In order for us to fall asleep, we all need to accrue a “sleep debt,” which lets us feel tired and ready for bed. Napping cuts into that sleep debt and leads to difficulties falling asleep, or sleeping in increasingly disjointed chunks. To keep your sleep schedule more regular, and your sleep more restful, it’s better to avoid napping at all and instead let yourself be a little more tired going into the evening. Worst case, if you simply must take a nap, try to keep it brief and before the early evening. A better alternative might be taking a brief walk outside, doing some stretching, or spending a few minutes on an enjoyable task (like playing a game) before returning to your to-do list.
As a health psychologist, I’m big on exercise! It helps regulate your mood, keeps your body in shape, and improves health. But regular exercise can also really improve your sleep! The key is to exercise at the right times, namely in the mornings, afternoons, or early evenings. Regular exercise helps regulate and deepen our sleep overall. However, exercising tends to amp us up for a few hours afterwards because of the hormones it tells our brain to release. So if you’re one of those people who like to hit the gym or go for a run late at night, this may be contributing to your sleep difficulties. Instead, make sure that you exercise at least three hours before bed or earlier.
We’re all familiar with the dozy satisfaction of having just eaten a nice (or large) meal. Unfortunately, while digestion does make us feel more tired, it will actually make it harder for you to fall or stay asleep. Want to make sure you don’t sleep well? Eat a nice big meal right before bed. For better sleep, make sure that you finish your last meal at least a couple hours before bedtime and avoid snacking in bed. If you can’t sleep at night and decide to get out of bed for a while to get a snack, make sure it’s something that is low in sugar and easy for you to digest. No spicy Indian leftovers!
I know, I know, it feels so nice to sleep in until noon on a Saturday (or more like 6:00 a.m. if you have a young child), especially when we as a society are so chronically sleep deprived. Unfortunately, keeping an irregular sleep schedule prevents our body’s “internal clock” from getting used to when it’s supposed to be sleepy time. Unfortunately for those of you who are late-night partiers on the weekends, waking up at the same time every morning – even if you didn’t sleep enough or sleep well – is one of the best ways to improve your ability to fall asleep and sleep soundly. Adulthood can be a drag, huh?