Every new parent finds tricks to make his or her baby fall asleep, from swaddling and shushing to driving around in the car. But when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep for themselves, many adults are stumped. What if the solution to a good night’s sleep is living right under our noses?
That’s right, grown-ups can learn a lot from the sleep habits of children and newborns, and we’ve teamed up with Sleep Number to understand how adults can apply them to their bedtime routine.
Read A Bedtime Story
From Goodnight Moon to The Little Engine That Could, some of our fondest childhood memories involve listening to our parents read aloud. So why not make a habit of reading yourself to sleep?
“Bedtime stories work well for children,” says Dr. Sally Ward, chief of pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “Reading a print book is a great way for grown-ups to forget about the cares of the day and drift off to a good night’s sleep.”
If you prefer listening over reading, consider using audiobooks ― but make sure they’re not too interesting ― or podcasts intended to make you snooze, like “Sleep With Me.” If you are reading, keep the light as low as possible without straining your eyes, and avoid blue lights at all costs (orange-tinted lights are better for getting shut-eye).
Go Play Outside
One reason many little ones sleep so well: they never stop moving by day! Take a page from your kiddo’s playbook and get outside as much as possible, exercising enough so that when it’s time to go to hit the sheets, your body is actually tired.
“Exercising outdoors in the morning, without sunglasses, is especially good,” says Sonia Ancoli-Israel, director of the Gillin Sleep and Chronomedicine Research Center. “The light helps set our biological clock.”
Experts agree that at least two and a half hours a week of moderate physical activity is key, but avoid working out at night as it can actually leave you feeling more energized and awake.
Always Eat Your Veggies
Kids who eat better sleep better, and the same is true for us grown-ups. Eating well throughout the day can reduce the sleep-sabotaging side effects, like heartburn, of unhealthy foods. Choose your snacks wisely, especially before you hit the sack.
“Overeating close to bedtime, or having too much sugar and caffeine, can also stimulate you and make it difficult to fall asleep, even if you’re tired,” says Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute. “A good bedtime snack is a small portion of carbs, such as crackers or a bowl of cereal and milk.”
Whip Out A Coloring Book
This is one childhood activity that’s hit the mainstream in recent years, but there’s science to support that it actually works in calming the mind.
“While kids don’t necessarily use this for sleep, there is good research that it can work for adults,” says Dr. Carl Bazil, director of the epilepsy and sleep division at New York–Presbyterian Hospital. “It is a ‘mindless’ activity that can stop you from thinking about all those life problems and help ease you to sleep.”
Go To Sleep When You Actually Feel Tired
Although a consistent bedtime is vital for children, it’s slightly less important for adults. The most critical thing to keep in mind is something that children have a hard time learning and grown-ups tend to forget: when you’re sleepy, don’t fight it. Just get in bed and give in to what your body is telling you it needs.
“Once your body actually feels sleepy, that means your brain is releasing a symphony of hormones to help you gently and easily fall asleep,” says Natalie Willes, a childhood sleep-training expert in Los Angeles. “If you sense that drowsiness and then override it by continuing to watch a show, or continuing working on a project, that symphony ends and your body releases hormones to make you stay awake, thus making it even harder to go to sleep once you want to do so.”
Think of your bedtime as ‘’the earliest you are allowed to try to fall asleep,” says Dr. William Winter, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, not “the time you should fall asleep.” This way, you’re not pressured to sleep. “A schedule is nice, but sometimes we go to bed on time and simply are not sleepy. That needs to be recognized as OK.”
Don’t Sleep In
Even more important than going to bed at the same time every night is waking up every day at the same time. “Babies’ internal clocks are set by starting their day at around the same time each day,” Willes says. “Adults can learn a lot from this.”
Wake up each day ― including weekends and holidays ― at the same time, and you’ll find yourself getting reliably sleepy about 18 hours later. “Any new mom will tell you that baby’s bedtime is sacred,” Howard says. “It’s the same time to bed and the same time of waking every day. Too many adults take the attitude that they can live on less sleep, [that] it’s not a big deal, but it is ― optimal health and wellness depends on a healthy sleep routine.”
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