Maintain your body with good sleep habits

Published 3:43 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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When we learned about healthy eating in elementary school, I remember it being compared to putting gas in a car. Your body is the vehicle, but it can’t run unless you eat (and eat well). You’ve got to fuel up if you want to be able to do anything, right?

So I guess the next logical step in this metaphor is that, if food is the fuel, then sleep is when you take the car (your body) in for maintenance. No vehicle can run constantly without a bit of wear and tear along the way, so it makes sense that getting a good night of rest would be the equivalent of dropping your car off for a tune up. (You could even consider your dreams as a form of entertainment while you’re waiting for the maintenance to end!)

Putting aside the fact that neither of these hypothetical situations are particularly helpful for elementary students who don’t drive yet and don’t understand the inner workings of proper vehicle maintenance, they are, however, a nice and easy way for adults to think about the importance of taking care of yourself. So today, I’m focusing on rest, which is something that often seems to be in short supply for a lot of us (myself included).

There are a number of different sleep problems people can suffer from. Some have insomnia, where they’re awake for a good chunk of time when they’re supposed to be sleeping. Others have no problem sleeping for several hours at a time, but it might take a while between when they get into bed and when they actually fall asleep. Conversely, there are others out there who have a lot of trouble waking up in the morning and just sleep right on through several alarms. Other people might have a condition like sleep apnea, which can interrupt sleep and cause some serious health issues. And for some workaholics, sleep can be the easiest thing to sacrifice when we’re really busy.

I, personally, tend to go through cycles where I sleep fine for a few months and then sleep terribly for a few more months, and it just alternates from there. The result is that I often feel exhausted and even a bit irritable.

Anyone who’s dealt with disrupted sleep knows that the effects often bleed into your waking life too. You might be too tired to cook one evening even though you’d already planned out the meal. You might have to turn the radio up louder because you get groggy while driving. You might cancel plans with friends and family because you’d rather catch up on sleep with a nap.

There are a number of things I’ve tried myself to get a better night of sleep. A couple years ago, while working a previous job, I used to head straight to the couch to take a nap as soon as I got home each day. But then I was wide awake when I wanted to go to bed a few hours later. Cutting that out helped.

Sometimes, when I have trouble falling asleep, I count backwards by twos, starting from 1,000. That was something my brother actually suggested to me, and it has helped when I want to stop my mind from roaming all over the place. It requires just enough concentration on the numbers to keep your mind occupied, but not too much that you won’t eventually just drift off to sleep.

And recently, my new phone suggested a “bedtime alarm” option to me. When the “alarm” turns on, my phone switches to Do Not Disturb mode and the screen goes grayscale. It’s been a good reminder to just put my phone away and go to sleep, especially at a more consistent time each night.

But my solutions won’t work for everyone! (They don’t even work for me sometimes, but good sleep habits take time and patience.) So here are a few more sleep tips I’ve gathered from NPR’s Life Kit series that might be helpful for a variety of situations as well:

Start (or restart) an exercise routine. Exercise can help work off stress and anxiety, which are two things that keep people up at night.

If you wake up and can’t fall back asleep quickly, get out of bed altogether. You’ve got to trick your brain into thinking that the bed is for sleep only, and not for lying there as you stare at the ceiling for hours. The idea is to go sit somewhere else in your home to do something calming – like reading – until you feel sleepy. Then you return to bed again to sleep.

Take a short 20-minute nap, but don’t do it after 3 p.m.

Turn off your devices (anything with a screen, like a TV, phone, or laptop) at least an hour before your bedtime. Don’t know what to do during that last hour? Try reading a good old-fashioned book!

Use blackout curtains or sound machines if you need them.

Keeping your bedroom temperature between 67 and 69 degrees is the ideal range for a good night of sleep. Apparently, your body can achieve a deeper sleep when there’s a dip in temperature.

Consider keeping a log to track your sleep patterns. Similar to having a budget tracker, it’s a good way to keep up with the data and let you pick out and patterns or problems.

Don’t look at your clock, and cover it up if you have to. If you’re anxious about all the sleep you’ve already lost, looking at the clock is just going to add to that stress.

If you’re having trouble waking up in the morning, turn on the light or open a window if there’s already sunlight outside. Sunlight is nature’s way of saying ‘hey, it’s time for your day to begin!’

Be consistent about when you wake up. If you’re waking up early during the week, don’t sleep in extremely late on the weekends. It’ll make your body feel like it’s jumping between several time zones each week.

Lastly, be patient with yourself. As mentioned earlier, creating a new habit or routine to improve your sleep can take some time. Don’t give up too early.

Remember the car metaphor from earlier? If we don’t take care of our vehicle, we’re going to wind up stranded on the side of the road at the worst time. But unlike a car, we can’t just buy a new body when it breaks down.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.