Your days lead to your nights, and your nights lead to your days. In this kind of Catch-22, if you aren’t kind to your inner sleep partner in the daytime, you nights can suffer and your next day will as well. If, on the other hand, you aren’t kind to your inner sleep partner when it comes to bedtime, you can only worsen the situation.
Our circadian rhythms, or internal clocks, regulate our waking and sleeping patterns. In normal situations, when it’s daylight, you work hard, enjoy companionship and soak in the sun to prepare for bedtime. At night, you turn off the noise and lights and let your body produce melatonin to put you into a restful sleep that prepares you for the next day.
Problem is, we often mess up our daytime preparation and then do the same with our nighttime get-ready-to-sleep routines. In the day, we stress out, drink too much caffeine, eat the wrong foods, don’t exercise and don’t get enough sun — because we’re determined to keep up and even get ahead of the Joneses. So we work, work, work, and even bring the work home with us.
Then when we’re home at night and should be relaxing and mellowing into a good sleep routine to prepare us for the next day, we repeat our daytime mistakes: We bring work home with us, we keep on the bright lights and noises, and we eat and drink too much and too late before bedtime.
Time to slow down and small the roses? Yes, that would be ideal, but even just recognizing that we’re not being kind to our body’s needs and to our circadian rhythms is a great first step. This first step is called good sleep hygiene, but good sleep hygiene begins at our waking moments and continues throughout the day and into the night.
Here are some great sleep hygiene tips from David Rakel, MD and director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Wisconsin:
- Be sure to get that daily exercise in the sun, since it also helps you sleep at night. In part, that’s because “melatonin is related to how much serotonin you have,” Rakel says.
- Turn down your thermostat. You make melatonin when your body is cooler, so you’re likely to sleep better if you aren’t too warm.
- Turn off the lights. If your bedroom isn’t completely dark, you won’t make as much melatonin.
Just some simple common-sense steps such as these can make all the difference.