Sleep can be such a fickle thing. Even though most of us know that 6-8 hours of sleep is what we need in order to function properly throughout the day—if it's not our schedules, it's stress. If it's not stress, it's hormonal shifts. If it's not hormonal shifts, it's feeling uncomfortable. If it's not feeling uncomfortable, it's being restless. Lawd. In many ways, getting a better night of sleep, consistently so, is a bit like walking a tightrope…although it doesn't have to be.
If something that you would like, more than ever right about now, is to get more peaceful zzz's in, you might be in luck. If there is one thing that I'm gonna do, pretty much on a regular basis, it's get some good sleep in. And if you're looking to learn how to get better sleep, the 15 hacks below have all played a role in making that happen.
1. Get the Right Pillows
I've got a friend who once said something so funny to me when it comes to his approach to disciplining children. He said, "Why spank them when you can just take their pillows away? Ever slept without one before? It's hell." Me? I'm the kind of person who probably has too many pillows on my bed, so I can only imagine what putting my head directly on a mattress, all night long, would feel like. I do know a bad pillow is filled with tossing and turning episodes. So yeah, I'm gonna lead this article with the recommendation to get the right kind of pillows to sleep on.
First, ponder if you are a back, side or stomach sleeper (stomach sleeping isn't good for you, by the way. It does reduce snoring; however, it also puts more strain on your neck and back). You can check out a list of some of the best pillows for your favorite positions here.
Also, make sure you know when it's time to replace the pillows that you've already got. What are some telling signs? If you've had them for more than a couple of years; if you experience neck pain in the morning; if when you fold them over, they don't return to their original shape, and/or you wake up feeling like you're having an allergy attack (this usually means you're taking in dust mites), it's time to move on and get some that are brand spanking new.
2. Get a Cooling Mattress Pad While You’re at It Too
I don't know about y'all, but I HATE sleeping when I'm hot. That's why I'm all about sleeping naked and I'm thrilled about having a cooling mattress pad. See, even if you fall asleep feeling pretty comfortable, it's not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night feeling either really hot or even sweating some. This happens because our body tends to change temperatures throughout the nighttime hours. Something that can help to prevent this from becoming a problem is putting a cooling mattress pad on your bed. Another benefit with this kind of pad is it can extend the lifespan of your mattress (you should cop a new mattress every 6-8 years, by the way). If you don't already own one and you'd like to look into making this particular investment, you can check out the pros and cons of some pretty popular brands here.
3. Put Yourself on a Sleep Schedule
Isn't it crazy that most of us have our kids on a sleep schedule so that they can get a good night's rest and yet, when it comes to us, we don't follow suit? A sleep schedule is important, not just because it can ensure that you receive the 6-8 hours, every night, that your body needs, it also helps to "train your mind" to fall asleep (and wake up) at a particular time.
This isn't just my opinion either; science strongly backs this up. So, if you're someone who goes to bed at midnight sometimes, 10 p.m. sometimes or when you're super exhausted, at 8, and you're wondering why you are always tired or dragging, try setting a firm time for a couple of weeks and see if that helps you out. I'd be shocked if it doesn't. By the way, you can test out some cool sleep tracking apps here.
4. Eat Light at Night
Something that I have a bad habit of is eating too heavy or much at night. Because I spend a lot of time writing, sometimes the day gets away from me and I actually have dinner at 8 or 9 when it should be more like 6 or 7 and definitely a meal that's on a lighter side than steak and a salad. The reason why going lighter is better is because, when you go to bed on a full stomach, your body has to work that much harder to digest your food which can disrupt your sleep patterns.
Matter of fact, some scientific research says that going with a big breakfast and lunch and having something super light for dinner is really your best bet (especially if you want to burn fat in the process). You're grown. You're gonna do what you wanna do. Still, if dinner is your biggest meal of the day, maybe go with it being breakfast or lunch instead and see if that changes anything. For the better.
5. Nix All Coffee and Alcohol at Night Too
I'm thinking that it makes pretty clear sense why you should leave java (and all forms of caffeine) alone in the evening. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it's the last thing that you need when you're trying to catch some zzz's. Matter of fact, it's actually recommended that your last cup should be somewhere around 2 p.m. As far as alcohol goes, while a nice glass of wine may feel soothing initially, there's a clear reason why it's pretty problematic. Alcohol has a way of interrupting REM sleep (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it's one of the five stages of sleep that your body goes through) which can lead to all sorts of sleep disruptions. This is why folks who drink at night oftentimes think that they are battling insomnia when really, the alcohol is what's doing them in.
