Rare are the nights I don't bring my laptop into bed with me to catch up on news, chat with friends and surf the web before turning out the lights. It's a terrible habit that often keeps me awake far longer than I intend. And the next morning when my alarm sounds, I often curse myself for not logging off earlier.
Considering the mounting research on the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation, it's time I adopted a new sleep routine. So I asked sleep scientist Dr. Amy Bender of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary about how she unwinds for the night. Bender has developed sleep-intervention protocols for many top Canadian athletes, including competitors of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang. If anyone has a winning formula for a good night's rest, it's her.
Bender says she sets a bedtime alarm that goes off two hours before she goes to bed. This reminds her to dim the lights in her home and put on blue light-blocking glasses, which reduce the type of glare that can interfere with sleep. An hour before bed, she tries to put away her electronics, such as cellphones and laptops, and she prepares for next day. (She admits it doesn't work out this way every night, but this is an ideal scenario.) She packs her lunch, gets her clothes ready and reads a book. She recommends reading in a comfy chair or couch since wakeful activities shouldn't really be done in bed.
Five minutes before bedtime, she makes a to-do list, which offloads her thoughts so she doesn't lie awake ruminating on the tasks ahead. She also does some breathing exercises to help her relax. This involves inhaling for four counts, holding her breath for seven counts, then exhaling for eight and repeating.
If you have trouble falling asleep once you're tucked under the covers, Bender suggests a more sophisticated variation of counting sheep called the "cognitive shuffle." First, take a word, such as "bedtime." Then, imagine all the the different objects you can that start with the letter "B," then do it all over again for the next letter "E," then for "D," and so on.
"Honestly, before the end, you're sound asleep," she says.
An important note: Anyone who is really struggling with their sleep shouldn't hesitate to see a sleep specialist, Bender says. "Don't wait around and think you can change it with [sleep-enhancing] technology or a new mattress. Why not see a sleep specialist and really dive into why you might be having sleep problems?"