How important is sleep? Let me put it this way. If you want to improve your quality of life in every way, sleep should be at the top of your list. You will look better, feel better, and live longer.
Bedtime is not pretty at my house. We take sleep seriously and for good reason. A good night’s sleep makes everything — literally everything — better.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to fall into bed without a care. It was night. I was tired. I slept. It was that simple.
Now I’m a sleep warrior, gearing up like I’m going into battle: open the window, turn on the fan, and don the latest anti-snoring device. Then I climb into bed, push my phone out of reach, turn the lights off, punch my pillows into the perfect position and sigh as I slip into sleep.
All of my bedtime maneuverings are worthwhile if it means I can log a solid eight hours of sleep. There is nothing like the feeling of waking up rested and ready for the day. Everything seems possible when I’m rested. My energy soars, my mood is high, and I feel like a new woman.
If you spend your nights tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling, it’s time for a new sleep strategy.
Make sleep your top priority
If you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to be fat, unhappy, unwell, and unproductive. It’s as simple as that. There is no question about this. Science has proven over and over that sleep is critical to our health and well-being.
Just look at the long list of illnesses associated with sleep deprivation:
- Inflammation and cell damage
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Susceptibility to common infections such as colds and flu
Then there’s the fact that sleep deprivation affects a host of everyday activities. When you’re tired, your motivation and willpower disappear. Your mood drops. It’s difficult to focus.
How important is sleep? Let me put it this way. If you want to improve your quality of life in every way, sleep should be at the top of your list. You will look better, feel better, and most likely live longer.
Benefits of a good night’s sleep
Seven to eight hours of solid shut-eye is the equivalent of the fountain of youth! Just look at this impressive list of the benefits of a good night’s sleep:
- Less hunger
- Improved concentration
- Increased productivity
- Normal blood sugar levels
- Better athletic performance
- Increased muscle mass
- Restoration and repair of cells and tissues.
- Improved immune response
When you sleep good, you look good. You have the energy to cross things off your to-do list and pour into your passion projects. You’re ready for life’s little curveballs.
It’s time to take a good hard look at your sleep habits. What’s stopping you from getting the sleep you need?
Goodbye, insomnia. Hello, sleep!
You nod off right on schedule, but by 2 AM you’re wide awake, staring at the ceiling and reliving every bad decision you ever made. You want to sleep, you need to sleep, but you CAN’T sleep. No matter how much you pray or curse or toss and turn, you can’t reclaim the sleep you so desperately want.
You, my friend, have a new and unwanted BFF: insomnia.
Insomnia has so many possible causes. Maybe you’re stressed, anxious or depressed (who isn’t these days?) Could be you’re living like a troglodyte, never leaving the house to get some fresh air and sunshine. If you’re living like a hermit, your poor circadian rhythm needs a reset. Perhaps you’ve got lousy sleep habits like drinking or eating too close to bedtime or indulging in an erratic sleep schedule.
Whatever the cause, there are simple changes you can make to get back to those sweet Zzz’s you’re craving.
Fresh air and sunshine, the key to a good night’s sleep
I get it. In this crazy, COVID world, it’s easy to huddle in place at home. I’ve been working remotely for months now. I could take advantage of my ten-minute breaks to walk around my neighborhood, but do I? Nope.
Yes. Yes indeed, I should.
There’s a reason why our mothers nagged us to go outside and get some fresh air when we were kids. It’s good for you. Our bodies and minds need a reminder that the sun is shining and there’s a great big world out there. It rejuvenates you and makes you more productive for the remainder of the day.
Just a few minutes of sunshine is all it takes to reset your internal clock. That’s why travel pros will tell you to take an outdoor walk when you arrive in a new time zone. It anchors your mind in the day so it’s ready to switch to rest mode when night rolls around.
As an added bonus, those ten minutes with your face to the sky provide a needed dose of Vitamin D and help you fight depression and anxiety.
