What can you do to improve your sleep? Running up a sleep debt seems to be the way of life for many people, which can lead to mental and physical fatigue.
Have a regular time for sleep. Spend the final hour of your day preparing for sleep. Have a sleep ritual that includes things like brushing your hair and teeth, massaging your feet, hands and shoulders, taking a warm shower, spend a short amount of time reading. These things done nightly will start to prepare the body and mind for sleep.
Prepare a quiet, dark, distraction-free place to sleep. Make the environment in the room where you sleep as relaxing as possible. Quiet is a relative term, of course, as some people like white noise in the background while some like no noise at all. White noise can be the ocean, a fan blowing, the sound of cars on the highway, anything that provides a general regular background sound.
Avoid caffeine at least a few hours before sleep. Even if a person can sleep while stimulated by caffeine, its action on the body is disruptive to the regular cycles of sleep (moving from stage 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 3 > 2 > REM > repeat). Each stage of NREM and REM sleep is important to the proper functioning of our body, and moving from the various stages in order allows for sleep to have the most beneficial effects.
Receive regular massage. Massage and other bodywork like Reflexology and energy work like Reiki, have been shown in studies by the Touch Research Institute and other organizations to improve the quality of sleep. The mechanism of this is not fully understood, but some think that massage calms the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response), and that the decrease in cortisol levels in the body contributes to better movement through the stages of sleep cycle.
Exercise regularly. Having a regular exercise program, or even doing something like taking a walk for between 30 minutes to an hour a few hours before sleep is not only good for your physical fitness, it also can improve the quality and length of your sleep. Note here that exercising immediately before sleep is not recommended, as the body needs the time to come back from the stimulated state of exercise to properly sleep.
Light evening meal. The lightest meal of the day should be the dinner/supper meal in the evening. Several small meals throughout the day is best, but if you are going to eat three meals a day, then start big and end light. Breakfast should be the largest meal, then lunch, and finally dinner. Our bodies use a tremendous amount of energy in digestion, which distracts us from repairing and resting and processing our brain’s work while we sleep.
As you can see, these things are not just a part of good sleep hygiene, but they are also a good part of a healthy lifestyle.
It's interesting that you posted this in the Massage/Spa section, because I know that a huge trend in the spa industry now is to offer sleep-promoting therapies. Considering that 90% of people can't even fully relax in a massage, it's no surprise that sleep deprivation is a given for most people. I am just wondering how massage therapists can promote good sleeping habits if a treatment typically lasts about an hour to an hour and a half. How does this bleed over into one's sleeping life?
A well trained massage therapist can do quite a bit to promote good sleep. Especially important is training the client in how to receive massage. I wouldn't say that 90 percent of people can't fully relax in a massage; I'd say they just don't know how to. A skilled therapist can teach that ability.