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Falling asleep is not a problem for many people. Between the late working hours, relationships, homework, and the like, it’s normal to feel exhausted by the time you reach your bed in the evening and shut your lids before you even hit the pillow. However, the amount of pressure we experience in our daily lives nearly as often has an opposite effect on us. When your workday lasts over eight hours, and you come home to use the “free” time as extra time to work, every other aspect of your life falls out of balance.
Our human nature requires us to fulfill some aspects of life regularly: besides eating and sleeping, we also need to socialize, take breaks, have some fun to thrive rather than just survive. When you insist on putting one of these factors above the others, over time, it takes a toll on your health, no matter whether it’s partying all the time, overworking yourself or not eating enough. Unfortunately, most of us prioritize almost everything else from this list over sleep, and when you think about it for a second, it really shows.
Nowadays, we have a culture of endless hustling powered by caffeinated drinks. We rely on coffee to push us through all-nighters, work at three jobs at once, and still struggle with debt, financial insecurity, personal fulfillment. We try to hack our bodies into needing less rest, shock our organisms out of inertia in the morning and do all it takes to put all our efforts into being busy and productive.
As a direct consequence, 20% of adults sleep 90 minutes less than recommended on a daily basis, according to research, and between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep-related disorder. And why? Because we’ve all been trained into thinking that our productivity dictates our worth.
This kind of lifestyle is in itself unattainable – conditioning yourself into thinking you must deserve health and happiness will only have them slipping away beneath your fingers while you focus on business. In turn, impaired health and discontent with your life will strip you of the ability to function at your highest potential and as a result, decrease your efficiency at work, forming a rather sad cycle. However, there are things to be done about it. Not convinced? Bear with us.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Being tired during the day may seem like a normal occurrence to most of us, for reasons we just explained above. Common as it may be, excessive sleepiness still signifies that something is wrong with our bodies. When it happens many days in a row, it may well be a roadside message board on your way to forming a sleep disorder.
Sleep is closely tied to every other area of our health. When you feel sleepy during the daytime, it means you’re not getting enough rest during the night, whether your sleep is too short or poor in quality. In other words, this isn’t something you would typically experience regularly. If you don’t check your behavior, and this problem keeps happening, it leads to sleep deficiency, which quickly takes hold of your physical, emotional and mental well-being, often leaving you feeling weak and moody. Besides the risk of sleep disorders, excessive daytime sleepiness carries its own, present-moment issues. One good example is drowsy driving. Being excessively tired while sitting behind the wheel is regarded as equally dangerous for yourself and others on the road as driving while drunk. When you are sleep deficient, you have difficulties performing tasks you usually wouldn’t struggle with. This includes poor focus, short attention span, difficulties making decisions, solving problems, taking too long or being too sloppy with your work or school. In children, overly active behavior, tantrums, mood swings, irritability, inability to stay still or focus often accompany sleep deficiency.
These issues often occur due to poor sleep hygiene, irregular sleep patterns, low-quality rest, or an existing sleep disorder. It may be caused by a mental condition or another health problem, but it can also help in forming a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are very diverse and go beyond insomnia, although it is the most common annoyance you can face. Similar disorders are grouped into subcategories, like sleep-related breathing disorders, or circadian rhythm disorders, based on which aspect of your sleep they affect the most. Although it’s not always certain what causes them, their roots can usually be traced down to genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and, the universally favorite – poor lifestyle choices.
Maybe you’re thinking, it’s not always by choice that we delay sleep, which is true, but it happens more than you would initially presume. Teenagers, after a tiring day at school and topped with a pile of homework to do, end up with limited time to do other things, like socializing. While most of us need this aspect of life, at their age, socializing is especially of vital importance for teenagers. That’s why the majority of them will choose it over sleep, whether it’s going out with friends or just chatting over the smartphone. In fact, most teenagers sleep with phones in the bed with them, while many wake up an hour after they fell asleep to answer a text or call.
It’s not a very different story with adults, either. Due to our busy lives, most of us can think of a task that needs to be wrapped up last minute before bed, and effectively postpone our sleep more than we expected, even for hours.