Close the kitchen early for a good night’s sleep
It’s nice to unwind with a lovely meal and a glass of wine at the end of the day. I highly recommend it. But you’ll really regret it if you schedule that meal and drink too close to bedtime.
Only college students can get away with late-night eating and drinking. The rest of us do so with the sure knowledge that our sleep will suffer and the next morning will be rougher than it needs to be. Sure, you may feel content and relaxed as you drift off to sleep, but a few hours later you will pay the price.
Believe me, I speak from experience!
Late-night trips to the bathroom, indigestion, acid reflux (the worst!), and insomnia in the wee hours of the morning are the likely results of your indulgence. It’s just not worth it.
Caffeine and screens are not your friends
Caffeine and screen-time (yes, this includes your TV, your computer and your phone!) are also culprits that will destroy your sleep. Both prevent your body from realizing it’s tired – the blue light from the screens creates the illusion of sunlight.
They also affect the quality of your sleep, making it difficult for you to experience the deep sleep you need to restore and replenish yourself. This can leave you hitting snooze and feeling groggy in the morning.
For a good night’s sleep, follow these rules:
- Stop drinking caffeine 8 hours before bed.
- Stop eating 4 hours before bed.
- Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks or avoid it entirely.
- Stop drinking all fluids 2 hours before bed.
You’ve got a choice. Exert a little discipline before bed and you can wake up the next morning feeling like a million bucks.
Make yourself comfortable
I’ve found the best strategy for defeating insomnia is to ensure I don’t wake up in the first place. Once you wake up, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get back to sleep. That means you need to strategically eliminate potential sleep interrupters.
The first thing to look at is your sleep environment. An uncomfortable bed, a stuffy room, or a noisy neighbor will disrupt your sleep and leave you tossing and turning. Luckily there are easy fixes for all of these situations that will leave your bedroom cool, quiet, and comfortable.
- Invest in a good mattress, pillows, and bedding like your health depends on it – because it does. Mattresses should be replaced every 10 years, pillows and bedding every 2 years.
- Keep your thermostat set at 70°F (20°C) or cooler. I prefer it much cooler myself. The contrast between the cool air and my cozy blankets is so nice.
- If noise is an issue, turn on a fan or a white noise app to help you sleep through it. My bedroom is right next to the stairwell and directly above the front door at our house. I was constantly waking as various family members came and went until the ceiling fan came to my rescue.
- If allergies are a problem, make sure your bedroom is clean and dust-free. You might also consider adding an air filter.
Schedule your sleep
For a great night’s sleep, create a sleep schedule, and stick to it. You’re doing yourself no favors if your bedtime varies wildly. Set regular sleep and wake times, and honor them even on weekends and vacations. Once you maintain this for a week or two, you probably won’t even need an alarm to wake up in the morning. Now that’s a pleasant way to wake up!
Oh, those long, decadent daytime naps you love? They’ve got to go. Anything longer than 30 minutes will ruin your sleep at night. If you find yourself tired during the day, try going to bed a little earlier at night instead.
Finally, kick stress to the curb to help your mind stop racing and switch to sleep mode. This means getting some exercise during the day (not before bed!) and adding relaxing rituals to your evening. Try a nice hot bath, some quiet stretches, a short meditation, or a few pages of reading before bed. Just stay away from those intense page-turners before bed.
Snoring, the sawmill in the room
In my house, the number one sleep problem is snoring. Unlike insomnia, it is a lot harder to banish from our nights.
It’s hard to say when snoring became the enemy. It snuck into our lives. At first, it was just an occasional thing, easily stopped by a gentle nudge. Then sometime around 50, that changed. Snoring became a consistent and frustrating issue. The gentle nudge no longer worked.
I wish I could say that it was my husband’s snoring that was ruining our nights. Unfortunately, it was me sawing logs night after night. Every night he would gently tap my shoulder and say:
“You’re boring. You’re boring.”
