As a psychologist, I often work with people who have struggled a long time and think good sleep is an unattainable goal. However, with a few simple adjustments in their routine and attitude about bedtime, many people notice drastic improvements! Read on for 10 simple tricks to help you get the sleep you need.
1) If you can’t sleep, get out of bed
If after 15-20 minutes you’re not asleep, get up and do something boring (not in bed; avoid bright lights, avoid noises—these wake you up). Return to bed only when you’re sleepy. Keep doing this until you fall asleep. You want to break the cycle of lying in bed, worrying, and trying to fall asleep.
2) Use the bed only for sleeping or sex
No watching TV, work, or reading. Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature (cooler is better). You’re training yourself that bed is only for sleep or sex.
3) Get up at the same time every day
Get up at the same time, even if you’re tired, even on weekends. An irregular schedule contributes to insomnia. You want to train your body to have a normal, healthy, sleep pattern.
4) Use sunlight to set your biological clock
As soon as you get up in the morning, go outside and have your face in sunlight for 15 minutes. Better yet, start an activity like a brisk walk or jog. Fido would love to join you!
5) Unwind for an hour before going to bed
You can’t be going 100 miles an hour and then suddenly fall asleep. Develop a nightly unwinding ritual (warm bath 90 minutes before bed, light snack, caffeine-free tea, or a few minutes of reading in your favorite chair).
6) Keep a notebook by your bed
This is one of my favorite tips. Maybe you have a hard time quieting your mind and find yourself stressing over events from the day, things you need to do tomorrow, upcoming appointments, etc. Take a minute to write those loose ends and “to-do’s” on paper. Then, give yourself permission to put those thoughts aside and relax. The list will be there when you wake up.
7) Relax in bed
Use techniques like muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and imagery while waiting to fall asleep. With a little practice, you may find it’s just the thing to help you drift off to sleep.
8) Don’t watch the clock
Clock-watching feeds the worrying cycle that keeps you awake. Don’t allow yourself to stare at the clock or periodically check the time and stress over still being awake. The less pressure you put on yourself to fall asleep quickly, the better.
9) Nix the chemicals
While sleep aides might be helpful short-term, many experts suggest eliminating alcohol, sleeping pills, and illegal drugs. Avoid or eliminate cigarettes and caffeine (especially within six hours of bedtime).
10) No naps
Really. Try not to sleep during the day, even if you’re really tired. This will help you be tired at night and regulate your schedule. If you HAVE TO nap, make it less than 1 hour, and as early in the day as possible.
Talk with your therapist and your medical provider if sleep continues to elude you. Check out the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (www.sleepeducation.com) for more information and tons of additional resources.