Imagine a perfect night: The bedroom is quiet, dark, safe, soothing. Relaxed and drowsy, you climb into bed. Within seconds of closing your eyes, you drift off. For seven or eight hours you sleep without interruption, dreaming of your favorite people and places. You waken slowly, stretching luxuriously. Energy hums through your body. You feel completely refreshed, ready for whatever the new day may bring.
Like perfect days, perfect nights require planning. And the time to start preparing isn’t when you get into bed in the evening, but when you get out of bed in the morning.
Here are some of the basic building blocks of a good night’s sleep
Have quality sleep
By night, quality matters much more than quantity. Six hours of good sleep are worth more recuperatively than eight hours of light or disturbed sleep. Less sleep actually produces more benefits. Your goal should be to sleep only as much as you need to wake up refreshed the next day. Don’t feel that you have to log eight hours.
Sleep on schedule
To keep your biological clock in sync, get up at the same time every day, regardless of how much or how little you’ve slept. While your bedtimes should also be fairly consistent, never force yourself to try to sleep when you’re not tired.
By one wit’s definition, a nap is “any rest episode up to twenty minutes in duration involving unconsciousness but not pyjamas.” According to one survey, 42 percent of college students, whose schedules offer the luxury of daytime respites, nap five or six times a week. The older we get, the more we nap. Sixty-to-seventy-year-olds take more than eleven naps a week; virtually all seniors over eighty nap often.
But for many people naps make sleep problems worse. Even though they may feel refreshing, they can undermine sleep efficiency, so that you end up spending more time in bed, yet sleeping less. After a long afternoon siesta, you may find it harder to fall asleep and may wake more often during the night. A better alternative for insomniacs is to take stress breaks during the day and use these ten-minute time-outs for relaxation exercises or meditation.
Caffeine and other stimulants
Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant. Even when heavy sippers insist that coffee doesn’t disturb their sleep, all-night sleep recordings indicate that they do sleep differently. Late-evening caffeine can make it harder to get to sleep, diminish deep sleep, and increase night-time awakenings.
As scientists have learned more about the effects of various chemicals on the brain, they’ve identified foods that make us alert and others that make us drowsy. Proteins, such as meat, are energizers, whereas carbohydrates, such as pasta, are sedatives.
Whatever your choice for a nighttime nibble, keep it light. And even though you may feel drowsy initially, you’ll probably toss and turn through the night. Avoid raw vegetables, fruits, beans or peanuts, which can cause gas. And try to stay away from snacks such as potato chips or pastries, which are high in fat; they take a long time to digest.
Before you can slide into sleep, you’ve got to shift gears, leaving behind the worries and woes of the waking world.
Here are some of the good night texts you can use for yourself
‘Tiredness is overpowering my mind making my body lose strength. Soon the doors of my mind will close and I will enter the dreamland! Sweet dreams and good night!’
‘Angels are there to protect and guide me in whatever I”ll do. Tonight, they will take me to a place where my dreams will come true.’
What if you’ve got a big day coming up and you want to make sure you’ll get a good night’s sleep? Going to bed early to get extra rest can backfire. If you aren’t sleepy, you’ll simply lie awake. If you start worrying about not sleeping, you may get hardly any rest at all.
A better strategy is to get up earlier the day before. “Prior wakefulness,” as scientists call it, enhances the quality and quantity of sleep. The longer you stay awake, the faster you’ll fall asleep, the more time you’ll spend in deep sleep and the longer your total sleep time will be.
We’ve all got rhythms—in the flow of our hormones, the division of our cells, the sensitivity of our taste buds, the sharpness of our memories. Most of the time, we’re unaware of these cycles, but one rhythm—sleeping and waking—is too obvious and too important for any of us to ignore.
Some common sleep problems are really rhythm disturbances, often caused by the demands of our high-speed, nonstop world. If you have a problem falling asleep too late or too early you can consult a doctor or a sleep center to get your rhythms back into sync with the world around you.