My college roommate has always said about me, “You are the most sleep-deprived person I’ve ever met!”
This is unfortunately probably more true now as a mom of four kids (who all never slept well) and a small business owner than it was in college.
As much as I read about the importance of getting more sleep, to me it always means getting less done. I’ve even said to people, “Sleep is about to become the new kale.” But I’m not on board yet personally. Knowing I might be sleeping all wrong isn’t new.
To optimize sleep and be a healthier human being, people always say to
- get at least 8 hours in bed
- have a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends (!!!)
- never use screens within a few hours of bedtime
All 3 of these would be various circles of hell for me, and so even when I am falling asleep reading my preschooler a book, when I realize I’ve been staring at the same sentence on my computer for five minutes without making any progress, or when I snap at my kids because I was very short on sleep two nights before, I still think, “I can handle it. I can get by on less sleep than is recommended so that I can get more done than the average person.”
That’s how it works for me, by the way, never super-tired on day one after a night of less than 4 or 5 hours of sleep, but pretty much a hot mess of anger, droopy eyelids and foggy brain on day two.
But I read and listen to enough about the importance of sleep that I’ve been willing to make some tiny baby steps…just don’t ask me to actually sleep more or do some sort of 15 to 30-minute wind-down before climbing under the covers. I don’t have time for that! <<This is bad advice. Don’t do what I do! See “sleep-deprived” and “angry” above.
Today let’s talk about sleep quality tools for rookies, and by rookie, of course, I mean those slightly angry, head-nodding people who are in the denial boat with me.
None of these five tools will cost you more than $20 or take more than 30 seconds of your time. You’re welcome.
5 Tips to Improve Sleep WithOUT Spending More Time in Bed!
If you can’t view the video above, click 5 Tips to Improve Sleep WithOUT Spending More Time in Bed! to see it directly on YouTube.
1. Blue light blocker glasses
I don’t actually have trouble falling asleep (see “most sleep-deprived person I’ve ever met,” above). It’s easy to fall asleep when your poor body is at such a deficit!
Recently, however, I started doing some simple things to take care of my circadian rhythm, since it will be with me for the rest of my life and has been so sorely neglected for the first 30 plus years.
Blue light blocker glasses, with the super attractive orange lenses, were my first foray into the world of better sleep.
Whenever friends tell me they have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, this is the first thing I recommend. See my full review here.
What Blue Blocker Glasses do for Sleep:
Your circadian rhythm, of course, is designed to oscillate, to go up and down just as the sun does. In the daytime, the sunlight oscillates your circadian rhythm in one direction, and when that light goes away, (at night for most of human history,) your circadian rhythm winds down as well.
Enter electrical lights and screens.
Now our circadian rhythms are very confused because somehow the sun is still “up” no matter when we go to bed, even if it’s midnight or one in the morning!
The light emitting from your lamps, smartphones, computer and TV screens tells your eyeballs to tell your brain, “It’s still daytime and time to be awake!”
Most specifically, it’s the blue light part of the spectrum that mimics sunlight the most.
That’s why wearing orange glasses cancels this blue light and convinces your eyes that perhaps the sun really has set.
Note that even if you have no apparent trouble sleeping, your circadian rhythm may be becoming off bit by bit, until suddenly you have a serious sleep problem. Just like consuming a food or putting a personal product on your skin containing a carcinogen doesn’t result in stage 4 cancer within the next five minutes, affronts to your circadian rhythm might build up over time. You need to care for your circadian rhythm all the time and try to prevent buildup of disease.
So can you create a habit of putting orange glasses on when the sun goes down?
I tend to put them on after I tuck my youngest children, ages 4 and 7, into bed. It took a couple of months to build the habit into a daily one, but now I almost feel odd at night if I don’t wear them. I’ve even worn them out to restaurants and to visit friends!
You could also try setting a reminder on your phone…ironic, right?
Blue blocker glasses are available in quite inexpensive versions, which typically look like safety goggles from a factory in orange, or a bit more expensive, but still not prohibitive, for the more sexy, you just look like you got new glasses, variety.
2. Make your computer block blue light for you
An even easier step before investing in orange glasses is to install f.lux software on your computer and turn on night mode on your smartphone.
These programs shift the temperature of your screen to reduce the blue light in synchronization with sunrise and sunset.
Best news? You don’t have to remember anything after the initial installation. If the hue gets a little orange, you found the right one. 🙂 Here are some instructions for certain models.
Why I still wear the glasses: there are other screens and electric lights around impacting my eyes and interfering with circadian rhythm. Doing both is a good one-two punch against blue light.
3. Bring the campfire into your bedroom
Don’t worry, no matches needed.
There’s a reason, many actually, that you might sleep better when camping. Typically, your eyes will avoid artificial lights when you are out in the woods. But what about the campfire you just spent a few hours staring into?
Not all light has the blue part of the spectrum, and natural fire and salt lamps are two sources of light that are very circadian rhythm-friendly.
I got a salt lamp about a year ago, and I typically plug it in when I put my orange glasses on. It makes the bedroom feel inviting and a little sleepy, and there’s something also about positive ions in the air that means I’m improving the environment of the room while it is on.
Recently we discovered that two of my kids have severe dust allergies, so as I examined all the awful places in their bedrooms where dust could hide, lamp shades made the X list.
