Do you remember what bedtime was like when you were a small child? You probably had a special bedtime ritual or routine.
I’ll bet it went something like this: First you a had a warm bath, filled with lots of bubbles for sure, along with fun bath toys. After the bath, while Mom or Dad dressed you in your pajamas, you probably talked about your day, asked questions and had your toes tickled. Then while you were tucked into bed, it was time for a favorite story, and maybe a song or a prayer. Finally, a goodnight kiss and lights out.
Eventually, every parent learns the importance of a bedtime ritual or routine to allow children to relax, unwind from the day and get ready to fall asleep. As we grow up, it seems we usually forget the importance of spending time to prepare the body for sleep. It is equally important for adults to have a bedtime routine as it is for children.
With today’s stressed and hurried lifestyle, we all need to allocate time to prepare our minds, brains and bodies to unwind and relax as the first step toward falling asleep and achieving a restful, restorative night’s sleep.
Remember those light-sensitive neurons in the hypothalamus and the importance of circadian rhythm of light and dark? We need to allow our brains to wind down from both daylight and all of the artificial light with which we are constantly surrounded.
An extremely important aspect of preparing the brain for sleep is limiting light exposure. This means that we must turn off our televisions, computers, cell phones, and tablets at least 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime. Preparing for bed is not the time for stimulating or scary movies, TV programs, or video games.
Bedtime is the time to allow the wakeful inhibiting neurons to do their job, and they need increased darkness. Instead of watching screens, try reading, listening to music or an audio book, writing in a journal, doing a craft, or playing an enjoyable game with your partner or children.
Speaking of your children, the hour before bed is the time to unwind, not do homework. Considering homework and studying for that important test, remember that it is during deep sleep when memories are encoded and sleep is critical to learning. Even if your children are older or are teenagers, it is still important to have a bedtime routine and it must include turning off computers, televisions, cell phones, and video games.
The need for darkness should also include the bedroom. As much as possible, it is important to have darkening or blackout shades/curtains to shut out outdoor lighting. If you have a lighted alarm clock or clock radio, turn the light to the dimmest setting and turn the clock face away from directly lighting your bed.
By the way, for all of us women who wonder why our husbands seem to get to sleep faster and sleep better than us, wonder no longer. It’s a scientific fact that, on the whole, men do sleep better than women. There are differences in sleep stage cycles and circadian rhythm patterns in men and women that may account for differences in quality of sleep in men and women.
For the best night’s sleep, your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Believe it or not, we sleep better in a room with a cool temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, because our body temperature naturally drops as we fall asleep.
However, that being said, some people sleep better between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s important to experiment to find the best cool temperature for you. You should be comfortably covered, without the need for layers of blankets. Babies need it a little warmer and the best temperature for a baby’s room is between 67 to 72 degrees.
So, let’s say you have done all of the above things, but you still can’t get to sleep. Let’s not forget the relaxing effects of nice, hot bath. Adding relaxing essential oils to the water can help make the bath even more effective. Experiment with scents you find appealing and relaxing. Here is a list of seven scents that are used in aromatherapy for relaxation: lavender, vanilla, rose, geranium, jasmine, sandalwood, and citrus. Depending on individual reactions, both sandalwood and citrus can be either stimulating or relaxing.
Did you know that magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium, as well as trace minerals, are as important to our nervous system and a good night’s sleep as they are for our bones and teeth? It turns out that the best time to take mineral supplements is before bed. They are absorbed better while we sleep and help to calm the nervous system so we can fall asleep easier.
If you suffer from leg cramps, jerky limbs, or restless legs, this could be a sign that you are not taking enough minerals in your diet or through supplements. As it happens, restless leg syndrome is a real thing and tendency toward it is a genetic trait. You may experience restless legs when you are overly tired or overly stressed, as well as when you are not getting enough minerals. In those situations, supplements of minerals can help relieve the symptoms.
I have a tendency toward restless legs, it runs in my family. I have found that taking minerals before bed prevents the problem. I can always tell I am deficient in taking minerals when my legs start that awful jerking just as I’m trying to go to sleep. That’s when I get out of bed and take some mineral supplements.
I have found one of the best complete mineral supplements, for me, is from a product called “Repair” from the company called Ola Loa. It’s a powder that is mixed with water and is instantly absorbed by the body. For me, drinking it brings relief almost instantly. I also take a homeopathic preparation called “Restful Legs” when my legs start acting up, and it is extremely helpful.
In addition to different supplements, have you considered diet? A heavy meal of meats, fats and carbs late at night, or one rich in fats, sugars and caffeine can contribute to sleeplessness. A diet rich in whole grains, leafy greens, and colorful fruits and vegetalbes is both anti-inflammatory and rich in anti-oxidants. Such a diet can balance your mood and enhance synthesis of neurotransmitters involved in relaxation and stress release.
Still can’t sleep? Remember the neurochemicals GABA and Melatonin? They are both available as supplements. One of the best, natural sleep aid supplements I have found is called Sleep Science NightRest, from a company called Source Naturals. It combines GABA and Melatonin with herbal preparations and minerals proven to help relaxation and sleep.
There are also herbs which have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine to promote relaxation and sleep. Among them are Ashwagandha, Lemon Balm, Passion Flower, and Valerian. Please remember that herbs are medicines and should always be used with caution. Before taking herbal medications, check for side effects and interactions with pharmaceuticals your doctor has prescribed.
There are numerous safe and effective homeopathic preparations. Check with your local health food store for information and recommendations on herbs and homeopathic preparations. Experiment to find what works best for you. We are all different and reasons for difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep vary.
My final suggestion, but also a very important one, is the practice of meditation. Listening to music designed specifically for mediation and to quiet the mind helps a person relax into a meditative state. There are also numerous audio tapes and Apps that provided guided meditation for both relaxation and sleep.
Check out a website called The Tapping Solution. They provide a series of guided mediations for a variety of personal issues, as well as relaxation and sleep. The concept of Tapping, is to tap on specific acupressure points on the body, face, and head while listening to a guided meditation. They have a wonderful APP that helps you fall asleep almost instantly.
I hope this series on sleep has proven of interest and benefit to you.
A book I found helpful in preparing this series is SLEEP, by Nick Littlehales.
In addition, there were several websites that provided sources of information:
Biological Rhythms During Residence in Polar Regions: Josephine Arendt, Chronobiology International, 2012 May 29 (Published online 2012 April 12)
National Sleep Foundation: Chapter 1: Neurobiology of Sleep
Sleep, Rhythms, and the Endocrine Brain: Influence of Sex and Gonadal Hormones: Journal of Neuroscience 2011 November 9 (online)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
Overview of Sleep: The Neurologic Processes of the Sleep-Wake Cycle
White Paper: How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?
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