Do you know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? In the fairytale that I grew up hearing, a young girl enters into the home of three bears while they are away. She tries their porridge remarking that one is too hot, another is too cold, and the third is just right. Tired, Goldilocks retreats to the sleeping chambers testing each of the three beds finding one to be too hard, another too soft, and the third to be just right. I feel a bit like Goldilocks at the moment (minus the breaking and entering and petty larceny), as I am in search of a sleep routine that is ‘just right.’
If you are lucky enough to effortlessly get a full eight hours of undisturbed, nocturnal tranquility, congratulations—keep it up! As for the rest of us who experience restless nights, interrupted slumbers, or a dearth of shuteye, sleep can sometimes be a challenge. For most of my life I have taken a good-night’s sleep for granted. I was lucky enough to be born a morning creature and never needed more than one chime on my alarm to arouse me even in the wee hours. For some reason, my “skill” for sleep has been a bit rusty as of late. Nowadays, I feel doomed to a nightly series of short naps rather than one full sleep. Thirst, noise, physical discomfort, weird dreams, and trips to the loo are the norm rather than the exception. In an attempt to put an end to this downward spiral, I am now on a quest to find the “just right” conditions for a good night’s rest.
There are a number of sleep stealers, however, I will break them down into three categories: Physical Fiends, Mental Miscreants, and Environmental Enemies (tee-hee)—in this post I do not consider medical conditions or side effects to medication that may inhibit sleep.
Anything that we physically do to ourselves that worsens sleep, I will dub a ‘physical fiend.’ Two obvious fiends include alcohol and caffeine. The consumption of either near bedtime can lead to lighter (non-REM) and disrupted sleep. Alcohol and caffeine are also diuretics which can mean increased trips to the restroom during the middle of the night.
Exercise—both cardio and strength-training—can be too stimulating for your body too close to bedtime and make it harder to fall asleep.
A final fiend that many of us confront is an irregular sleep cycle. Unfortunately, your body does not consider a scarce four hours one night and ten the next a solid 7 hours each. Irregular sleep patterns and bedtimes can make it harder for us to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up from sleep—this is all around bad news.
Stress and anxiety can lead to poor-quality sleep. New research suggests that anxiety can cause sleeping problems and sleep deprivation can cause anxiety disorders—an exhausting and stressful loop. Fortunately, there is much that can be done to quell and conquer these internal stressors including meditation, exercise (earlier in the day), and the practice of a relaxing bedtime routine (of course, one should also seek professional treatment if necessary).
Room temperature, mattress quality, and levels of noise and light can all affect your sleeping experience. For the deepest sleep it is recommended to limit outside stimulation as much as possible, which may include wearing ear plugs, using black-out curtains, and setting the room temperature to a slightly cooler degree. Personally, my biggest enemy is my mattress. The mattress itself is too hard, a memory foam mattress topper I ordered—too soft—and a plush cotton one—just right (or so it seems at the moment…).
My Goldilocks experience with sleep deals with all three of these demons. I have experimented with my caffeine levels (more here), stress management (more here), and mattresses all in the hope that I will find the ‘just right’ sleeping conditions to allow for refreshing, uninterrupted sleep. Like most things in life, developing a ‘just right’ sleep routine is a personal journey. I wish you a restful slumbers, Dear Reader, and the best night of your life!