Why can’t this be 10 tips for better sleep TONIGHT? You have waited long enough. You have had enough sleepless nights. Please!
Unfortunately sleep is too important, too intricate. It is a combination of complicated processes, long established customs and tangled physiological properties. Isn’t that what you really want? It’s so elementary a baby can do it with ease. It’s a basic function of life, like eating, moving, thinking and creating. Why then should it be so damn difficult?!
If you have been having regular difficulty sleeping you know how bad sleep on a nightly basis effects your days. Maybe you are late for work or school. You’ve got difficulty concentrating, focusing and it is more difficult to be creative. Your mood suffers when you are sleep deprived. You’re more likely to be irritable without good sleep behind you. The tendency to blurt out something you don’t mean or shouldn’t state is much higher when you’re tired. It’s harder to exercise and it may seem you’re always hungry. Certainly your health and your life in general would be better if you could just begin getting some decent sleep. And I can help! Keep reading and together we’ll get you going in the direction of better sleep and a better life.
A few nights of restless sleep before a big event, in a new environment or during times of illness are normal and to be expected in everyday life. The problems begin when “a few nights” becomes “most nights” and any good reason for the sleeplessness is now a distant memory or is a complete mystery.
By definition, a chronic sleep problem has developed over time and existed as a concern for several weeks, at least. It is therefore unrealistic to think it could be repaired in one or two nights. It took awhile to get this awful; it takes awhile to get better. I understand that’s disappointing, but it’s true.
The great news is you can START to make it better right away. The changes you make tonight and the commitment you make today will be the first actions to healthy sleep for the rest of your life!
Read and follow these 10 tips. Just reading them won’t help. You also need to follow them! Some seem really simple — stupid in fact. However you will likely realize that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Also, in regards to sleep, it is often the “stupidest” things that turn out to be the most powerful. Your success will depend on your willingness to actually work on these suggestions and be patient while the magic works with time.
Ready? Here we go.
Hint #1 Set a regular time to get up daily.
This implies weekends, too. The actual time you choose as “your time” does not matter that much, but being regular about it does. If you’ve got to be up by a certain time to make it to work 4-5 days a week, then that will be your time – workdays and weekends. This is a crucial step, and really, really hard for most people.
Sleep is definitely a natural process, but we will need to allow the wisdom of nature to work with us and regular rhythms are a hallmark of nature. The human body, such as the squirrel body or the bear body or the chrysanthemum “body” dances with rhythms of the natural world. The sun rises and sets, the temperature goes up and down, the seasons change. We need to get into that dance, move in regular rhythms to become routine in our responses.
Tip #2 Set an “intended” bedtime.
This too should be the same every night so that you can be certain you’re allowing sufficient time in you schedule for sleep. I say “intended” because you may not be sleepy at the exact same time every evening and, as we shall later see, you should only try to sleep when you are sleepy. It is absolutely necessary, though to designate a time when all else will be laid aside and sleep will be the priority.
We live in a very busy, overscheduled, hyper-stimulated society. Set an alarm clock in the living room or kitchen which will proclaim your bedtime as surely as the one from the bedroom proclaims your morning.
Tip #3 Allow plenty of time for sleep.
How much is enough? Most humans need close to eight hours. 7 to 8 is a good range to test for yourself. Some will need 7 hours and many others 9, but science has shown us that we are likely to die earlier if we do not average at least 6 hours each night.
Sleep is not a passive procedure. It is not “down time”. It’s an extremely important chance for the body to heal, build, restore, re-balance and also to wash up tissues, organs and systems. Without enough sleep the easy maintenance functions might not get completed. Some of our most important hormones, like human growth hormone and testosterone are produced most efficiently, sometimes only while, we are asleep. If you never emptied the wastebasket in your workplace? If you never restocked your fridge?
The brain has lots to do while we sleep also. There are hundreds of stories of creative breakthroughs that came through dreams or were just upon awakening.
Schedule sufficient time for sleep so that the brilliance of your body and mind can have a chance to shine.
Tip #4 Create a bedtime ritual.
