Whether you’re a great sleeper or struggling with insomnia, following these healthy sleep tips will give you the best chance for a good night’s sleep. Think of these tips as a way to prepare your mind and body to let go into satisfying sleep when bedtime comes.
Healthy sleep tips (also called sleep hygiene) can be helpful if you have a mild sleep problem. However, once a sleep problem has really taken hold and started to cause significant problems, more powerful strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medication will probably be needed to get you sleeping well and feeling well again.
Go to bed only when you feel sleepy.
Sometimes we get in the habit of going to bed for the wrong reasons. Going to bed due to boredom or simply because there’s nothing good on TV is very common. Going to bed early because you have to get up earlier than usual is another common reason for going to bed without being sleepy. However, going to bed before your brain and body are truly ready most often leads to frustration and insomnia.
Avoid alcohol 3 to 4 hours before bed.
Alcohol can make us feel sleepy and sometimes actually helps us fall asleep faster. Because of this many people actually use alcohol to try to take control of insomnia. This seems like a good idea on the surface. However, alcohol reduces REM sleep during the first half of the night. When this happens there is an increased chance of increased REM sleep during the second half of the night, which increases the chance of having nightmares. Alcohol also causes the muscles in the mouth and throat to relax more than usual, which may increase the number of breathing problems (obstructive sleep apnea; OSA) we have while sleeping. Alcohol may also cause more heartburn later in the night. All of these things can lead you to wake up more often and have more difficulty returning to sleep.
Avoid caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bed.
Caffeine is a stimulant and can prevent sleep chemicals the brain from making us sleepy at bedtime. Everyone seems to have their own unique sensitivity to the effects of caffeine so the recommendation of stopping caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bed is just a general rule. Depending on your sensitivity, you may need to stop using caffeine 8 or even 12 hours before bed. On the other hand, you may have found that caffeine seems to have little effect on your ability to get to sleep.
Use the bed and bedroom for sleep and sex only.
Many people don’t like this healthy sleep tip because it means that you should not watch TV, read a book, eat, talk on the phone, do your taxes, check the news on your tablet, scroll through Facebook on your phone, or anything else in bed. This is important because sometimes our brains can get confused about how they are supposed to act when we get into bed. For example, if you read an exciting book or watch the news (which is often stressful) the brain may begin to think that it should become excited or stressed when it gets into bed. Millions of people read and watch TV in bed every night without this kind of thing happening. However, if you reserve the bed for sleep and sex it almost certainly will not happen to you. What I usually tell people who are really “passionate” about reading, watching TV, or doing other things in bed is, “If you don’t have a sleep problem then do whatever you want in bed. If you have a sleep problem and you really want to fix it then you need to send a very clear message to your brain that the bed equals sleep.”
Avoid nicotine near bedtime and if you wake in the night.
Nicotine is a stimulant and may get your mind and body activated in a way that keeps you from being able to fall asleep easily.
Follow a calming routine 15 to 20 min. before bed each night.
If you are a student, parent, professional or anybody really, you may find yourself busy right up until bedtime. The brain wasn’t made to go from “Zoom to Stop” in the few minutes it takes to brush your teeth and get into bed. The brain needs time to relax and wind down so that sleepiness can set in. If you find yourself wide-awake when you lie down many nights, setting aside 15 to 20 minutes to be still and do something calming or relaxing before getting into bed may be just what you need.
Keep the same sleep schedule every day, even on the weekends.
Following the same schedule every day helps to keep us in a strong “sleep groove” so that our brain and body know exactly when to get sleepy at night and when to wake up and take on the day. This can help protect us when stress, pain, injury, and the other inevitable surprises of life threaten to disrupt our sleep.
With our busy lifestyles there is a strong tendency to stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends. This can be fun and it certainly feels great to get an extra hour or two of sleep on Saturday and Sunday morning. The problem is that our body clocks (circadian rhythms) can only bend so much. If your schedule changes more than about one hour from one night to the next there is a good chance that your body clock will have trouble keeping up with you. This can lead to symptoms of insomnia like difficulty getting to sleep or waking up too early in the mornings.
A light snack may help you sleep but avoid meals two hours before bed.
A full meal too close to bedtime may have your belly working overtime while the rest of your body is trying to get to sleep. It will also increase the chances of heartburn later in the night. Try to eat your final meal at least two hours before bed and plan to have a light snack if you find yourself getting hungry before bedtime comes.
Exercise regularly, but avoid moderate or high intensity exercise 2 to 3 hours before bed.
People who exercise regularly sleep better than those who don’t. Exercising late in the evening to try to make yourself sleepy doesn’t really work most of the time. In fact it takes some time for the body to wind down after exercising.
Make your bed and bedroom safe and comfortable by controlling light, noise, temperature, etc.
Creating a pleasant place to sleep can be an important part of creating and maintaining a satisfying sleep pattern. Make sure you have a comfortable bed. Minimize the amount of light in your bedroom while you’re trying to sleep or use a sleep mask if the amount of light in your bedroom is out of your control. Use earplugs or a white noise machine to combat troublesome noise. Control the temperature of your room and your body by using the thermostat, windows, fans, and creative blanket work. If you have pets that sleep with you, make sure that collars and tags are silent. In some cases it may be necessary to remove pets from the bedroom if their noise or movements cause significant disruption to your sleep.
Take 15 minutes each evening for “worry time.”
If we don’t pay enough attention to our daily worries and problems during the day, they can “leak out” when we are trying to let go and fall asleep at night. Pick a time in the evening (not too close to bedtime) when you can spend 10-15 minutes allowing yourself to worry as much as you want. You can simply spend this time worrying or you can write down your worries and any solutions you come up with. Many people who do this short activity each evening find that their minds are more willing to give them a worry free night of sleep.