It’s 3:20 am, and you’re awake, wide awake.
- Your bedroom is a cool 18°C, and inky black thanks to your blackout blinds.
- You haven’t touched caffeine since 10 am the previous morning morning.
- You read for 10 minutes and practiced some breathing exercises and meditation before bed.
And if you count one more stupid lamb whilst you inhale and exhale slowly to help you relax, you’re going to scream.
You’ve done everything right. Why can’t you sleep?
As it turns out, good sleep hygiene (habits and routines that reduce sleep disturbances) isn’t always enough.
Meanwhile, sleep loss can become a nightmarish loop and for some people an unwanted and habit. The more nights you spend tossing and turning, the more you might:
- Associate your bed with anxiety and sleeplessness
- Sleep in, withdraw from daytime activities like exercise, and/or obsess about sleeping
- Develop a belief that you’re doomed to be the “bad sleeper” you have heard so many people say.
The good news: There are strategies that can help and these can potentially change your life.
1. Have a regular sleep pattern
Try to go to bed at around the same time every evening and get up at around the same time every morning. Improved sleep will not happen as soon as changes are made. But if good sleep habits are maintained, sleep will certainly get better. Find what time works for you and stick with it.
2. Spend the right amount of time in bed
Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours sleep every night. Some require more and some less. Many poor sleepers spend much more than 8 hours in bed and this makes fragmented sleep a habit. Except if you have lengthy sleep requirements, limit your time in bed to no more than 8.5 hours. If you often take hours to fall asleep, go to bed later. Remember that children need more sleep than adults.
3. Bed is for sleeping, not entertainment
Hand-held electronic devices (e.g., smartphones) and other distractions can interfere with your sleep. It is better not to sleep with your TV or other devices on. In fact move that TV in your bedroom, if you have one, to another part of the house. Your mind needs to be in the habit of knowing that if you are in bed, you are there to sleep and conversely don’t stay in bed if you are wide awake.
4. Wind down and relax before going to bed
Have a buffer zone before bedtime. Sort out any problems like family and work well before going to bed and try to avoid those "eureka!, I've got a brilliant idea" moments. This may mean setting aside a time during the day to go over the day's activities and work out your a plan of action for the next day. Try to avoid using your computer or other electronic screens within one hour of bedtime. Exercise is fine, but not too late in the evening and avoid a late heavy lifting session as it can leave your over-stimulated. Find a relaxation technique that works for you and practise it regularly, during your wind down period.
5. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable
You should have a quiet, dark room with comfortable bedding and good temperature control - not too hot or not too cold.
6. Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes – to be avoided
Alcohol may help you to get off to sleep, but will disrupt your sleep during the night. Caffeine (tea, coffee, cola drinks) and the nicotine in cigarettes are stimulants that can keep you awake.
7. Avoid daytime naps
Sleeping during the day will make it much more difficult to sleep well at night. If a nap is absolutely necessary, for example because of a late night, then limit this to about twenty minutes. Make sure that you are awake for at least 4 hours before going back to bed. Don’t allow yourself to fall asleep in front of the TV, no matter how bad the Netflix show is, not even for a minute.
8. Don’t lie awake watching the clock
Watching the time on a clock just makes you anxious about not being asleep. If possible, take the clock out of your bedroom. If you need the clock for the alarm, turn it around so that you cannot see the time. Resist the temptation to look at the time on your various electronic devices and if possible remove your fitness/sleep tracker device as they can make us move anxious and overly focused on sleep.
9. Avoid sleeping pills except in exceptional circumstances
They do not fix the cause of your sleeping problem.
10. You may need professional help
If you are still having trouble sleeping, if you have persistent problems with mood, if you have excessive daytime sleepiness, restlessness in bed, severe snoring or wakening unrefreshed despite what should be adequate length sleep, make sure that you go and see your doctor or a sleep professional.
So if you’re lying awake thinking about what a basket case you’ll be tomorrow because you’re not asleep, why not change your habits around sleep and coach your mind to try some or all of the tips above.
P.S. If you've just read this on your phone as you are laying in bed as part of your pre-sleep ritual...what can I say but...
Sleep well :)