At some point in our lives, particularly when we are feeling stressed, nearly everyone will have difficulties sleeping. Here are simple steps strategies that will help you to sleep better tonight.
1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends
We are creatures of habit, and our sleep is no exception. By consistently going to bed and getting up at the same time, we condition our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep. This allows our body’s natural clock, called a circadian rhythm, to help initiate and maintain our sleep.
2. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable
Studies have found that sleeping in a cool environment is most conducive to sleep. By eliminating excess noise and light, we can minimize the disruptions that might wake us up. Make sure that the bedroom is a relaxing place and not a source of stress.
3. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for watching TV or doing work
The bedroom is not a multipurpose room, remove ALL electronics! Televisions, gaming systems, mobile phones, laptops and various other gadgets are stimulating and disruptive to sleep. Do not use the bedroom to do work as these activities are stimulating and will disrupt your sleep. Even the small amount of light from a computer screen in the night can stimulate your brain into thinking it is time to be awake.
4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine 4-6 hours before bedtime
Caffeine can be found in all the usual places like tea, coffee and fizzy drinks, but also in unexpected foods like chocolate which is a stimulant and will keep you awake (even if used nearly 6 hours before bed). Likewise, nicotine will disrupt your sleep and an alcoholic “nightcap” may cause you to become drowsy, but alcohol fragments the stages of your sleep and makes it more disrupted.
5. Don’t take naps
The period of time that you are awake adds to something called “sleep drive.” The longer we stay awake, the more we want to go to sleep. By taking a nap we can relieve the desire to sleep and it will also make it less likely that we will be able to easily go to sleep later.
6. Exercise every day, but avoid doing it 4 hours before bedtime
Staying active and physically fit is an excellent way to release stress and tension. However, exercising too close to bedtime may actually cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.
7. Develop sleep rituals which include quiet activities, such as reading, 15 minutes before bedtime
Just like we maintain for children, adults need daily sleep rituals prior to going to bed to allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep. These rituals should include activities that quieten the mind such as reading, listening to relaxing music, soaking in a hot bath, or deep relaxation breathing.
8. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t struggle in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there
When we have difficulty initiating sleep we often toss and turn in bed and try to force sleep to come. As this is repeated, night after night, this sets up a situation where we associate our bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep. If you are unable to get to sleep within 15 minutes, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to fall asleep, and then return to your bedroom to sleep.
9. Avoid eating or drinking in the few hours right before going to bed
Discomfort with indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux as well as needing to get up multiple times to urinate can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep. It is best to avoid setting up these situations by not eating or drinking in the few hours just prior to bedtime.
10. Make sleep a priority: don’t sacrifice sleep to do other activities
The most important advice is to respect that your body needs to sleep. Watching television, doing chores or surfing the internet can quickly cut into our sleep time if we allow them to. It is important to schedule your sleep time and keep to that schedule no matter what.
I wish you a restful night’s sleep and look forward to sharing more stress management strategies with you next month.