Well, actually what he said was: “You’re snoring.” But that’s not what I heard in my sleep-deprived mind. It took me a few bewildered moments to figure out why he kept waking me up. (Poor guy, I should have bought him some earplugs!)
Full retreat to the couch
I remember wanting to cry, I was so desperately tired. It seemed I had just barely got to sleep, then, tap, tap, tap: “You’re snoring. Again.”
Sooner or later either my husband or I would head downstairs for a restless night on the couch, leaving the other to wrestle with their guilt in our queen-size bed and gratefully grab a few hours of much-needed rest.
Eventually, we conceded defeat and started sleeping in separate bedrooms. I’ve got a confession to make. It was wonderful! I was free to sprawl across the mattress with no worries of waking him. Free to toss and turn, make trips to the bathroom, and snore with abandon.
Our separate beds were our dirty little secret, something I felt embarrassed about. Then I discovered we are not alone. Many couples our age deal with the same issues and also retreat to their own solitary beds.
What can I say? It works for us — and we know where to find each other!
Is it sleep apnea?
Alas, while separate bedrooms prevented us from waking each other up, it did not solve my snoring problem. It only got worse.
At my doctor’s recommendation, I spent a night in a sleep center to test for sleep apnea. It was an expensive way to confirm that a) I snore and b) I should probably lose some weight. Neither was a news flash to me or my family, but I was happy to learn I did not have apnea.
(By the way, sleep apnea is not something you should ignore. If you think there’s a chance you have this problem, don’t skip this test!)
I continued my quest for snoring remedies. I swear tried a dozen different contraptions and sure-fixes for snoring. Unfortunately, it was a long time before I found something that worked.
There were nose strips to open my nostrils.
There were nose strips to block my nostrils so only a thin stream of air could escape when I exhaled (go figure).
Then there was this really attractive chin strap (not!) that made me feel like Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol.
My personal favorite was this weird suction device that grabbed the tip of my tongue and supposedly prevented it from relaxing back to block my airway. I kid you not! Now there’s an attractive look for the boudoir!
I was wasting money and the sleepless nights were piling up with no end in sight.
My snoring fix
Eventually, I discovered a few things that worked. I found a body pillow that makes sleeping on my side so comfortable (helpful). I got a dental appliance, similar to a mouth guard, to prevent teeth grinding and TMJ (very helpful).
The quality of my sleep improved, but no one (NO ONE) in my family would voluntarily sleep in the same room as me. I was still the snoring queen.
It wasn’t until I talked to my cousin Peter, a dentist with a passion for solving sleep issues, that I found anything that really worked for me. His suggestion? Taping my mouth shut at night.
I gotta admit, my husband really likes this idea.
Cheap, comfortable and effective
It sounds crazy, but mouth tape really works. (Thanks, Pete!) Plus, it’s easy, cheap, and comfortable. I don’t even notice I’m wearing it.
If you’d like to give it a try, just head to the nearest pharmacy and buy some paper medical tape. At bedtime, place a piece of tape over your lips (vertically works best for me, but horizontal is also fine). This will hold your lips closed and prevent you from breathing through your mouth and, hopefully, snoring.
For me, the benefits of mouth taping were obvious and immediate: no more dry mouth, no more cough and sore throat in the morning, and no more waking myself up with my own snores! While this strategy did not completely eliminate my snoring, it is so much better.
Best of all, I feel more rested. The time I used it, I felt so great the next morning that I called three friends to share my good news. It’s also why I’m writing this post. I know how miserable nighttime can be. I hope this solution will help some of you as much as it’s helped me.
If you’re curious, you can hear a discussion of this method on the Joe Rogan Experience, Episode 1506 on YouTube.
You don’t have to be tired and miserable. There are so many simple adjustments you can make to reclaim your nights and make a good night’s sleep something you look forward to again.
Good luck, sleep warriors. I know you can win the battle of the bed.
If you have other tips for a good night’s rest, please leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.