How Grown-Ups Can Benefit From a Sleep Schedule

Ease into sleep with habits and rituals that will help you rest.

Posted Aug 27, 2019

An estimated 70 million Americans are sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And, today, I am one of them.

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I’m tired. Went to bed too late, flashed through Facebook on my phone, before I dozed off. Had a restless sleep. I blew my sleep schedule, and I’m paying the price.

It doesn’t feel good to be so sluggish and tired, and it’s not good for us either. Aside from the health risks associated with inadequate sleep, such as depression, memory and attention issues, mood disorders, and the higher risk of physical illness, researchers at the University of Oxford now believe a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality may also contribute to brain shrinkage. That thought alone might keep you up at night.

Sleep is essential to repair and restore the brain, says lead researcher Claire Sexton. If the repair process is interrupted by a sleepless night, brain function also can be affected.

In her study, participants who experienced poor sleep also showed brain shrinkage in the three lobes of the brain linked to decision-making, movement, emotions, thoughts, memory, and learning, according to the study published in the journal Neurology.

It doesn’t take a study to remind us that sleep is essential, but what I’ve found is that I need to be deliberate to make sure I get the seven or eight hours needed for optimal sleep according to a large study conducted by the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in Canada.

To do that, I’ve given myself a bedtime—and I stick to it even when I don’t want to. And, I’ve created a sleep schedule, much the way we did for our daughter when she was young.

There are plenty of barriers to restful sleep, such as technology, dietalcohol, and caffeine can disrupt our sleep—anxietystress, pain, changing schedules and responsibilities. I figured I needed to do something to increase my chances of getting enough rest.

It’s helped. There are still restless nights, but I’m getting much better rest than I did before I established this routine. Some of these ideas might help you create your own sleep schedule and routine to help you rest easier.

Tips to Create a Sleep Schedule

1. Start early. Experts suggest you begin to wind down about 90 minutes before you want to fall asleep. That's when my bedtime routine begins.

2. Take a hot bath or shower about 90 minutes before bed. This is not for me, but maybe it should be. A review of thousands of studies by biomedical engineers at the University of Texas at Austin found that bathing 1 to 2 hours before bedtime in water 104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit can improve sleep.

The warm water triggers the body’s natural cooling process, helping to drop the body’s internal temperature to lower levels—like those recorded during deep sleep. This can help people fall asleep an average of 10 minutes faster and get better sleep quality.

3. Create a regular ritual. Take on the pre-bedtime tasks—teeth-brushing, face washing, journaling, whatever it is you do—at the same time and same order each night to prime your body for rest.

4. Turn off all devices.* Light waves emitted by computers, phones, televisions, and other electronics disrupt our natural biological rhythms. And the interactive nature of apps and pages can make it hard for us to mentally unwind, even if we have the blue-light filter on. Turn them off and keep them out of the bedroom. I’m pretty hit and miss with this one, but better than I used to be. I regularly turn off the phone and pick up my book, and I do feel more relaxed.

5. Dim the lights early. This can help trigger the release of melatonin, a natural sleep aid. I do this regularly about an hour before bed. To me, it's a clear sign that we are easing into a quieter time after a busy day. 

6. Manage the negatives before you go to bed. It’s tough to rest with racing thoughts. Try to distance yourself from the stresses of the day with a mindfulness exercise about an hour before bed. Breathe slowly and deeply. Observe your emotions, your physical sensations, your thoughts, without judgment. Just let all of it pass through. This can help you become present and release anxiety.

7. Set a clock by it. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning. Set a schedule and stick to it, and your body will learn when it's time to sleep. 

There is some research that melatonin and other supplements may help you sleep, but try creating a sleep schedule and talking to your doctor before taking anything. Also, consider aromatherapy. Lavender oil in a spritz sprayed on sheets or diffused in the air may also prompt relaxation and better sleep.

And if you are one of the 40 percent who, according to Craig Richard, Ph.D., founder of ASMR University, experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or the brain-tingling sensations in response to whispering, crackling, and other gentle sounds, playing ASMR soundtracks or videos before sleep can help you relax.

Watch out, though. If you are clicking the phone to cue up a playlist or turn down the volume, you might create a bigger sleep disruption.