I immediately thought of my boring-shaped salt lamp as easy to dust, and now all of our nightstands have one!
My little boys love to turn theirs down to the lowest setting as a night light, and I know that it should not be impacting their sleep negatively.
I know people who have salt lamps all over their home and use zero other artificial lights after sunset. That’s a little extreme, and I promised these would be baby steps…but for a very affordable price, you could try adding a salt lamp to your bedroom.
4. Calm-down alternatives to the bottle
That sounds like I’ve started writing a chapter in a toddler sleep book, but I promise we are still talking about adults.
We live in an age where a glass of wine or a beer at the end of a stressful day is a totally acceptable way to unwind and prepare for sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dry red as much as anyone, but ever since I read the book Why we Sleep by Matthew Walker, it’s changed my entire outlook on “just one glass.”
The author, after decades of sleep research, explains that any alcohol, even one drink, pretty much turns sleep into sedation, nullifying most of the memory-enhancing, creativity-boosting, and emotional-supporting functions of sleep, not to mention the restorative effects on your body.
The author even quips that although socially unacceptable, the best time to go to the pub would be breakfast.
This has changed my attitude about having “one drink” at night, if just one is going to cancel out any sleep I get just as much as drinking the whole bottle, I might as well just drink the whole bottle if I’m going to drink at all!
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself, this section is not about drinking a bottle of wine to get better sleep! It’s just encouraging you that if you are going to drink alcohol, it should count for something other than quick relaxation. Drink when you are out with friends…drink on date night with your spouse…but if you just need a half hour to relax before sleep, try a mug of tea instead, caffeine-free of course.
Research shows that just putting both hands around a warm mug with a drink in it for 3 minutes can begin to calm down your system.
There are many wonderful herbal teas, and my husband and I also love Dandy Blend. It’s decent straight (2 heaping spoonfuls in a mug) or even better with a splash of milk or cream and a few peppermint stevia drops. If you don’t even have the patience to wait 3-10 minutes for tea to steep, Pique Tea is not only made via immediately dissolving crystals, but packed with health benefits as well. (Note that not all Pique Teas are caffeine-free).
It hasn’t really been that difficult to shift my thinking and my physical habits to a warm beverage instead of a dry red. To support my sleep, which is a disaster in so many ways, I can make this small sacrifice.
5. If you track it, you can change it
Although I would love to recommend meditation, a detox bath, getting your magnesium levels checked, setting the perfect sleep temperature, or even splashing your face with cold water, all of those effective sleep optimization strategies seem beyond the rookie stage. You may still be in denial that you even want to install f.lux on your computer! I get it…believe me, I am right there with you.
So let’s end with a simple app.
Sleep cycle has a free version and has been very interesting. It listens to breathing and movement and probably does a fair to average job at tracking your deep and light sleep all night.
Even more importantly perhaps, the app will record how many minutes you spent in bed. This has been quite alarming to me on weeks when I think I’m doing okay at sleep!
Sometimes we have to measure something in order to improve it. So even if you don’t think your sleep has any problems, this is a fascinating little experiment if you want to play science geek like I do.
Here’s an example from my app of 1) a fairly normal night’s sleep, 2) a night when I only had 3 hours in bed, worked right up until I climbed into bed, and had to get up early to catch a plane, and 3) a night after some drinking, which according to Matthew Walker, is more sedation than restoration:
I have to say that I question the accuracy of the app when two people are sleeping in the same bed, especially the snoring part. For example, when I am away from my husband, 0 minutes snoring. When he is in bed, snoring has ranged from 9 to 101 minutes. Coincidence? I doubt it.
He did not like this data, by the way, nor did he appreciate when I played the clips of
his, I mean, some unknown person’s, snoring from the app for our kids when they were curious. 😉
What about no phones in the bedroom?
I am not a huge fan of having my phone in my bedroom, and I have totally succumbed to checking email first thing in the morning when I turned the app off, a habit I know is bad for both stress and productivity for the day. So I won’t use this app daily, but I find it interesting to get a baseline.
I recommend putting your phone on airplane mode when you use the app so that you don’t have Wi-Fi right next to your head!
If you don’t want your phone in your bedroom (there are LOTS of reasons not to do that!), you can also get alarm clocks that slowly wake you up with light 30 minutes before your wake-up time. We have this one for my daughter, but I would say that one drawback is that when you turn the alarm off, the light goes completely off too. In my book, that’s too easy to wanting to go back to sleep and too hard to see in the room, so I’m on the lookout for a version that allows the light to stay on even when the alarm sound goes off.
We’ve also often used magnesium to calm the body for sleep. Most Americans are deficient because of our poor soil quality, even if you’re eating a great diet.
My daughter just started using magnesium powder at night, and it absolutely (and quickly) helped her fall asleep faster. She had been feeling “twitchy, itchy eyes” every time she closed them and it was taking 30 minutes and more to drift off. Any night she forgets to mix the powder in her water at dinner, we use the lotion on her legs and belly. Magnesium Lotion Shop is the best as it’s their specialty! 😉
And now, I should get out of my detox bath, put my empty mug of Dandy Blend in the dishwasher, take off my orange glasses and move my salt lamp back to my bedroom, turn on the app, and get some sleep…Ironically, I dictated this post from the tub, with f.lux on my smartphone, but I don’t think the Sleep Cycle app will be very happy with my number of minutes in bed!
Just keeping it real…
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