6. Sip on Some Decaf Green Tea (Two Hours Before)
So, what should you consume in place of coffee or alcohol? Green tea is a cool option. The catechins (antioxidants) in it contain strong medicinal/healing properties. The amino acid theanine that's also in it will reduce stress and promote a good night's rest. Just make sure that you go with the kind that is decaf (for obvious reasons) and that you have your final cup about two hours before turning in. Otherwise, all of that drinking could have you getting up in the middle of the night—and if you're anything like me, that could make it hard to fall back asleep (which totally sucks).
7. Rub the Soles of Your Feet with CBD or Lavender Oil
Let me tell you what has totally changed my life for the better when it comes to sleep quality—rubbing CBD oil or lavender essential oil onto the soles of my feet. CBD oil is bomb because there's scientific evidence to support that it decreases anxiety, reduces stress levels and is even good for pain management. Lavender oil? Because it contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, it's great when it comes to soothing sore or aching feet. Plus, it's got a calming scent and sensation that is pretty incomparable.
What I typically do is mix one of these oils with a carrier oil like sweet almond or grapeseed and rub my feet down for about 10 minutes before turning in. The reason why I prefer my feet is because oils absorb faster on that part of the body. Plus, since feet have 72,000 nerve endings, it's able to reach a ton of different cells, all throughout my system. Yours too. How dope is that?
8. Have a Banana
If you're someone who's just gotta have a snack before turning in, how about a banana? Not only is it the kind of fruit that contains a good amount of tryptophan (more on that in a sec), it's also a good source of potassium and magnesium. Potassium aids in sleep because it helps your nerves and muscles to get on the same page so that you're better able to relax. Magnesium is awesome because it helps to regulate your body's stress-response system. Not only that but studies show that people who have some sort of a magnesium deficiency typically experience higher amounts of stress and anxiety. So, the more you've got, the calmer you'll be.
9. Or Snack on Some Other Forms of Tryptophan
If you've ever wondered exactly what tryptophan is and why it tends to make you so sleepy, the brief breakdown is it's the kind of amino acid that goes from the digestive system to your brain and then turns into a chemical known as serotonin which aids in making you sleepy so that you can rest. That's why, another hack that you might want to try, is snacking on some foods that are high in tryptophan (or eating a light dinner with foods that contain it). Some of those include milk, cheese, nuts, oats, chicken, turkey, canned tuna, seeds, soy and eggs.
10. Turn Down Your Thermostat
Once you're ready to shut your house down for the rest of the night, make it a point to turn down your thermostat. As far as what the temperature should be, I've read everything from 62 to 68 degrees, so somewhere around there. Since it's cooler at night outdoors, this should actually cut your energy costs down. And, it's another way to keep your body from overheating before sunrise.
11. Do Some Yoga
Since yoga is a meditative form of exercise, it should come as no surprise that it's a pretty great sleep hack. In fact, quite a few yoga practitioners vouch for the fact that it can help you to sleep and definitely can decrease your stress levels. The deep breathing can relax you. The mindfulness can increase your melatonin (a natural hormone that helps you to rest) levels. And exercise is always great at providing more intense rest. So, if yoga is something that you've been considering but still haven't tried, this is just one more reason to follow through on your plans.
12. Write Your To-Do Lists an Hour Before Turning In
Isn't it interesting that when it comes to learning how to live in the moment, a lot of us don't take this pearl of wisdom into account when it comes to resting? Going to bed worrying about what is going to happen the next day is going to do us a bit of good when it comes to getting a good night's rest.
Besides, when you're well rested, you are far more equipped to handle what is to come anyway. That's why it's always a good idea to write down your to-do list—in order of importance—no less than a couple of hours before going to sleep. It's an exercise that says, "I'm done for today. I'll tackle tomorrow…tomorrow."
It really can shout your overthinking down, so that you can relax so much easier.
13. Also, Write Down Five Things from the Day That You’re Thankful For
Another writing exercise that can be really beneficial is to take out 10 minutes or so to jot down five things, from each day, that you're thankful for. Believe it or not, expressing feelings of gratitude is an effective way to release toxins in your system, lower your cortisol (stress) levels and relax your muscles and nervous system. Plus, it helps you to keep things in perspective; especially on what felt like a really bad day.
