5 Steps You Can Take To Get A Restful Sleep Tonight

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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Like many parents, I embraced that my daytime fatigue was the norm. Staying up late to tuck kids into bed for the fourth time, only to collapse into bed to binge Netflix until we couldn’t keep our eyes open was our nighttime routine. Sure, I thought, we should go to bed earlier. We tried, but it didn’t seem to help much. The next day, we’d brew one cup of coffee after the next and trudge through our responsibilities. We’d try to make up for lost sleep on the weekends, oftentimes unsuccessfully.

Everything changed when I came across a book on getting a better night’s sleep. Now, if you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of spare time or interest in self-help books. I find many of them to be corny and full of sales pitches rather than practical tips. However, this book completely changed our sleep game, immediately. Yes, you read that correctly—immediately. It turns out, getting a better night’s sleep isn’t all that complicated if you’re willing to make some simple changes.

Put The Screens To Bed

Pun intended. If we want to sleep better, we’ve got to stop using screens near bedtime. According to the Cleveland Clinic, screen time before bedtime is a major culprit of why so many of us hit the snooze button the next morning. For starters, the internet is one big rabbit hole. Ever notice how you start by “just checking Facebook” for a few minutes to realizing you’ve been on your phone for two hours? One discovery leads to another, and before you know it, the clock reads midnight. Second, the blue light coming from screens tells your body to stay awake by suppressing melatonin. Melatonin is “a hormone responsible for controlling your sleep-wake cycle.” Finally, checking your email or social media can “lead to distracting emotions, thoughts and anxiety” that delay REM sleep and leave you feeling “wide awake.” Shawn Stevenson writes in his book Sleep Smarter that you should ditch the screens an hour a half before you hit the sack.

Time Your Caffeine and Alcohol Intake

I know. Who among us wants to put in place a “caffeine curfew” (as the book Sleep Smarter encourages)? The reality is that caffeine can stay in our systems for long after we’ve taken that last, lukewarm sip. The cold, hard truth is that “six hours after caffeine is consumed, half of it is still in your body.” Additionally, caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for ten (yes, ten!) hours after consumption. Likewise, alcohol can disrupt a good night’s rest. It’s a “central nervous system depressant,” and though it can “induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness,” it can actually cause “poor sleep quality and duration.” If you already have sleep apnea, “alcohol use can exacerbate the symptoms.” If you’re going to enjoy a drink, consume it at least four hours before bedtime. (Dinner, anyone?)

Make Your Bedroom a Sanctuary


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We need to make our bedrooms as dark as possible, using light-blocking window coverings and covering up any little lights (such as those from devices). Why? “Each of us possesses an internal clock—also called a circadian rhythm—which controls our natural sleep-wake cycle.” This rhythm “cues us to feel awake during the day and sleepy at night.” Basically, if there’s light, our bodies tell us to stay awake. In addition to making our rooms dark, they need to be a comfortable, cool temperature. The Mayo Clinic reports that the ideal nighttime bedroom temperature is between sixty and seventy degrees. You may have to show your partner this article, because if you’re like us, we tend to have constant temperature wars.

Go To Bed Earlier

Of course, I would bring this up. The reality is that we cannot stay up until the early morning hours, with our televisions on while we scroll through social media, and expect that we’re going to get quality shut eye. By committing to not using screens ninety minutes before bed, being mindful of our caffeine and alcohol intake, and making our bedroom dark and cool, we’re off to a great start. However, we need to also commit to getting to bed at the ideal time. Dr. Oz shares, “The deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. After 2am, your sleep becomes more superficial.” Going to bed at ten seems unrealistic, until you actually do it. By following the other tips, we found ourselves tired enough to shut off our lamps long before our usual midnight bedtime.

When Your Alarm Goes Off, Get Some Sun

As tempting as it is to hit the snooze a time or two (or ten), getting up and at ‘em is important. If you’re like me and have spent years dragging myself out of bed, here’s an easy tip. As soon as you get up, or preferably within the first hour of waking, get direct sunlight for thirty to forty-five minutes. I once saw a cancer specialist who explained to me that by getting the light into your eyes early in your day, you tell your body that melatonin is no longer needed. Plus, sunlight gets you the vitamin D3 you need. If you’re like me and have little time for multiple self-care rituals, look at it like this. Exercise and sunlight help you sleep better, so why not double up? If you can get out for a morning walk first thing in the day (or within an hour of waking), you kill two birds with one stone.

These aren’t the only sleep changes we’ve been making. However, the five I’ve shared with you can be applied immediately and effectively. Further research has taught me that there were other important factors in a good night’s sleep including daily exercise, having sex, eating healthy foods, and even what type of sheets and pajamas we wear. We haven’t implemented all the changes at once, but we are taking gradual steps.

You might be wondering if it’s working, and the answer is yes. My brain is calmer without the pre-sleep social media scroll. We have more time to read (yes, an actual book) before bed. We’ve made our bedroom even darker by replacing my husband’s alarm clock to one that dims completely. And, I can’t even believe it, but we’ve put ourselves on a noon coffee curfew, giving our bodies the full ten hours it needs to rid of the caffeine. The trade off is that we have more energy during the day and sleep more soundly at night. With four kids, we can use all the energy and rest we can get.

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