Almost everyone has trouble getting to sleep every now and then, but for some people, particularly those experiencing a lot of stress, this can become an ongoing problem. Troubles with sleep not only cause you to feel tired, but can also really negatively impact your day to day functioning and health.
Learning ways to manage sleep difficulties can greatly improve your quality of life.
The following strategies should help you sleep better at night:
Set your body clock – go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Maintaining a sleep schedule that is regular and predictable can help your body maintain a rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep. If your sleep-wake times are too inconsistent, you may feel tired and groggy all the time, as your body is never sure when it is meant to be awake and when it is meant to be sleeping.
Avoid stimulants – within 3 hours of bedtime don’t: smoke, drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, eat a heavy meal or do energetic exercise. In fact, limited your intake of caffeine to a maximum of 2 cups of coffee a day is advised.
Be active during the day – regular daytime exercise will help improve your sleep quality. If you get outside early and get some sunlight in, this will also help to set your body clock for a good night’s sleep.
Avoid naps – try not to lie down, nap or sleep during the day.
Wind down at bedtime – have an hour of quiet time before bed. This nightly routine could consist of switching off your electronic device, reading, having a bath or listening to music.
Make your bedroom a good environment for sleep – keep it cool, dark and quiet and use it only for sleep and sex. Regulating the temperature in your bedroom is important as our core temperature drops when we fall asleep. If your room is too warm, you risk making it harder to fall or stay asleep.
Get up if you can’t sleep – if you can’t sleep after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing and/or boring until you feel tired, then try again. Don’t lie in bed fretting, as this will only make you associate your bed with lying awake.
Challenge your worries - if stress or anxiety is interfering with your sleep, one way to intervene with this is to write down all your worries. Journaling can be helpful to get worrisome thoughts out of your head and get more shuteye. If your anxious thoughts are directly related to sleep itself, then try a few thought challenges. A few examples might be:
I’ll never get to sleep
Sleep is not a light switch. It takes good sleepers 15-30 min to sleep, and to wake up.
You are getting more sleep than you think. Insomniacs underestimate how much they sleep due to the stress of lying awake. Try to keep your arousal down.
I woke up in the middle of the night or early morning and feel awake, so I will not be able to fall back to sleep.
It’s normal to wake up once or twice in the night, everyone does. You may initially feel alert; drowsiness will follow.
If you do wake up early, don’t get frustrated or battle it, that will only wake you up more. Relax. Give yourself permission to be awake. Paradoxically, accepting being awake informs your brain it’s ok to go back to sleep.
I can’t function without sleep.
Sleep is not the reason for ALL problems. Fatigue can also be due to stress, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, dehydration, low iron and more. Even if you get a poor night of sleep, you will be able to function the next day.
If your sleep problems are particularly bad, you may want to discuss CBT-I (cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia) with your GP or a sleep specialist.
Good luck, and sleep well!