14. Put in Some Ear Plugs
I'm someone who either prefers total silence or the ASMR sounds of rain. If you can relate, you might want to get yourself some ear plugs. Oftentimes, even though we're asleep, our brain is still catching all of the sounds around us which can actually prevent us from sleeping as soundly as we like or even need. And so, ear plugs are what can get us as close to silence as possible. That said, the main red flags are 1) if you're a single parent (especially with a young child), this probably isn't the wisest hack and/or 2) you've got to clean your ear plugs on a regular basis. Otherwise, the wax build-up could cause a hell of an ear infection. Anyway, some of the best earplugs for sleeping can be found here.
15. Unplug an Hour Before
One more. A couple of years ago, I wrote the article, "8 Solid Reasons To Put. Your Phone. Down." for the site. When you get a chance, check it out, because there are many reasons why surfing the 'net on your phone or laptop right before turning in will totally wreck your sleep patterns. For starters, the blue light on your screens inhibits the production of melatonin which makes it harder for your body to relax. Whatever is on your electronic devices, they will be right there, waiting on you, come morning.
Make it a practice to sign off at least an hour before bedtime. Write your gratitude list. Catch up on a chapter of a book. Deep breathe and chill. Your brain has been looking at screens all day long. In order to get some rest, turn those suckers…off.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
Black women are not a monolith. We all are deserving of healing and wholeness despite what we've been through, how much money we have in the bank, or what we look like. Most importantly, we are enough—even when we are not working, earning, or serving.
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September is National Self-Care Awareness Month, so for my girlies who have been putting off self-care, here’s your opportunity to start. Self-care means exactly what it says: taking care of self. Why is it important? Well, many of us have busy lives that may include careers, family, and activities that consume us daily. Taking some time for self regularly can help prevent depression, stress, anxiety, and burnout.
In February 2023, Future Forum polled 10,243 people in six countries, including the U.S., and 40% said they are experiencing burnout, and 46% of that number are women. According to CNBC, many factors contributing to burnout include companies demanding employees return to the office, hiring freezes, and layoffs.
Psychologist Debbie Sorensen explained to CNBC why women and millennials are experiencing burnout in higher numbers. “We haven’t had time to recover from the trauma of what we’ve been through the last few years,” she said. “Women and young people, in particular, are putting an immense amount of pressure on themselves to keep going, keep working, no matter the cost.”
As women, particularly Black women, we tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Other people's problems become our problems, and then we are expected to show up to work and show up for our family and friends with a smile on our faces. Whew, chile! What if we are having a bad day? How are we supposed to cope if we have to be everything to everyone? Well, here’s your sign to make time for yourself, especially on the days when you are feeling down.
Below is a list of self-care ideas for when you are having a bad day.
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Spend time in nature
Sometimes something as simple as surrounding yourself with trees, grass, and/ or water can improve your mood exponentially. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) research shows that spending time in nature can improve attention, lower stress, and reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders.
Got to a Spa
There’s nothing like going to a spa. You can relax in a sauna, get a massage, and just be. According to research, massages help release serotonin and dopamine, which are often referred to as “feel good” hormones, that will instantly perk you up and have you going about your day with a smile on your face.
When was the last time you did arts and crafts? Drawing a picture, painting, or even coloring can help you discover your inner child, thus boosting your mood. Purchase an adult coloring book, or go to a paint-and-sip class by yourself, or you can make it a group activity and bring your besties.
Look your best
The old saying, “When you look good, you feel good,” didn’t just come out of thin air. There’s some truth to it. The Kentucky Counseling Center shared a link between self-care and feeling good. “Self-care regimens are extremely important not just to stabilize your day but to make you feel great. Simple things like getting a facial, taking care of your hair done, or exercising can make you confident because when you look good, you also feel good,” according to its website.
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There’s a reason why it is suggested that you breathe when you begin feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Breathing brings oxygen back into your body, and WebMD reports that it can decrease the fight or flight response that happens when you are stressed.
Spend time with babies
I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me smile quicker than a baby, especially a smiling baby. If you’re the same way, then spending time with a baby or babies may help put you in a better mood, too.
Last but certainly not least, do nothing. There’s nothing like laying in your bed and not being forced to do anything. Stay in this moment and use this time to relax and replenish your energy.
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