When you have children, or if you ever were one, you are most likely familiar with this thought. At a certain time each evening, the children are helped or reminded to take a warm bath, change in their snuggy jammies, brush their teeth, read a pleasant bedtime story, recite their hopes and gratitude, kiss their loved ones and then turn out the lights.
This could be an exceptional routine to copy for yourself. The advantages of doing Such things every night, at the same time are twofold:
First the regularity of timing, as mentioned in Tips #1 and 2 is reinforced. Having a regular sequence of activities that lead up to “lights out” serves as a signal to your body that the possibility of sleep is coming. This lets the systems start to reset and ready for their sleep jobs, rather than abruptly trying to change course in midstream.
Secondly, the quiet relaxing nature of these pre-bedtime activities gives you an chance to shift gears mentally and emotionally as well. You disengage from the stressors and pull of their daily responsibilities and ease into rest. Relaxing reading, soothing music, a bath, a massage, a romantic moment with a buff; these all can create an effective “moat” to safely separate your active day and your relaxing night.
When you walk into your bedroom at the end of a complete day, ready to start your successful sojourn into slumber you should receive one and just one message: Sleep…! (OK, Sleep and Sex – but two and only two messages!) With so much distraction the mind does not understand exactly what you would like or intend.
Just like training a new puppy, there needs to be a very clear message about what needs to happen where. Bed = Sleep. Bed = Sleep (and gender). That’s IT!
So move everything from your bedroom that doesn’t relate to or promote good sleep. Now with all that mess gone, you can “invite” sleep in. Make your bedroom a place you love. Choose your favorite restful colors. Hang pictures that remind you of relaxed places and times. Make it soft, like a hug and quiet like a refuge.
Hint #6 Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
In the beginning, when trying to reset you sleep routines, you may realize that while you’ve set regular hours followed a relaxing bedtime ritual and gone to bed in a tranquil cocoon, sleep still doesn’t appear on demand. Remember it took awhile for it to get inconsistent and erratic, it’s going to take time before it becomes reliable again. In the meantime you need to keep true to your own intentions and keep to retrain yourself to better responses.
If you end up awake in bed and getting upset over it, get out of bed! Whether this is in the start of the night, the middle of the night or in the hour before the alarm, do not teach your brain that it is acceptable to be awake in bed. Remember the message is Bed=Sleep. If sleep is clearly not there, get up. Go to another room and do something quiet and restful until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed and try again. Should you “wake up” as soon as you get back in bed, then get up again. Repeat till you fall asleep easily. Training is all about establishing a firm connection between two conditions, in this case Bed = Sleep. Don’t let there be some other options.
Now this is one of those things that seems silly or counter-intuitive or just plain idiotic. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve heard patients say it before: “But if I just lay here perhaps I will eventually fall asleep.”
“But at least I am resting.”
“But it is too cold to get out of bed.”
“But I’m too tired to get up.”
“But I don’t want to disturb my partner.”
All those excuses may be accurate, but the truth is, staying in bed when you aren’t sleeping, especially when you’re feeling any negative emotion about it, just brings more of the same on subsequent nights. It’s a huge part of why you have had this problem as long as you have, despite all of the other things you have tried. To break the pattern you have to break into the pattern.
When you finally get this part and begin this exercise, you could very well have some rough nights at first. You might feel a few nights like you got even less sleep than before you started following any of “these stupid tips”! I am truly sorry for the discomfort and wish it were not so. But keep the long term goal in mind here and know you are making important progress toward great sleep and excellent daytime energy which you can count on in the future. To skip or postpone this step is likely to diminish or delay your success.
Are you beginning to see why we can’t fix everything all at once? Sleep is a procedure. Fixing broken sleep is a procedure. Every step along the way builds on previous steps. If your old habit is sleeping poorly we need to replace this with new habits. Habits take time to take hold. So stay with it. Don’t try 1 thing or each thing for just one night and announce “this does not work!” Remember one-night solutions do not work!
