A new year is upon us, and with that comes goals and resolutions made to become healthier versions of ourselves. This should not only be applied to eating healthier and increasing physical activity, but to improving sleep practices as well. In fact, if you focus on improving your sleep it may help you accomplish other goals such as losing weight.
The major battle then becomes staying motivated to maintain said changes long enough for them to become a part of your regular routine. As with any goal, focus on keeping it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). This will increase your likelihood for success. Also, set up a game plan on what goals you want to accomplish and how you plan to execute your plan. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Here are some ideas that focus on obtaining better sleep in the New Year.
1. Schedule sleep
The first step is to carve out enough time in your schedule for sleep. In this day and age, our society is connected through social media and smart phones 24/7. There never seems to be enough hours in a day to get everything done with work and family responsibilities. Sleep becomes an easy target to sacrifice and is often the first thing that is put on the backburner. The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality becomes our mantra.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and less than 40 percent of Americans report reaching that amount. Children require even more sleep depending on their age. To help ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep, determine a set bedtime and wake time and stick to it. This means keeping the same schedule on weekends and days off of work as well. If your job involves shift-work, make sure you are at least getting the recommended amount of sleep even if your schedule is changing on a regular basis. The body runs on a biological clock known as the circadian rhythm that regulates everything from control body temperature to wakefulness. Not maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle counteracts your circadian rhythm and can make it more difficult to fall asleep and wake up.
2. Clean up your sleep
The next step is to incorporate good sleep hygiene practices in to your daily routine. Allow enough time before bed to be able to unwind from the day and be able to do the routine at your own pace. This may include a shower, calming meditation, reading, a bath, etc… Try to refrain from engaging in activities/exercises that will raise your heartrate or stimulate your brain.
If you are one that cannot shut off your mind at the end of the day, try a calming meditation or making a list earlier in the evening of things you feel need to follow up on the next day. This will keep you from replaying that list over and over in your head in attempts to not forget. Many individuals are accustomed to watching television or spending time on an electronic device before bed. This actually makes it harder to fall asleep due to the blue light that is emitted from electronics. Instead, turn off electronic devices (including cell phones and tablets) at least 30-60 minutes prior to your set bedtime. Coming up with new relaxing activities may be a step to take in goal setting. Once you come up with a list, it will be much easier to implement.
3.) Create a sanctuary for sleep
Creating an environment conducive to sleep is another important step toward obtaining better sleep in the New Year. Things to consider include: temperature of the room, mattress you are sleeping on, pajamas you wear and sheets you use, how dark the room is, if you like white noise, and if you allow pets in the bedroom overnight. Some like to keep the room colder in order to burrow under blankets while others like the room a little warmer and use no sheets/comforters. Whichever style you prefer, plan accordingly. This is the same with pajamas and style of sheets. Some prefer a specific type of fabric and may even change them depending on the seasonal temperatures.
The beginning of a New Year may also be the time to invest in a new mattress. If you did not get everything you wanted on your Christmas list, consider treating yourself. Given the fact about 1/3rd of our lives are spent sleeping; it is important to have a mattress that is comfortable. Making a goal to save money for a new mattress may assist you with that good night's sleep you are looking for.
When thinking about the darkness of the room, consider if windows allow moonlight or light pollution to enter. If you have a job where you need to sleep during the day, consider purchasing blackout curtains to get the desired darkness in the room. There are light machines that sync to alarms and can naturally make the room brighter to aid in a more natural wake up process. If you live in an area where it is noisy, consider investing in a sound machine that will help block out that noise. Also while snuggling with our furry, four-legged friends can be quite calming/relaxing/comforting, it does not always provide us with the best sleep. As a rule of thumb, it is best to keep pets in a separate area of the home.
4.) Address concerns
If you have made some of these adjustments and not seen results, or you have other concerns, a final step is setting up an appointment with your primary care physician to get evaluated for a sleep disorder. You can get all the sleep in the world and practice perfect sleep hygiene, but if you have an underlying sleep disorder then this can significantly affect your sleep quality. If left untreated, some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can increase your risk for other health problems like high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. Common symptoms that suggest you might have an undiagnosed sleep disorder include chronic fatigue, loud snoring, restless sleep, frequent urination, headaches, mood disorders, inattention, memory loss, lack of libido, and the list goes on. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and already use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), make it a goal to consistently use it every night for the entire duration of sleep.
As with any goal setting, don’t try to make multiple changes at one time. This can lead to becoming overwhelmed and ultimately not following through on any of your goals. Work at focusing on one change at a time. Also give yourself an adequate amount of time to accomplish the goal at hand. Research has shown it usually takes at least 21 days to form a habit and even longer if the habit is more complex. So spend several weeks working at one goal before moving on to the next one. You owe it to yourself to get better restorative sleep in 2019!