By Dominika W. Kriozere, Esq.
Like so many of us, I am an insomniac. Or, more accurately these days, I am a recovering one, thanks to the small changes I made in my daily routines. In my ongoing pursuit of a great night’s sleep, I have researched and tested a lot of tips and techniques, and finally arrived at a combination of sleep hygiene habits that work quite well for me. I want to share what I’ve learned in the hope that it might be helpful for you as well.
Probably the most important piece of advice I found in my research is that a good night’s sleep starts in the morning. Our bodies operate according to circadian rhythms, connected to our internal clock – which is set by the brain but can be affected by certain environmental cues. One of the most important circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle, and one of the most important external factors influencing that cycle is light. Blue light, which is naturally abundant in the early morning, stimulates alertness. This also signals to the brain that in about 12 hours it should start winding down.
Because of the light’s impact on your sleep-wake cycle, the best thing you can do to be able to fall asleep in the evening is to go outside and get natural light exposure as soon as possible after waking up. Depending on the season and the time you get up it might be more or less doable, and whenever natural light exposure is not possible, there are lamps that simulate the blue light that wakes us up. The very first thing I do every morning is to go outside – some days I go for a walk, and every day I meditate and work out, both in my backyard. Not only does it make me feel more awake in the morning, but it also makes it easier to fall asleep at night.
On the flip side of the impact of light – and I’m sure you’ve heard this before – it’s equally important to avoid blue light in the evening in order to stimulate the production of melatonin. I use software that gradually changes my computer’s screen display to eliminate blue light as it gets closer to bedtime. Additionally, although I don’t use them as often as I should, I got a pair of fancy blue light blocking glasses for daytime work, and a pair of amber glasses to wear if I use any electronics in the evening. However – and this is another important change I’ve made – I rarely use my electronics after 7 or 8 pm, with the exception of my iPad, which I use to read books (with the dark theme and nighttime mode on of course). I also don’t bring my phone to my bedroom and don’t have a TV in the room.
Going to bed and waking up at consistent times every day, including days off, makes it easier for the internal clock to work properly. According to sleep specialists, most people should go to sleep before 10 pm. That’s what I aim for, and I wake up naturally between 5 and 6 am. I still have occasional nights when I struggle to fall asleep; if I’m not asleep within 20-30 minutes, I get up and read for a bit, and then try again. It usually works.
Making the bedroom as cool (in air temperature, not necessarily décor), dark and quiet as possible have also made a difference, as has developing a nighttime routine designed to quiet down my ever-working mind. Sometimes, when the mind refuses to shut off, I use breathing exercises to calm down my nervous system. A simple yet effective breathing technique involves breathing in through the nose for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out through the mouth for 8 seconds.
Finally, have you heard of a “sleep divorce”? It’s all the rage these days! I joke but, while previously a somewhat controversial bit of advice, not sleeping in the same bed or room as your spouse or partner is now frequently recommended by sleep specialists. I’m a light sleeper, sensitive to sound and movement; my husband is a restless one. Combined, this means that sometimes I wake up a few times during the night and don’t get sufficient rest. A while ago, I started sleeping in our guest room every few nights, or whenever I feel I really need undisturbed sleep. It’s amazing how much more connected you feel with your spouse and other important people in your life after 7 or 8 hours of great sleep.
There are different types of sleep disorders and difficulties (e.g., not being able to fall asleep vs. waking up multiple times during the night) and different reasons for disturbed sleep (e.g., anxious thoughts, restless movements, or melatonin deficit). What you need to improve your sleep might be different than what has worked for me. Some of these tips are universal (exposure to light in sync with the circadian rhythms); others are as individual as we are. I encourage you to try different tips and techniques for yourself to find the best solution. Better sleep is within reach, and even incremental changes in the quality and length of your sleep will improve every other aspect of your life.
Attorney Dominika W. Kriozere practices transactional real estate and business law in Los Angeles. She is also a valued member of CLA’s 2020-21 Health and Wellness Committee and a well-being coach who helps people live more fulfilling and purposeful lives. She enjoys talking about all things health and wellness and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.