Do a Relaxation Exercise
Taking a few minutes to do a short relaxation exercise just before getting into bed is an excellent way of letting go. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Great benefits can be gained by simply lying on your back in the corpse pose (hands at your sides, palms upward, feet slightly apart). Close your eyes, and systematically address every part of your body. Start at your scalp and move toward your toes. Begin by softening your forehead, eyes, face, and jaw. Tensing and then releasing each muscle group help tight muscles loosen, especially those in the neck and shoulders. Continue giving attention to each area of your body—the arms, the trunk, and the legs—until you reach your toes. Surrender to gravity.
Stay in this relaxed state for a few minutes, letting the floor support you. Focus on your breathing, releasing all other concerns. Let your breath come from deep in your abdomen, and let it flow smoothly, slowly, and evenly. This simple exercise is a way of telling your mind and body that it is OK to stop thinking, working, and struggling.
It’s best to eat a light meal in the evening, especially if you are dining late. You will sleep more deeply if you have finished digesting your food before you go to bed. A rich, heavy meal close to bedtime will interfere with your rest and leave you feeling sluggish in the morning.
Avoid caffeine, especially after midday. This includes coffee, tea, chocolate, and many sodas. Coffee has a half-life of four to six hours. That means it takes that long for half of the coffee to be digested, and another four to six hours for the next quarter of it to be eliminated from your body. In other words, it takes twelve to fourteen hours for 7⁄8 of the coffee you have ingested to be eliminated. No wonder you still feel wide awake at eleven when you had your last cup after dinner.
Sugar can also cause problems. Consider avoiding refined sugar in the evening because it is absorbed immediately into the bloodstream. That’s why it gives you a burst of energy and sometimes makes you feel a little high. Eating sugar near bedtime can make you restless and jittery and can keep you from falling asleep. If you need a treat at bedtime, a glass of warm milk is your best bet.
Alcohol and tobacco taken near bedtime can also interfere with deep sleep. It’s true that a nightcap will make you sleepy, but the sleep it induces is light, restless, and shot through with periods of wakefulness. Likewise, you may associate tobacco with relaxation, but it actually increases tension. Tobacco is a stimulant that makes the heart race and blood pressure rise. It’s best avoided altogether, but if you choose to smoke, avoiding it in the hour or two before bedtime will make your sleep more restful.