On top of that, many of us deal with additional health conditions like depression, anxiety, or GI issues, that make it an even bigger challenge to have everything under control. All of these can add up gradually, and we often don’t notice it when the problem first begins. After a week of nights laying in bed, closing our eyes, only to stay awake for hours, we realize something is wrong.
Scary as they may sound, all sleep disorders can be treated and managed, if not completely cured. After having some tests done to get yourself a diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe one or a number of treatment options accordingly. Some are more narrowly focused on a specific disorder, some involve light treatment or even sleep medication, but all of them will start with introducing proper sleep hygiene.
Before we move on to bedtime routines, note that sleep disorders have a wide range of symptoms that can occur with or without the presence of sleep deprivation. If you experience any of the following, go see a doctor:
- taking too long to fall asleep
- inability to fall asleep when desired – naturally sleeping in an “off” time
- waking up during the night or too early in the morning
- difficulty waking up in the morning
- falling asleep spontaneously while engaged in passive activities like reading or watching TV
- needing a nap to get through the day
- feeling exhausted
- difficulties performing simple tasks
- waking up in pain or confused
- getting out of bed and/or engaging in an activity while asleep
Tip: if you aren’t sure how often a symptom occurs or want to make sure to keep a thorough track of your situation, it’s a good idea to start writing a sleep journal. Whatever you notice during the day and night alike will be useful for your doctor once you’re ready to go to your appointment. You can also have your partner, parent, or household member write one to cover symptoms you may not be aware of, like talking in your sleep, limbs twitching, unusual noises, etc.
What is a Bedtime Routine?
A bedtime routine is an essential aspect of establishing good sleep hygiene. It focuses on removing anything that will distract you or work you up when you should be transitioning into the relaxed, calm state needed to fall asleep. The thing is, many of us use our last waking hours to talk with friends, play video games, scroll on social media, or watch something engaging. As fun as those things are, for our bodies, they count as stress. Although it doesn’t feel like a negative thing, the adrenalin your body makes while watching a horror movie or the fresh, exciting idea you just got for your art project sends a signal to your body that you are about to do something opposite of winding down for bed. You suddenly choosing to go to sleep because you notice it’s late can’t make your body flip its course of action.
To avoid the mess and replace it with sleep-promoting, relaxing set of tasks instead, doctors never fail to advise you to check, readjust, or set up a good bedtime routine.
This should be something easy to follow that you need to tend to every evening without exception, which will help you develop a more organic and efficient transition between being fully awake and ready for bed. Over time, your brain will be trained to recognize the pattern and learn to expect sleep to follow, ensuring you will fall asleep faster, have a better quality of sleep and wake up fresh for the day. Setting up a bedtime routine is also a good start for any additional treatment required if you have a sleep disorder, and it’s used all the time as part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Bedtime Routine for Adults
When planning out your evening ritual, you need to keep in mind that it’s something you will repeat every single day. Maybe you are very excited about the concept right now, but making a list too elaborate will just set you up for failure. Likewise, writing down things that will take too long to do, like an hour-long bubble bath, makes it likely that you will quickly become annoyed with your routine and have you procrastinating sleep even more than you would have without it. Keep your steps manageable even when you’re tired, and keep them few. Here is an example to get you started:
- Take off makeup
- Brush your teeth
- Put on cozy PJs
- Set up your alarm
- Meditate for 15 minutes
Go to sleep
You can also try reading a bit, dimming the lights, praying, having a warm drink, or whatever else you can think of that might make you feel peaceful before bed, as long as you can fit it all into 45 minutes at most.
Bedtime Routine for Children
When it comes to building your children’s habits, it can get a bit trickier to get them engaged and up for it. To make any plan work, you need to explain it to them in a way that will make them understand why and how it will help them. Let them know that you already have one, or if you are just setting it up for yourself, too. You can discuss with them what it can include, and ask them what they think would be enjoyable and relaxing for them. Maybe you can do some elements of the routine together (like brushing teeth or taking deep breaths) and make it that much more fun. In any case, keeping the steps as easy as possible, and being consistent with them is of vital importance. Here are some ideas for kids to try:
- Changing into favorite PJs
- Brushing teeth
- Getting cozy in bed
- Getting hugged or kissed goodnight
- Listening to a bedtime story or lullaby
Any steps you choose to do, don’t forget to repeat them every night in the same order. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a “Brush, Book, Bed” approach to keep it fuss-free and effective.
