laying down for sleep. I suggest not doing this in bed, as you want your body to associate laying down in bed as time to go to sleep and not time to read. However, it can be helpful either way. This works in the same way as scrolling through your phone seems to help, by taking your mind away from your everyday lists, to-dos, anxieties, etc. and allowing you to disconnect from the day. However, making sure it’s a physical book, keeps blue light from stimulating your brain right before bed. It’s also a helpful thing to use up that time after turning off your electronics.
Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed
This is helpful both for those who have a hard time shutting off their brains at night, or those who wake in the middle of the night with intrusive thoughts. Keep a notebook next to your bed, so you can jot down any thoughts that pop up, allowing yourself to let them go until tomorrow. You can also tell Alexa to take a note, but I don’t recommend picking up your phone to take a voice note because it’s really easy to then start checking messages, email, the news, etc. The goal is to make it easy to put the thought aside and get back to sleep.
Use a white noise machine
A white noise machine is great not only for drowning out distracting noise, but for giving you pr ears something to focus on, which doesn’t allow much room for focus on thoughts. Similar to the idea of meditation, and focusing on your breath to allow your thoughts to float away.
Daytime tips for getting deeper sleep
Speaking of meditation, having a regular meditation practice can actually lead to higher quality, deeper sleep. You can do as little as 5 minutes a day, and start to see sleep benefits. For more information on the benefits of meditation, check out 5 Reasons to Meditate for 5 minutes (or more) Every Day. If you struggle to meditate, I have some great tips in How to Meditate: For People Who Can’t Silence Their Thoughts.
Spend time in nature daily
We are natural beings. Meaning, we are from nature and our bodies need it to thrive. Not just water and nutrient dense food, but sunlight, proximity to green plants, and fresh air. There have been many studies on “green” spaces helping with our nervous system and responses. Spending at least 20-30 minutes outside daily can start to have significant health benefits, including sleep but also much further reaching into your overall physical and mental health.
Even low-impact exercise daily can be beneficial. Again, not just for your sleep but for your overall health. Just 20 minutes a day can lead to an easier time falling asleep and better quality rest. Do your exercise outside (go for a run, walk, bike ride to make it easy) to check off your nature time as well.
How to fit it all in
A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be a difficult or lengthy addition to your evening. In fact, it should be as easy as possible to make it more doable for your schedule. Start by picking one or two things you can definitely do, or choose things you can do at the same time. A bath or reading for 20 minutes automatically gets you away from blue light before bed. Drink a cup of tea while reading. Follow your book or bath by quickly spraying your room with your pre-made bedtime room spray and hop into bed.
The most important thing is to do the same, or similar, routine daily so that your body gets used to it. Alternating reading and a bath every other night, but following with the same room spray still allows your body to get used to calming down and then smelling the same rest-triggering scent.
These are the things that have worked for myself, my son, and my other family members after much trial and error. I would love to hear about what works for you! Leave a comment with your results, or share other things you do to help with more restful sleep.
All information, suggestions, and opinions shown on this website are for educational purposes only and do not replace
medical advice nor are they intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease or health problems. Information given here has not been evaluated by the US FDA nor by any other U.S. governing body to the
best of my knowledge nor does it replace the advice of any licensed health-care professional.