Most people know the basics of practicing good sleep hygiene: limit caffeine and alcohol, avoid late night eating, exercise, follow a bedtime routine, and establish a setting conducive to sleep (e.g., a dark, quiet, cool room without screens and other electronics). If you are one of the millions of people, however, who have followed those helpful suggestions and still find yourself awake and frustrated at night, a few simple strategies might be all that it takes to finally get a good night’s rest. Read below to learn more about the best practices for a good night’s sleep.
- Create a buffer zone before bedtime: Allow yourself time to wind-down. If you are having trouble falling asleep, the hour or two before bedtime is not the time to try to get those last few emails out or deal with other stressful life tasks. Get your body and mind ready for sleep by engaging in relaxing, pleasurable activities, such as reading, watching t.v., catching up with your partner or friends, yoga, or taking a walk.
- Set regular bedtimes and wake times. Sleeping in or napping on the weekend, especially after a hard or sleepless week feels grand! These behaviors wreak havoc, however, on your biological clock. We all agree that flying across three time zones will give us jet lag and disrupt our sleep, yet we seem to think we can “cross time zones” every weekend by sleeping in.
- Get out of bed at your designated wake time, even if you didn’t sleep well the night before, and don’t nap. To develop a need for sleep, we must have been continuously awake and active long enough for our body to need sleep. Many of the behaviors that we engage in to make up for a poor night’s sleep (e.g., sleeping in or napping), are only setting ourselves up for a poor night of sleep the next night. I know it is hard, but suffering through that tired day will improve your chances of sleeping well the next night.
- Go to sleep only when sleepy, and, more importantly, get out of bed if you find you are not falling asleep. “What?” you say. “I’m trying to get more sleep and you want me to get out of bed?” Sorry, I do. Lying awake in bed for hours often forms a conditioned association with the bed as the frustrating place where you don’t sleep. Additionally, it allows all those worries about not sleeping to build up. These two conditions inevitably interfere with falling asleep. As counterintuitive as it may be, when you start to have that frustrating sensation of not falling to sleep, get out of bed. Do something pleasurable, engaging, or relaxing until you notice yourself feeling sleepy. Then get back into bed.
The above are all common strategies recommended in Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is a highly effective, medication-free treatment for insomnia. If you are having trouble sleeping, you might try these strategies. If you are not finding relief, consider contacting a therapist who specializes in CBT-I.
*Disclaimer—The information presented in this article is for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult with a qualified professional before beginning any treatment program, especially if you have a co-existing medical or psychiatric condition. If you have life circumstances where sleepiness presents a safety issue, consult with a qualified professional first.