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Sleep Better Without Sleeping Longer

Jan 31, 2022

Virtually every psychotherapy patient and executive coaching client I have spoken to tells me they have no time to sleep the recommended 7 to 9 hours for adults. And although some ARE able to find a little extra time for shut-eye once we start to shift priorities, there are still many of you who simply must keep the hours you do. And that’s fine!

In these cases, I recommend making the following 5 shifts in your daytime routines that will cost you little-to-no extra time at all. Maybe just a change in your awareness while you’re going through your normal morning, daytime, and evening routines.

1. Go to Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day

This applies for during the week as well as the weekends! If you make yourself wake up at the same time each day and avoid taking naps, that’ll likely help set and/or reset your Circadian Rhythm. You want to train your brain and your various bodily systems (i.e., Central Nervous System) to wind down and relax and consistency is the best way to do that.

If you do this consistently, you will soon feel sleepy around the same time each night and have an easier time falling asleep.

2. Create and follow a simple nighttime routine.
Start by shutting off all electronics 2 hours before your set sleep time. This helps signal to our brains that it is time to settle down for the night. 

Adjust the order in which you complete your nighttime tasks so that they progress from more active to less active. For example, you may do the following activities in this order:

1. Walk the dog

2. Make lunch for tomorrow

3. Lay out clothes for tomorrow

4. Make tomorrow’s to-do list (seated)

5. Read

6. Meditate/listen to music (in bed)

This will help you transition from busy time to bed time, as it signals to your body and mind that it is time to relax.

3. Exercise consistently, but not right before bed!

It really doesn’t take too much movement to keep your body functioning sufficiently so it can release the needed hormones during the day to help you function, and at night to help you sleep.

I recommend about 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise (to the level where you work up a sweat), and to stand as often as you can throughout the day, which helps you maintain the benefits of a morning workout.

If your schedule only allows you to workout at night, finish all exercise (except light walking) at least 3 hours before lights-out so your body can calm enough to sleep. If you cannot find time in your day to work out, look for opportunities to go for brief walks, like if a work meeting ends early.

4. Reduce consumption of inflammation-causing foods and beverages

Inflammation is a natural process the body uses to keep you healthy; think of when you break a bone, sprain an ankle, or get sick.

However, if you have chronic inflammation caused by any of the main culprits (sugar and sweeteners, heated vegetable or seed oils, excessive alcohol, gluten, and refined carbohydrates), your body is going to react as if it is in a “low-grade” fight-or-flight response and
be too aroused to go to sleep.

If you feel as though there are foods that are causing you problematic inflammation, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

5. If you wake at night, find out if you’re ‘salty’ or ‘bland’.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and are frustrated by that, your brain is going to associate those emotions with being in bed.

If so, this means you’re ‘salty’ and if that is the case, you want to un-train your brain by getting out of bed and doing something soothing (no electronics!) until you are sleepy again, then return to bed.

If you don’t fall back asleep within about 15 minutes, repeat this process until you get to sleep.

If you’re ‘bland’ and you don’t get all bent-out-of-shape when you wake up, try regulating your breathing by inhaling for a count of ‘4’, and exhaling for a count of ‘6’. This should help lull you back to sleep