Over 60 million Americans struggle to get good quality sleep each night. From racing thoughts to tossing and turning in bed, nothing is more frustrating than being tired but unable to sleep!
While all of us occasionally have a sleepless night for one reason or another, insomnia may become a real problem as sleep deprivation interferes with all aspects of our daily functioning such as mood, memory, concentration, energy level and appetite.
On average, most adults needs approximately 7-9 hours of sleep to function best. Practicing good sleep hygiene or practices that promote quality sleep are essential and worth implementing into your nightly routine. Below are 10 tips for better sleep hygiene:
- Encouraging Natural Melatonin Production – Keeping the lights dim in the evening and limiting screen time can encourage the body’s natural production of melatonin, our “sleep” hormone. Paying attention to your body’s signals (ie: heavy eyelids) is important – this is the time to get in bed!
- Beginning to Unwind Before Bed – From the time we wake, most people are inundated throughout the day with text messages, phone calls, social media and emails. Our brains stay busy all day long processing information. Establishing a quiet time before bed, journaling or making a “to do” list for tomorrow may be helpful in helping your brain quiet down.
- Decreasing Body Temperature – A drop in body temperature is known to induce the body’s relaxation response. Soaking in a warm bath before towel drying off and keeping your room temperature cooler for sleeping are 2 ways to drop your body temperature and induce the relaxation response.
- Keeping the Same Sleep Schedule – The best way to prepare your brain and body for sleep each night is by keeping a regular bedtime routine and schedule. Going to bed and waking at (approximately) the same time, along with limiting naps, will help keep your sleep schedule regular.
- Getting Out of Bed – Tossing and turning only increases a person’s worry and frustration about not being able to sleep (which, in turn, activates the stress response). If you do not fall asleep within 30 minutes, it is best to go to another room and engage in a quiet activity (eg: reading, stretching) for 30 minutes.
- Turning the Clock Away – Most people have numbers stuck in their head (ie: “I have to be asleep by 10 pm to get 7 hours of sleep”) OR (ie: “If I can fall asleep in the next 3 minutes, I can still get 5 hours of sleep..”). These thought patterns activate the body’s stress response. Turning your clock away may be helpful.
- Limiting Substances – Many people drink alcohol as a way to relax in the evening and to help them sleep. Since alcohol is a depressant, it works well (initially) to help a person feel drowsy and tired. However, after the alcohol is processed in your body, the body signals a “wake up” response and arousal levels increase. This typically results in frequent waking or lighter stage sleep.
Caffeine is another substance that may interfere with good quality sleep. On average, caffeine stays in your system for approximately 14 hours. High doses of nicotine may also result in frequent waking or lighter stage sleep.
- Getting Enough Exercise – Exercise and physical activity throughout the day have been shown to help people sleep better and “deeper” each night.
- Practicing Mindfulness – Tuning out and focusing on your senses helps the brain shift from its thinking and analyzing mode (ie: racing thoughts) to its sensing and observing mode. Focusing on only the sounds that you hear at night, whether it’s the sound of a fan or your breathing patterns, for example, may help calm your mind before sleep.
- Resisting Anxious Thoughts – Our thought patterns influence our feelings and emotions. Stressful or anxious thoughts (eg: “I’m going to feel miserable tomorrow”) can activate the stress response in the body which keeps us from being able to relax and fall asleep. Using calming thoughts such as “I may be tired tomorrow, but I can still function..” help to calm the mind and body.
It is worth mentioning that there are some medical conditions and even side effects of certain medications that may result in insomnia. Insomnia is also a common symptom of depression and anxiety.
If you continue to struggle with insomnia despite good sleep hygiene, I encourage you to talk to your primary care physician or a mental health counselor. Sleep affects our quality of life and is vital to our overall physical and emotional health.
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