Medical science shows it takes at least 18 times to start to change a habit. As you go through these changes on your path to healthy sleep daily, let yourself 3 months of strong commitment to each stop before making any judgments. It will take even more time to cement in, but you can get some good sense of the results prior to the first month is over. With a few adjustments you may indeed see almost instant benefit, but if you’re looking for the whole package, you will need to be patient and consistent.
You’re doing well so far. So, ready to keep on?
Tip #7 Control Your Environment.
You may sleep better if it’s dark. This may appear to be evident, but I am often amazed how many people discount this reality.
The brain gets one of its biggest clues about when to sleep from the daily changes in light. In reality melatonin, the most famous of the natural sleep chemicals, is only produced when the ambient light begins to fade. Melatonin production can also be shut down by no more than seven minutes of light exposure. Streetlights, nightlights, the glow from a computer screen, TV or even the alarm clock can be cutting into your ability to create adequate melatonin to fall asleep, stay asleep or get back to sleep. This means the more light you can shut out of your bedroom the better. Turn off, screen out and eliminate what light sources you can, and try a comfortable sleep mask if it is not enough.
Here’s another obvious one: It needs to be quiet. This can be a challenge in some neighborhoods, but very good earplugs can be transformational. There are scores of different earplug designs and you will find many of them at your neighborhood drugstore. Everyone is different, so try a few. If you can’t find anything you like already made, you can have a personalized pair made just for you by most hearing aid dispensers. These generally cost approximately $40.
Here’s one of the most common environmental mistakes people make. There are hundreds of people who try to get decent sleep with the tv on in the background. These flashing lights and quick dialogues, often with varying amounts between shows and commercials are just the opposite of the environment required for healthy sleep to develop. Remember, the human mind is wired to alert to your voice. It doesn’t matter whether that voice is recorded or live, talking to you directly, loud enough to understand or even in your speech. When the ears pick up individual voices, the brain wave patterns change to alert status. This isn’t what you want if you are trying to sleep. Turn the TV off. Even better, move it from your sleep sanctuary all together!
The warmth of your bedroom is important. Sleep happens most readily when the temperature is falling. That’s why it is so tricky to sleep on these hot summer nights. There will be some individual variation with this and finding a fever to agree on is a classic couple’s dilemma. If you’re waking too early in the morning, your natural temperature curve coupled with the room temperature may be the culprit. Try lowering the bedroom thermostat a couple notches or exchange your blanket for a lighter one.
We often ask about what sort of bed they should buy. My advice is to have the most “comfortable” mattress you can afford. This will be different for every person, which accounts for the prevalence of the customizable number system beds. Just remember you will spend over 2800 hours at the bed in the next year and it is well worth the investment – in yourself.
The point here is, where you sleep greatly effects how you sleep. Make the time to examine your sleep environment and identify potential sleep stealers. Change everything you can to minimize outside disturbances and you might be astounded to discover just how much difference a seemingly small adjustment can make.
Hint #8 Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sleep disrupting drugs and prescriptions near bedtime.
This is a big one. Each of these substances has a different effect in the sleep centers of the brain.
Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and some pain medicines, keeps the brain’s alerting system turned on. The effects can last up to 9 hours! That means a diet cola at 3 pm might be what’s keeping you up at midnight.
Nicotine has similar alerting effects. Cigarette smokers may also experience withdrawal symptoms during the night which can lead to restless and broken sleep, especially in the last half of the evening.
Alcohol is possibly the most frequent self-medication strategy used by people who have trouble falling asleep. This can definitely backfire, though. It is true that alcohol can lead to some relaxation and quicker sleep onset. However, the sleep that ensues is brief on the restorative deep sleep most people desire and it conveys an earnest Trojan horse that is revealed when the alcohol is metabolized.
The body can’t safely eliminate alcohol in the exact same form you consume it in. The liver needs to change it into other safer chemicals. One of those chemicals has stimulant properties similar to caffeine! This happens about four hours after the glass of wine, whiskey or brandy strikes you stomach. You will have some trouble getting back to sleep, too, until the new chemical is cleared from the body.
