With a few simple guidelines, you can have better sleep tonight. At some point in our lives, for any number of reasons, nearly all of us will have difficulties sleeping and suffer from acute insomnia. This can lead to significant distress, but have no fear! There are simple steps to take that will help you sleep better tonight.
- Aim to 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. Once you determine your sleep needs, you should do your best to meet those needs every day. 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 sleep environment 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 place for relaxing—not a source of stress.
- Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for watching television, indulging your pets, 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. It's also important to remove your pets from the bedroom as they can disrupt your sleep. Lastly, don't use the bedroom as a place to 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.
- Skip the nap.
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 we'll also have a harder time getting 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.
- Try to exercise every day, but avoid doing so 4 hours before bedtime.
Staying active and physically fit is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep. However, exercising 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 as 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, hot bath.
- If you're having trouble getting to sleep, as occurs with insomnia, don’t lie awake, struggling in bed—your body may start to think it's a place for difficulties.
Individuals who have difficulty initiating sleep often toss and turn in bed, trying to force sleep to come. If this happens night after night, you may begin to associate your bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep. If you're unable to get to sleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to fall asleep, then return to your bedroom to sleep.
- There are many things that can ruin your sleep, and you should 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's best to avoid these situations by not eating or drinking in the few hours 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 allow our sleep time to be infringed upon when our daytime obligations take longer than anticipated. 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's important to schedule your sleep time and stick to that schedule, no matter what might come up during the day.