Sleep Better: How to Create a Sleep-Conducive Life

This post is the second half of a two-part series on getting better sleep. On Tuesday, we talked about the effects that excessive light exposure can have on our sleep quality and our weight. I shared the findings of a study done by the National Sleep Foundation reflecting the negative effects of late-night use of brightly lit technologies, especially interactive technology like games, chatting, and texting. I also mentioned a book by T.S. Wiley called Lights Out, which highlights the ill-health effects of the “eternal summer.” Today I’ll share a few suggestions with you on how to set yourself up for a great night’s sleep.

Managing Time, Managing Mind

In Tuesday’s post, I mostly talked about quality, not quantity of sleep. But in both cases, managing our evening hours wisely is crucial. I recognize that we all have busy lives. Some far busier than others. I will never be able to step into your shoes and understand your struggles. I put that out there now, because the topic of time management can be a hot button for some, especially single parents or folks caring for an elderly parent. I get that I don’t get it. At this point in my life, I have to feed myself, my husband, and my dog, and those responsibilities are shared between my husband and me. This puts me at a different starting place than someone who has three kids and no partner. Ok, disclaimer out of the way. Moving on.

After everything I just said, I still believe that there’s ALWAYS room to improve upon where you are today, especially if you answer yes to this question:

Does your late night ritual involve the TV? Facebook? Candy Crush? Texting?

I’m not going to minimize the value of spending some time veging out on the couch doing a mindless activity at the end of a long day. It’s important to schedule in time to relax, and I don’t think we do enough of it. But how we choose to relax could mean the difference between waking up the next morning refreshed and needing 3 cups of coffee to avoid falling asleep at the wheel on the way to work. 

Even if it’s just minute by minute adjustments, there’s room for change to create an evening routine more conducive to better sleep.

photo sourced through Creative Commons originally from

photo sourced through Creative Commons originally from

Take Control of Your Evening

This advice could actually extend to a number of situations throughout the day. It’s just as easy to get distracted the moment you get to work as it is the moment you get home. Apply these simple strategies to whichever environment is most helpful to you, because at the end of the day, the more control you have over your time, the less anxious you will feel as your head hits the pillow each night, even if it wasn’t a perfectly productive day.

Make a list, then prioritize

Yes, it takes extra time to make the list. But it’s worth it in the end when you can spill everything that needs to happen onto the page (and maybe even the things you want to happen as well), then circle the ones that MUST happen that evening. It can give you ideas on how best to make it happen in the limited time between work and sleep. Here’s an example list:

  1. make/eat dinner*
  2. do laundry*
  3. water plants
  4. walk the dog*
  5. call mom 
  6. mend a sweater
  7. change the cat litter box
  8. clean the living room
  9. watch an episode of Breaking Bad
  10. listen to the newest episode of the WTF podcast*
  11. take a shower
  12. get ready for bed*

Let’s say I want all of these things to happen between 6pm and 10:30pm. That’s 4.5 hours to do 12 things. I’ve put a * next to the “MUST-happen-tonight” things, because I am all out of socks and laundry HAS to happen, and my favorite comedian ever is being interviewed on WTF and I can’t wait to listen. 

Ok, so how do I make this list happen? What things can I combine? What things can I leave for tomorrow night’s list and still go to bed relaxed?

What if I came up with something to cook that required 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and I listened to WTF while I prepared the ingredients? (maybe some chicken thighs, root veggies, and broccoli, all in the same pan?) I could throw in a load of laundry and take the dog for a walk while the food is in the oven. What if I called mom while I watered the plants and picked up the living room? I can throw the laundry in the dryer as I move toward getting ready for bed. That’s 7 out of 12 things and 100% of the “must-dos,” including one that was strictly about pleasure. Pretty good!

