Occasional bouts of sleeplessness are a fact of life for most people, but for some, a good night’s sleep seems almost unattainable. They may have difficulty dropping off to sleep every night, or, if they are able to fall asleep, they may wake up at some point (or several points) during the night and find that they are unable to regain their restful state. Chronically tired as a result of their insomnia, these weary souls stumble through the day in a fog. Work suffers, relationships are strained, and the vicious cycle of sleeplessness spins on and on.
While there are pharmaceutical solutions to the problem of insomnia, sleep medications can cause undesirable side effects (sometimes really undesirable) and may even promote dependency. Oftentimes, making a few simple lifestyle modifications can help people get the rest they need to take on the day with confidence. So, before reaching for that sleeping pill, try the following steps:
Failing to keep a regular sleep/waking schedule throws off your body’s clock and may make restfulness elusive. Determine how many hours of sleep you need to function effectively and base your schedule on that number. Try to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning, and be sure to maintain this pattern over the weekend and on holidays, as well. It may be tempting to stay up late Friday night and sleep in on Saturday morning, but this disruption of your regular sleeping habits may have you tossing and turning all week long.
Know how and when to nap
A short midday “power nap” can really recharge your batteries and help you manage the challenges of the day with more energy and enthusiasm. But excessive daytime napping can disrupt your natural rhythms and make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Remember, it takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to reach the deep sleep stage, and sleeping long enough to enter that stage during waking hours can sabotage restful sleep at night. Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes, and avoid taking naps close to your regular bedtime.
Watch what you eat and drink
Going to bed hungry can distract you from sleep, so eating a light snack before bed can help quiet a rumbling tummy. However, eating heavy foods or excessive amounts right before bedtime can cause indigestion and keep you awake. Grandma’s old insomnia remedy of warm milk can help you feel drowsy as can other warm, non-caffeinated drinks. On the other hand, caffeinated beverages and foods, such as coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, are notorious sleep stealers and should be consumed in moderation—and never close to bedtime. Although alcohol may seem to produce a relaxed state, it actually disrupts sleep and, hence, should be limited.
Prepare a suitable sleep environment
If at all possible, make your bedroom a haven for sleep and intimacy only. Relegate work and all other activities, including television viewing (violent shows and lively debate programs are not conducive to nighttime tranquility), to a different part of the house so your mind and body know it’s time to rest whenever you’re in the bedroom. Listening to soothing music in the bedroom, on the other hand, can help promote drowsiness.
Setting aside a dedicated sleeping space can be a challenge for college students and small-apartment dwellers who must use their limited space for a multitude of purposes. In these situations, it can be helpful to set aside a quiet space, such as a soft, comfy chair, where you can relax to the point of drowsiness before heading off to bed.
Room temperature is another important consideration in your sleeping quarters. A hot, stuffy atmosphere feels confining and uncomfortable, so keep it on the cool side by opening windows, using fans, or running the air conditioning. Keep extra blankets within easy reach in case the temperature gets too cool in the middle of the night or early morning hours.
If you are having a hard time keeping your room dark enough for sleeping—perhaps because you must sleep during daylight hours or your neighbor’s motion-sensing security light turns on every time a car, pedestrian, or moth passes by—consider putting heavier curtains or blinds in the window or using a blindfold. If excess noise is a problem, try using earplugs.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of a good mattress. You spend a good portion of your life on your mattress, so don’t skimp on its quality. Sound, restful sleep is worth the few extra dollars you might have to pay for a good sleeping surface.
Prepare your body and mind for sleep
To prepare yourself physically and mentally for sleep, it’s helpful to get regular exercise during the day. However, avoid exercising within a few hours of bedtime. To further enhance restfulness, try gentle stretching, taking a warm bath, or a back massage to relieve tension before bed. Many people find that praying or meditating before going to bed is conducive to restfulness, as well.
Schedule time to worry
Perhaps the greatest thief of restful sleep is lying awake worrying about work, family problems, and other stressors. Rather than make this a disruptive nighttime ritual that keeps you tossing and turning, schedule some time every day, perhaps for a half hour after dinner, to write down any problems you have to deal with the next day and brainstorm solutions.