As a health psychologist, I know that our brains excel at making associations between things. As a person with common sense, I know that people tend to really like sleeping and having sex. One of the problems of chronic sleep issues is that the bedroom becomes associated with lots of different activities: watching TV, checking FaceBook, working on a laptop, or laying awake wishing you could sleep.
Clean the slate! Move the TV out of the bedroom and move all non-sleeping or sexing (is that even a word?) activities to other rooms or, if you’re tight on space, at least not on the bed. When getting into bed is only associated with sleepy time (or sexy time), it helps our minds relax and our brains send signals that it’s time to fall asleep.
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!