6 tips for better sleep this summer

Posted at 10:01 AM, Jun 06, 2013

By Nancy Rothstein, Special to CNN

(CNN) — With the start of summer, the opportunity to shift some focus from work routines to enjoying leisurely activities is officially upon us.

It’s a time when we’re more mindful about relaxation and open to improving aspects of health and wellness. One area that’s so often neglected is sleep.

As temperatures rise this season, you may find yourself struggling to get comfortable on a humid night or unwinding after an action-filled day in the sun. You may also have a smartphone buzzing next to your pillow and distracting your mind from transcending into the REM sleep stage.

There are a number of variables, from the layout of your bedroom to the time you complete your workout, that can mean the difference between sleep deprivation and total rejuvenation.

Whether you’re dozing on a hammock on a tropical vacation or trying to squeeze in a power nap after a long day in the office, a proper rhythm is key to making sure you’re not accruing sleep debt. By following certain guidelines, you’ll be able to function at an optimal level during moments of business and pleasure.

Here are a few tips to kick-start a restful summer.

Create your sleep sanctuary. The first step in your sleep journey is transforming your bedroom environment into a place for slumber, not an entertainment center or auxiliary office.

This means you’ll want to keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. If you don’t have an air conditioner, a high-powered fan will suffice. If your bedroom is not dark enough, try a comfortable sleep mask. If ambient noise is disturbing your sleep, you can opt for a pair of soft foam earplugs or a white-noise machine.

It’s also important to honor your sleep by having a quality mattress, pillows and sheets. Think about how much money you spend on a car. Chances are you spend many more hours in your bed than you do your vehicle, so consider it an investment. And make sure you’re wearing loose-fitting, comfortable sleepwear in a light material like linen or cotton.

Exercise for great sleep. A sunny summer day is the perfect backdrop for an outdoor workout. Exercising during the day supports sleep at night, but if you do not give yourself enough time to decompress (at least three hours), you will stimulate your body at the very time it needs to surrender to sleep.

Keep an eye on the partying. Party invitations will be coming your way this season, and having a good time is necessary. However, you must consider how this will impact your nightly rhythm. If you consume alcohol up to three hours before you hit the bed, you may fall asleep easier, but your sleep cycle will be disrupted. Instead, consider a sleep elixir such as chamomile tea with honey or warm almond milk.

Tune technology out. We’re attached to our tech devices from the moment we open our eyes in the morning till we close them at night. For some of us, they’re like an extra appendage.

The problem is that the blue spectrum light emitted by smartphones, iPads, laptops, desktops and TV sends a signal to our brain that we’re not going to sleep. The release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, is inhibited, which can hinder our sleep quality and quantity. So, commit to turning off technology at least half an hour before bedtime to optimize your sleep.

Prepare for sleep. Once you’ve finally powered down all of the gadgets, what’s the next step? Do you have a summer reading list? What are the books you want to read but never have the time?

Bedtime is a great time to practice relaxation techniques, including gentle yoga poses (try child’s pose or savasana) and breathing techniques to calm the mind and body. Start by breathing slowly and deeply as you ease into slumber.

Another wonderful way to transition from a busy day and mind chatter is to develop a gratitude or prayer practice. As you lie still in bed, make a mental list of things you are grateful for, even having a comfortable bed.

Create a sleep schedule. Do you have a sleep disorder or wake up intermittently throughout the night? Create a consistent bedtime and wake time.

If you are taking sleep supplements, unless you are under a physician’s direction, see if you still need them once you modify your sleep habits. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, it is critical that you seek diagnosis and treatment with your physician or a sleep specialist.

Wherever you are and whatever you have planned for the summer, open your mind to embracing, understanding and practicing improved sleep rituals. These simple shifts will keep your well-being a top priority and allow you to maintain this lifestyle change.

Editor’s note: Nancy Rothstein consults and lectures on sleep wellness to leading corporations, the travel industry, universities, schools and other organizations. As an adjunct faculty member at New York University, Nancy teaches an online sleep course. She also serves as a member of the board of the American Sleep Apnea Association.