Be happy with that, and don’t compromise that 10:30 bed time to try to get one more thing done. Tomorrow, watching Breaking Bad and folding the laundry can happen at the same time, right?

sleep better

Set and stick to a sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day helps regulate your circadian rhythm. It’s tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, but it always makes Monday a lot harder to bear. If you’re true to weekday schedule and can let go of the parts of the list that can be put off until tomorrow, you might not need to sleep in on the weekends anyway.

Create Your “Sleep Better” Environment

Setting up your space for sleep is crucial. Last week we talked about reducing your light exposure close to bedtime. This includes moving from bright overhead lights to softer lamps, turning the TV off and leaving the phone alone.

Consider removing the TV from your bedroom entirely.

Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. In order to begin training your mind that when you’re in the bedroom, it’s time to get sleepy, keep other distractions like the TV and the laptop out of the bed and out of the room.

Infuse relaxing essential oils into the space an hour before bed

Lavender oil is used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation. There are both electric options and options that burn the oil with a small tea light candle, but be sure to only use pure lavender essential oil, not something “blended” or “scented” with lavender. Candles from department stores or scented wall plug-ins are not going to have the same effect.

Create a dark, cool, cave-like room for sleeping

Make sure there’s good air circulation in the room by using a fan or turning on the AC. Excessive heat can often result in a poor night’s sleep. If you can find blackout curtains or shades for your windows, consider installing some to prevent light pollution from outside from affecting your sleep. Eye covers are also great to ensure that light doesn’t disrupt your sleep.

photo credit: niekverlaan. source linked

photo credit: niekverlaan. source linked

Sleep Better: Why Your iPhone is Ruining Your Sleep

Ahh, sleep. That ever-elusive state we keep chasing as our lives fill with tasks and obligations. Doesn’t time seem to speed up the moment you get home for the evening? Those hours between work and bedtime go so quickly. When you think about your game plan — IF you think about your game plan — does it seem reasonable to fit in everything you need to do before your head hits the pillow each night? Do you budget in time to unwind before bed? Do you honor your intentions for your evening?

image credit: fitnessjunke

image credit: fitnessjunke

Those few hours before bed are precious, but how we spend them is sometimes not up to us … or is it? Is there a baby crying? A neighbor calling? Did you bring work home with you? Is the sink full of dishes? Laundry? Will it ever end? How much control over our evenings do we really have? And what could be gained from recognizing our own power in our everlasting struggle to get enough zzz’s?

Sleep Better Series

Over the course of the next couple of posts, I’m going to address some of the challenges we face in getting enough quality sleep and how a lack thereof might be affecting our health.

Today, we’re talking about how technology could be playing a role in:

  1. Fewer hours of sleep each night
  2. Lower quality of the sleep you are getting
  3. Weight gain

And we’ll wrap up with a few suggestions for reducing the role technology plays in the last few hours of the day.

Friday, we’ll talk about some strategies for:

  1. Taking control of your evening
  2. Creating an environment in your bedroom conducive to falling asleep and staying asleep
  3. Creating a mindset and lifestyle for better sleep

Light and Sleep

We all need different quantities of sleep, but what’s nearly universal is our need to prepare to have a good night’s sleep. We need our bodies to work with us in our pursuit of better quality sleep – it’s not all about quantity!

sleep better

image credit: Army Medicine. Source file linked

Question: Does your late night ritual involve the TV? Facebook? Candy Crush? Texting?

In her 2000 book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival (affiliate link), T.S. Wiley argues that we’re expose to too much stimuli, mostly in the form of light (including cell phone light), too close to bedtime to properly prepare for sleep. She draws connections between our ever-decreasing (and ever-crummier) sleep and our increasingly long days resulting from our technologically lit-up nights. She even makes a claim that these “long days and short nights” are tricking our bodies into believing that we’re in a perpetual state of summer, and therefore a perpetual state of “storing for the winter” (read weight gain). Our bodies haven’t evolved quickly enough to offset the massive lifestyle changes that have come with technological advances – more on that in a second. My point right now is that the way we spend our evenings in those few hours before bed could very possibly affect the sleep we get each night. 