Additional Tips for Better Sleep
What’s included in your routine mostly revolves around you winding down and priming for bedtime. However, there are things you can do outside of that time window to make your rest that much more satisfying.
- Leave your smartphone in another room. Perhaps you don’t sleep with your phone in hand, or you feel you are disciplined enough when it comes to phone usage before bedtime. Why risk it, though? As long as it’s near you, there is the temptation to check up your Facebook one last time, which soon becomes an hour-long scrolling session of a cat video comment section. Keeping it out of the room eliminates all chances of distraction. If you have to use your smartphone as an alarm, place it at the opposite end of the room, far enough out of reach that you would have to leave the bed to pick it up.
- Don’t grab your phone first thing in the morning. As much as it can cause unnecessary issues in the evening, your smartphone isn’t exactly safe in the morning, either. Picking it up the instant you open your eyes may have you lying in bed for hours while you look at the screen, making you increasingly slower as the time goes by. Speaking from experience, mornings started in front of a screen drag out into sluggish, lazy days, and worse – there’s no reason for it! You feel worse, and you get less done. Instead, get dressed, have breakfast, and do whatever you usually do in the first hour after waking up before letting yourself check the phone.
- Avoid foods high in fat and sugar in the evening. You don’t need spikes in blood pressure or sugar levels that close to bedtime. They will get you energized and alert instead of sleepy and serene. Swap that heavy dinner for a lighter version with leafy greens, vegetables or some nuts and seeds, and leave the spicy, calorie-packed foods for lunch.
- Turn off electronics in the bedroom at least half an hour before sleep. We’ve mentioned how distracting screens can be, but there’s another element – blue light. Although not inherently harmful, when used in the wrong way and the wrong time of day (think: with other lightings off, at bedtime and for an extended period at once) it can postpone our melatonin production, and automatically sleep, too. It is because our body views the light the same way it does daylight, which has a crucial influence over when our bodies will be tuned to sleep. It is made possible by the circadian rhythm in our bodies, which matches our alertness with daytime, and primes us for rest at night. In order for this process to work properly, you need to make sure not to disrupt it by giving mixed signals via TV, computer, or any other screen in your bedroom.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol before sleep. Whenever else possible, too. Although some of these substances have a sedative effect at first and may masquerade as sleep aids, they are everything but that. You might fall asleep faster under the influence of alcohol, but your sleep pays the price later, and you wake up feeling tired despite how long you’ve been asleep. If you feel you need a sleep aid, schedule an appointment at a sleep clinic, and discuss it with your doctor. These medicines are not intended to be used as quick fixes instead of actual treatments and certainly aren’t risk-free. Be responsible; consider all your other options first, and leave meds as a last resort. That being said, if you do have a medical condition, tend to the treatment plan as instructed by your doctor.
- Make your morning less busy by doing something in advance. This could be a simple preparation step like picking out your outfit or prepping breakfast or lunch; it can also mean tackling a tedious chore before it becomes urgent. If you struggle to get out of bed, setting up something to look forward to might help you resent mornings less. Leaving your dishes washed, countertops clean, or even plugging your phone to charge before hitting your bed can make a huge difference in the morning, especially if you’re in a rush.
- Exercise. When you’re rusty, and out of shape, it can be challenging to start with physical activity. You may find a million excuses why you don’t need it or why a particular exercise won’t benefit you. And, until you start, it certainly won’t. But think of it this way: for the beginning, any activity will be better than none. You can always try different things and find the one that fits you best. Increasing the time spent or the difficulty level won’t be as big of a problem later, but first, you need to put on your sneakers and start moving. Fifteen minutes of lifting weights, a 30-minute yoga session for back pain, or even planking for one minute and calling it a day is fine. Just remember that what you do with your day matters as much as your bedtime routine will. Health is a wholesome deal; you either put in the effort to improve, or you don’t. Half-attempts won’t cut it.
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Laura Garcia is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She holds degrees in writing from Drake University. When she’s not busy writing, Laura likes to spend as much as time as possible with her husband James and three-year-old son Elijah.