8 Recommendations to Help You Get a Little Shut-Eye
Submitted by Laurie Veillette
Having trouble falling asleep? What about staying asleep? How about both? If sleep does not come easy to you, you’re in good (and plentiful) company! Insomnia is extremely common and has become especially prevalent following the stress of the last year. The good news is that there’s something you can do about it. Below, I’ve outlined 8 strategies for improving the quantity and quality of your sleep. I encourage you to be self-compassionate and patient with the process; change takes time, consistency, and persistence. If your sleep problems persist despite your best efforts, it may be worth a visit to your doctor to talk about evaluation and treatment options.
Move Your Body. Physical activity is a great source of energy and refreshment during the day, and can help you fall asleep more easily and stay asleep at night. However, try not to exercise too close to bedtime and pace yourself to minimize sleep-interfering stiffness or pain.
Prepare for Sleep. You’re probably not ready to jump into work-mode, parenting-mode, or any other mode your day requires right after you’ve woken up. Similarly, your mind and body need time to prepare for sleep after a long day. Give yourself 30 to 60 minutes nightly to wind down. Use this time to nurture yourself and relax – consider having a cup of decaf tea, taking a hot shower or bath, dimming the lights, listening to soft music, or enjoying an unstimulating activity like a good (but not too good) book. Phone apps like Insight Timerand Calm have a number of guided and unguided sleep-promoting offerings, such as mindfulness meditation, nature sounds, and even celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Harry Styles, and Scottie Pippen reading bedtime stories (what a time to be alive). Be sure to avoid blue lights, like those on your TV, smart phone, or tablet as they can trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime – a time of alertness and activity.
Go to Bed When You’re Ready for Sleep. And no time before that if you can help it. In fact, unless it’s for sleep or sex, try to avoid the bedroom altogether. This can help train your brain to pair the bedroom solely with sleep so that simply entering your bedroom triggers a relaxing, sleep-promoting response. Think Pavlov’s dogs.
Don’t Wait to Fall Asleep. On a similar note, if you can’t fall asleep after 10-15 minutes, leave the room and do something unstimulating. When you feel sleepy, return to bed and try again. This may be frustrating, but time spent thinking and waiting in bed only further contributes to your insomnia.
Be Consistent – Be, Be Consistent. Aim to wake up at the same time every day, with no more than a 30-minute deviation. Regardless of what time you went to bed the night before, stick with a regular wake time. A consistent wake time supports a consistent sleep schedule.
Avoid Long Naps. As lovely as an afternoon cat nap may be, it can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. If you must nap, aim to make it a power nap – 10-20 minutes in length. Integrative restoration (iRest) meditation like thiscan also help you to feel energized and alert, like you’ve just awoken from a deep, refreshing sleep.
Reduce Your Caffeine Intake. This may be an unpopular recommendation but it can make a world of difference for your sleep. If you enjoy several cups of coffee in the morning, consider switching to decaf after that second cup or swapping out for a half decaf/half regular combo. A number of beverages, foods, and even medications contain caffeine. Food labels or listslike this can help prevent any unwelcome surprises. Because caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours, I recommend avoiding it after about 1:00pm.
Reduce Evening Alcohol Consumption. Another unpopular recommendation. While you can still enjoy that evening glass of wine, I suggest enjoying it a little earlier at night. Alcohol may help you feel relaxed and perhaps even fall asleep faster, but it can really hurt your quality of sleep – contributing to a shallow, nonrestorative sleep that leaves you feeling groggy and unrefreshed in the morning.
Tweak Your Sleep Space. A safe, quiet, dark, and cool bedroom is recommended for optimal sleep. You may want to consider black out window shades, a sound machine (or a free app like this one), a fan or window A/C unit (when seasonally appropriate, of course), and minimizing extraneous light exposure (e.g., tape over electronic lights, turn your clock face down). If you have sleep-disruptive bed partners (significant others, pets, children), it may be time to consider alternative sleeping arrangements.
Wishing you all good health and wellness – and a good night’s sleep!
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. These are two available resources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Crisis text line: 741741
Laurie Veillette, PsyDCCL Board Member
Clinical health psychologist. Specialized training in health psychology and integrated care.
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