Ensuring you’re getting good and restful sleep is an important part of maintaining your wellness. The brain goes through several important actions during sleep, including consolidating learning and memories, processing thoughts and emotions, and regulating functions that relate to physical health.
Sleeping poorly or not getting enough sleep for a few days can make you irritable and forgetful. If those sleep patterns continue, they can negatively impact mental health conditions, including anxiety and mood disorders. Chronic lack of sleep can contribute to the development of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and digestive issues.
Here are six steps you can take to give yourself the best chance for sleeping as well as you can.
1. Create a comfortable environment
Get rid of any annoyances in the area where you sleep. If you get a lot of noise from street traffic, consider a white noise machine or playing peaceful music on low volume. Replace uncomfortable pillows, and if you share a bed with a partner, make sure your mattress and bedding are of an appropriate size.
Make your sleep area pleasant and relaxing by reducing clutter and by incorporating sensory items you enjoy – like fuzzy blankets or an aromatherapy machine.
2. Set a bedtime and wake up time
Observe your sleep habits for a few weeks to get a good sense of how much sleep you really need to feel rested and what times you tend to go to sleep and wake up. Then, based on that information, start going to sleep and waking up at the same times every day.
Yes, even on the weekend. Yes, even when you take time off work! Sleep and wake times affect the body’s circadian rhythm, which tells you when to feel awake and energetic and when to feel tired. Disruptions to your circadian rhythm can be hard to shake, and can impact other biological processes your circadian rhythm is connected to, like body temperature control and hormone production.
You can boost your body’s maintenance of sleep time, wake time, and circadian rhythm by getting 20 or more minutes of natural sunlight in the morning. Another positive step is to avoid setting your wake time in the late morning or afternoon unless your work schedule or other life responsibilities make it necessary.
3. Be strategic about substances
Eating less sugar and cutting out caffeine in the late afternoon and evening can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Avoiding alcohol for a few hours before bed is also helpful; contrary to popular belief, nightcaps do NOT help you sleep well. Alcohol does not significantly improve how quickly you fall asleep and makes it more likely that you will wake up or not sleep deeply during the night.
If you tend to reach for nightcaps as a way to relax before sleep, consider some of the following ways to get calm and centered instead.
4. Wind down before bed
Slowing down the mind and body before bedtime can help you sleep well. Don’t eat big meals (a small snack is OK) and avoid heavy exercise in the few hours before bed, so that your digestive system and cardiovascular system won’t be still pumped up when you lay down.
Put down your phone an hour or two before bed – if you’re trying to fall asleep, shining all that bright light into your eyes and brain is counterproductive. Try some light, relaxing activities like stretching, reading, or a warm shower or bath, which can help your body feel ready for sleep.
5. Don’t linger in bed
Your mind should strongly associate your bed with sleeping. If you try to fall asleep and find yourself still awake after about 20 minutes, it’s better to get up and do something else until you get tired rather than keep tossing and turning, which will link your bed with this idea of frustration.
Try to use your bed only as a place to sleep or have sex. If you use your bed for daytime activities like watching TV or getting a little work done on your laptop, this can also impact your mind’s association with your bed as a place to sleep.
6. Rule out external problems that could be affecting your sleep
It’s very common for stress to impact sleep. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep for a couple of nights, think about whether you’re feeling bothered by that big project at work or that tough conversation you’re planning to have with your partner. If you have trouble sleeping for more than a few weeks, consider consulting your medical doctor about it – some physical health problems can cause sleeplessness.
Trouble sleeping can also be a sign of needing help with emotional challenges or mental health difficulties. If you suspect this might be why sleep has been difficult for you, I’m here to help. Click the button below to set up a free phone consultation and learn more about my therapy practice. I’d love to chat more about what’s been going on for you and how we might work together to find some answers.