Quality and Quantity

In 2011, The National Sleep Foundation released the results from the Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep. They share some very interesting findings:

The poll found that 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights [emphasis added]. More than half (60%) say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night (i.e., snoring, waking in the night, waking up too early, or feeling un-refreshed when they get up in the morning.)

About two-thirds (63%) of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week. Most say they need about seven and a half hours of sleep to feel their best, but report getting about six hours and 55 minutes of sleep on average weeknights. About 15% of adults between 19 and 64 and 7% of 13-18 year olds say they sleep less than six hours on weeknights. (source)

Are those numbers crazy to you, or do they sound familiar?

Wiley tells us that our ancient ancestors used to sleep 4,370 hours a year. That’s almost 12 hours a night, compared to our current <7 hours! We’re getting fewer hours of lower quality sleep, and there could be a pretty universal reason for it.


sleep better

image credit: master-of-design on deviantART. sourced linked

Interactive Technology

Research by Michael Gradisar, PhD, Flinders University (Australia) parses out the difference between “passively received technologies” and “interactive” ones before bed. Watching TV or reading by a light is passively receiving technology. Playing a video game, texting, or chatting on social media are interactive, which require more brain power. Gradisar hypothesizes that the latter could cause a greater sleep disruption than the former. (source)

“Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.” – Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital


In short, those activities I mentioned earlier — the ones that you do on your phone — are a very likely culprit if you’re having trouble sleeping or waking up exhausted. 

sleep better

photo credit: Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute

Endless Summer and Weight Gain

Summer is one of my favorite seasons, but an endless summer could be causing us serious problems.

Long days and short nights of summer in our natural world precede colder, darker months of famine. Our bodies evolved to crave sugar and store fat during the summer months to ensure that we’d have enough fat to survive a winter famine. This translates physiologically to rising insulin levels and sugar cravings.

The longer we are exposed to light, the longer cortisol (a stress hormone) is produced in our bodies. The longer we produce cortisol, the more water we retain, the more midsection body weight we gain, and the less melatonin (a chemical essential to proper sleep) we produce.

The less sleep we get, the less effective our immune systems are, and the less we’re equipped to fight off diseases from the common cold all the way to rogue cancer cells.

Endless summer means endless overload for our bodies and almost guaranteed weight gain.

All that dieting, all that exercising, all that calorie counting goes out the window if you don’t get enough sleep. Why fight an uphill battle?

Unplug Your Evenings

Separating yourself from your personal device long before your head hits the pillow sounds impossible. After all, our phones are now our connection to nearly everything except the person sitting next to us (and maybe even that person too — boy am I happy that Scrabble phase is over!). The advice I’m going to share might not come naturally at first, but if you just give it a try, you might be surprised at what you find.

Leave your phone in a different room at night.

Or at the very least put it on silent and plug it in on the opposite side of the room. Try not to be looking at your phone as you climb into bed at night. The bright light from the phone doesn’t belong in bed with you, nor do the beeps and pings of texts and emails. The NSF study I mentioned earlier reports that about 20% of generation Y and Z’ers are awakened by a phone call, text, or email multiple times a week. Try using a regular alarm clock or at the very least disabling notifications on your phone at bedtime.

photo credit: espensorvik. source linked

photo credit: espensorvik. source linked

Turn off your computer and the TV at least an hour before bed. 

Related to the point above, but taking it a small step further into the hour before bedtime, this tactic reduces exposure to bright lights and extra stimuli as you’re winding down. With all the awesome TV that’s available to us these days, it’s tempting to watch all the way up to the second it’s time for bed. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are stressful to watch, however, and that stress can affect our ability to fall asleep — even though it’s fiction. Wrapping up the TV watching and web surfing (on the computer or the phone) an hour before bed would be ideal. Consider charging your phone with the sound off in another room an hour before bed to avoid the temptation.

Now it’s your turn! Do you have any suggestions for tuning out technology before bed? Share in the comments below.

Stay tuned for more suggestions for sleeping better coming up on Friday.

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