Good sleep isn’t as simple as going to bed at the right time and living a healthy lifestyle. Nor is it a matter of just being in bed a certain number of hours every night. Quality of sleep matters at least as much as quantity.
Some of it’s down to your genes, but there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Note that these tips are not intended as medical advice.
- You go through cycles of lighter and deeper sleep during the night. If you wake up from a lighter part of the sleep cycle instead of a heavy one, you’ll feel more refreshed. These cycles happen more or less at ninety minute increments. This is why getting exactly eight hours has never worked for me. Aim for seven hours or eight and a half. Or even five and a half hours, if you’re someone who needs less sleep than most people.
- Get up at the same hour every morning – I don’t know of anyone who’s tried this who’s had poor results from it. On days off, do not sleep in more than an hour past your usual waking time. I realize this is difficult or impossible for those of you in jobs where your work shifts start at different times from day to day.
- Don’t sleep too much. Different people have different “optimal” amounts of sleep. You have to experiment to find yours. Just because the press has come out with a scary report about how people who get less than 8 hours of sleep turn into cannibals or something does not mean that’s the amount you need.
- Take a few long, deep breaths right before going to bed. I find this especially helpful when I’m stressed out and having trouble getting to sleep.
- Don’t go to bed right after watching TV or the computer. There’s something about those glowing pixel screens that stimulates the brain, putting it in an active mode instead of a restful one.
Remember that what works for one person may not work for you. You can also try napping and meditation to refresh you. Some people find them more satisfying than what we think of as normal sleep – others find just the opposite. But fortunately, this isn’t something that requires a fleet of doctors: if you feel rested, you’re doing something right. If you don’t, there’s room for improvement.
For insomnia, sometimes the best remedy is to just get up and do something, then try to go to sleep again later. You can also try cuddling with a hot water bottle.