The week before school started back up, we always began practicing getting up earlier by going to bed earlier. After the looser schedule of summer with sleeping in and staying up late, we would complain about “getting ready for bed” while it was still light outside! Getting ready included putting book bags by the door and laying out clothes the night before, even though we were sure to want to wear something else by morning.
Getting ready for bed is an important step in sleep hygiene. Establishing a routine is a matter of trying things out until we find a pattern that works for us. Dimming our lights is a good starting point. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is suppressed by too much light. Turning off electronics and TV an hour or two before bed signals our body to begin winding down. Researchers tell us that even blue re-charging lights are better kept in another room than the bedroom. For some, a digital clock is better kept in the drawer. It is normal to wake up occasionally during the night, but for some sleepers, clock watching can feed into anxiety about not getting enough sleep or oversleeping. (Sleepcycle.com is an interesting approach to help in the gradual waking up process rather than a startling alarm).
Lowering the temperature is another way of helping our bodies in preparing for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping is best between 60 and 67 degrees. A warm bath or a hot cup of tea may seem counterintuitive, but these, too, can be a helpful part of the process of sleep and the gradual dropping of body temperature.
Applying cognitive behavioral strategies is the subject of the next column. Turning off our mental chatter and the worries of the day is not as simple a task for some as dimming external lights and turning down the thermostat, but they are a good place to start.