How to Get the Sleep You Need

You've probably heard that adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep, every night. And, like me, you've probably laughed in the face of that and said to yourself, "Whoever declared that doesn't have any idea what it's like to be balancing everything I've got going on!!"

I really hear you on this one. When my kids are in bed, and I have those precious evening hours in front of me, the last thing I want to do is carve out more time for sleep.

But when I wake up in the morning after 8 hours of solid sleep - or even 7.5 - I am a radically different human being. I can feel the difference in my body, and in my mood. When I get the sleep I need, I know it's worth whatever me-time I sacrificed the night before to get it.

Getting the sleep you need is a combination of going to bed early, so you have enough hours in bed; and, preparing yourself for sleep, so that you go to sleep quickly and sleep soundly.

Here are four things I do that help:

  1. I have my last bite at least 2 hours before bed. If your body is preoccupied with the early stages of digestion when you're trying to get to sleep, it can be hard to fall asleep - and, you may wake up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom. Instead, consider dinner the last meal of the day, with no post-dinner snacks. That will help you give your body two full hours of digestion before you hit the pillow.
  2. I choose just one thing I'm going to do after the kids are in bed. I get so excited about me-time in the evening! I tend to think I can do 5 things in an hour and a half.  But that's just not possible - instead, I end up pushing my bedtime later and later. So, choosing just one I'm going to do helps make sure I don't stay up too late.
  3. I turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed. The specific wavelengths of light that screens emit - phones, TVs, and tablets - block melatonin, one of the key hormones involved in sleep. Melatonin is at low levels during the day, and begins being released a few hours before bedtime as part of the natural circadian rhythm of our systems. Melatonin levels peak in the middle of the night. We can't fall asleep without that natural rise in melatonin at night. So if you're blocking melatonin by staring at screens right before bed, you're going to have a tough time falling asleep.
  4. I follow a wind-down routine. When you do the same thing every night before bed, you send your body the signal that it's time to slow down and get ready for sleep. For me, that routine is: getting into pajamas; taking out my contacts; brushing my teeth; washing my face; and lying down in our dark bedroom for 10 minutes of meditation. All told, it takes about 20 minutes. That gives my body and mind a chance to transition from awake-time to sleep-time, making it much easier to fall asleep.

Pick one of those four ideas, and try it for the next week. Just notice what shifts. You may be surprised by how much just a small change in your routine can make a big difference in your energy levels.