Dr. Orma was recently interviewed by Men’s Journal for tips on Bedtime Rituals for Better Sleep.
You have a regular morning ritual that helps you launch your day feeling energized and alert, then an after-work routine that eases the transition from the professional world to your personal life. But if you haven’t adopted some specific nighttime habits that prime you for deep, restful sleep, then you’re shortchanging your health.
1. Dim the lights
Think of darkness as nature’s sleeping pill, cueing your body to crank out melatonin, the hormone that helps you wind down. Turning down the lights ahead of your bedtime ramps up melatonin production, so you can successfully doze off, says Steve Orma, Psy.D., a San Francisco–based psychologist specializing in anxiety and insomnia. Research backs this up: a 2011 study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to bright electric light between dusk and bedtime can suppress melatonin levels and leave you wired.
2. Turn down the thermostat
The ideal snooze temperature is about 65 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That’s because the cooler you are, the sleepier you become. No wonder your body is designed to experience a natural temperature dip at nighttime, says Medalie. If the room is too hot or you’re wrapped in too many blankets, your body temperature will rise, and that can make you restless.
3. Steer clear of the bedroom
You know how Pavlov trained his dogs to associate a ringing bell with eating? That’s what you want to do with your bedroom and feeling sleepy. “Not using your bedroom for anything but sex and rest will create a mental association between the bed and fatigue,” says Orma. “Working, watching TV, or other pre-bedtime activities should be done anywhere but the bedroom, so when it’s time to turn in and get under the covers, your body takes it as a signal to sack out.”
4. Power down your digital devices
Save your Netflix binge or email catch up time for earlier in the evening. “The light from the screen of your computer, tablet, or phone is called ‘blue spectrum light,’ and it’s particularly dangerous because it tells the brain to stop secreting melatonin,” says Medalie. “Even a few minutes of exposure to it signals your brain to stay awake.”
5. Keep out of the kitchen
Finish dinner no later than three hours before bedtime, so you give your stomach time to digest, and you won’t be kept awake by heartburn, gas, or a sugar- or caffeine-fueled energy surge. One exception: if your appetite kicks in again. “Going to bed hungry can keep you awake, so grab a small snack that’s part protein, part complex carbs with no added sugar, caffeine, or anything spicy, which can block sleep,” says Medalie. Good choices: a couple of pieces of jerky, a banana or apple, or a handful or two of nuts.
6. De-clutter your sleep space
You don’t have to be so messy that you’re a candidate for Hoarders for this ritual to work. Neatening up your bed covers and bookshelves or putting away laundry piles or other ordinary bedroom clutter has the weird effect of also de-cluttering your brain. “It subconsciously helps get rid of the anxiety and stress swirling in your mind that can keep you up when it’s time to sleep,” says Orma.
7. Make last call a lot earlier
Alcohol plays a nasty trick on your body. Drinking within three hours of bedtime helps you nod off — booze is a depressant, after all. But once the alcohol is metabolized hours later, you’re more likely to wake up or start tossing and turning, says Medalie. That’s because while any amount of alcohol can increase short-wave sleep — the kind you get in the first half of the night that repairs body tissues and boost your immune system — it can disrupt REM sleep, the later sleep stage that encourages learning and memory formation, reports a 2013 review of studies from the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
8. Save stressful activities for morning
The whole point of a bedtime ritual is to relax your body and set the stage of nodding off. So fighting with your significant other, paying off cringe-inducing bills, or doing any other activity that has the potential to raise your blood pressure should be put off until the next day if you can help it, says Orma. Wait until you’re refreshed and ready to handle heavy topics.
9. Face your alarm clock to the wall
Nothing sets you up for insomnia quite like watching the minutes tick away on your alarm clock as you lie in bed, growing increasingly more anxious as you wait for sleep to hit. But if you can’t see the time, you’ll have a smoother transition to dreamland. The other thing is, even the light from a your clock’s LED display is enough to put the brakes on melatonin production, says Medalie. As long as you can hear the alarm in the morning, you don’t need to actually see the numbers.
10. Ban pets from the bedroom
A 2014 study from the University of Kansas found that 57 percent of pet owners surveyed shared their bed with their dog or cat, and a third of these pet parents reported being awakened at least once per night by their furry buddy. The researchers suggest that pets may be a little-known factor contributing to human sleeplessness. So as much as it hurts, ban Fido or Fluffy from the bedroom, or at least set them up in their own sleep space on the opposite side of the room.
(by Esther Crain)