Obviously recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines interfere with sleep. Even drugs that appear to cause drowsiness typically do not lead into normally restful sleep. The pills marketed as “sleep aids” are usually anti-histamines that may make you sleepy, but they don’t bring about normal sleep. There are many over the counter and prescription medication that also alter sleep patterns in surprising ways. Be sure to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about how these may be affecting you.
Hint #9 Eat well to sleep well.
Sleep is just one of the three legs on the stool of good health. The other two legs are exercise and nutrition. To do anything well, including sleep, the body and mind need adequate, clean and appropriate fuel. Feed yourself good food that you prepare yourself or know has been freshly made. Regular schedules are important for healthy meals, too. Avoid large, spicy, fatty or rich foods close to bedtime. Dinner ought to be finished at least two hours before your intended bed time to permit time for digestion.
Likewise, it is important that you not go to bed hungry. If your body is hungry, lacking minerals, nutrients and amino acids, your sleep will be restless and the body’s housekeeping chores aren’t going to get completed properly if the raw materials for restoring and repairing tissues aren’t at hand.
There are several different foods that can improve your ability to get to sleep. The reason this works is because milk has tryptophan that the body uses to make serotonin. Serotonin is one of those brain chemicals, neurotransmitters, necessary for normal, consistent sleep.
There are also foods that can keep you awake; ginger for example. A meal high in protein with no balancing carbohydrates, may block serotonin. If you’re having trouble sleeping a big meal of spicy ginger beef, just before hitting the sack, would likely not be your best choice!
Hint #10 Do not worry about it.
Now here is some crazy sounding advice! After spending so much time going through all the various things you will need to do to improve your sleep, telling you all of the terrible things that could go wrong if you do not sleep well, now I am saying not to be worried about it? Yes, I do think good sleep is important – I know you do, too or you would not still be reading this. Yes, I think we need to be paying attention to each of these conditions, behaviors and programs we have listed here. But worrying about is, stressing over it and making it bigger than is must be isn’t helping. In fact that goes for all the other nagging worries in our lives!
We mentioned before that losing some sleep before a big event, a trip or during a move or any exciting time is natural and normal. The trouble begins when the sleepless pattern seems to linger when the triggering event or circumstance is no longer relevant or present. For many people the “trouble” becomes a “problem” and then a “sleep disorder” when they start to worry about it during the day also. Fretting over it, stressing and getting upset over it doesn’t make it easier to sleep.
If worry and worry, about sleep or anything else, is there with you when you go to bed at night, you need to locate a way to take care of it in the daytime first. Stress reduction techniques and strategies include meditation, yoga, martial arts, easy play, counseling, prayer, hobbies and new air exercise. Music, guided meditation, creative visualization, progressive relaxation and biofeedback may also be incredibly effective tools.
One of my favorite tricks is to carry out a nightly “brain dump”. When everything appears to be on overload, I will be sure to take time every evening to sit down and write out all I’d normally be worrying about in bed. This might consist of large things, like how to pay the mortgage, smaller stuff like remembering if the tires require rotating as well as stupid stuff like wondering if my favorite summer shirt will still be in fashion next year. After writing furiously for 10 minutes or so the scribbling will come to a stop on its own. Later, in bed, when those worrisome thoughts start to come up I will say “no, I wrote you down, so I don’t have to think you right now”. It really works.
Just as you have been proactive about taking control of your program, your surroundings, your diet and behaviours, you must accept responsibility and reclaim control of your own thoughts. This may require external assistance from a coach or counselor, but ultimately it’s the key to lasting success – in sleep and in life.
1) Establish a regular time to get up every day.
2) Set an “intended” bedtime.
3) Allow plenty of time for sleep.
5) Make your bedroom into a Sleep Sanctuary.
6) Get out of bed if you can not sleep.
8) Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sleep disrupting drugs.
10) Don’t be concerned about it.
I know it is not straightforward. But approach it like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Keep in mind that when you can count on full refreshing sleep each night, your days will be brighter, more productive and more creative. Your relationships will flourish and your personal potential will expand. Fantastic sleep lets your body heal from daily use and rebalance for every new day. Reducing cumulative damage can help prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression.