There are simple guidelines that will help you have better sleep tonight. At some point in their lives, for any number of reasons, nearly all Americans will have difficulties sleeping. This can lead to significant distress, but have no fear! There are simple steps to take that will help you to sleep better tonight.
- 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.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable.
Studies find 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. In addition, the bedroom should be a relaxing place and not a source of stress.
- Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for watching television or doing work.
Somehow we have managed to make the bedroom a multipurpose room. All electronics must be removed! Televisions, gaming systems, computers, telephones, and various other gadgets are stimulating and disruptive to sleep. Don’t allow them in your bedroom and don’t use them in the brief period before going to bed. Even the small amount of light from a computer screen in the evening hours can stimulate your brain into thinking it is time to be awake. Moreover, do not use the bedroom to do work as these activities are likewise stimulating and will disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Caffeine can be found in expected places like coffee, soda pop, or tea, but also in unexpected foods like chocolate. As a stimulant it will keep you awake, even if used nearly six hours before bed. Likewise, nicotine will disrupt your sleep. And contrary to common practice, an alcoholic “nightcap” can actually make your sleep worse. Though it may cause you to become drowsy, alcohol fragments the stages of your sleep and makes it more disrupted.
- 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 this desire to sleep, but it will also make it less likely that we will be able to easily go to sleep later. Adults should have a consolidated period of sleep at night without additional naps. If there is excessive daytime sleepiness and desire to nap, in spite of adequate sleep time, this might suggest a sleep disorder warranting further evaluation.
- Exercise every day, but avoid doing it 4 hours before bedtime.
Staying active and physically fit is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep. However, exercise too close to bedtime may actually cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.
- 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 quiet activities such as reading, listening to relaxing music, or even taking a nice bath.
- If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t struggle in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there.
Individuals who have difficulty initiating sleep 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.
- Avoid eating or drinking in the few hours right before going to bed, as these might lead to disruptions of your sleep.
Discomfort with 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.
- Make sleep a priority: don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities.
The most important advice is to respect that your body needs to sleep. Too often we are likely to allow our sleep time to be infringed upon when our daytime obligations take longer than we expect. Additionally, opportunities to engage in pleasurable activities—visiting friends, watching television, playing on the internet, eating out, and any number of others—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 might come up during the day.