Making Sleep Count — Active Steps
Your body has a natural physiological drive for sleep. Unfortunately, there are things that interfere with this drive and prevent us from getting a good sleep. Rather than worrying about it, do what you can to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep and let your body do the rest.
Check out these strategies that can help increase your body’s drive for sleep and create a good sleep pattern in the long term.
Things that help with sleep:
- Stick to a routine. Try to eat, exercise, and sleep at the same time every day. This helps your body set your internal clock and helps set your sleep cycle.
- Exercise. Being physically active helps you feel sleepy at bedtime and improves the quality of your sleep. But don’t exercise close to bedtime or you’ll be too revved up to sleep.
- Drink lots of water. Hydrating during the day improves your sleep at night.
- Have a light snack. Having a snack in the evening will ensure you’re not going to bed hungry and can improve sleep, but avoid anything too heavy, spicy, or sugary.
- Set the stage for sleep. Make your room and bed as comfortable as possible, find the right temperature (cool is better), turn down the lights and cut out noise.
- Unwind. About 30 minutes to an hour before bed, turn off all electronics (including the TV and your phone), dim the lights and do something relaxing (read, meditate, listen to soothing music, have a warm bath/hot shower, cuddle a pet, journal about things that make you feel good, draw). This sends your brain the message it’s time to go to sleep. Check out the How to Chill section to get some more ideas about how to relax.
- Use your bed only for sleeping. Try to avoid watching TV, surfing the net, playing on your phone, studying, reading, or worrying in bed. These activities send your brain the message that your bed is a place to be awake and alert and interfere with you being sleepy when it’s time for bed.
- Go to bed when you’re sleepy. If you try to force yourself to sleep when you’re not sleepy you’ll just end up lying awake in bed feeling frustrated.
- Stick to a set time to get up. Get up at the same time every morning (and don’t sleep in for more than an hour past your regular wake-up time on the weekends) to help your body regulate sleep.
- Wake up to bright lights. Light sends your brain the message it’s time to get up and be alert. So try turning on all the lights and opening up your blinds first thing in the morning. This will help you feel more awake in the morning and helps set your body’s clock making you feel tired at night.
Try experimenting with some of the strategies above to see if they help you get a better night’s sleep.
Things that interfere with sleep:
- Long or frequent naps. It’s tempting to have a nice long nap when you’re tired. But napping will interfere with you feeling sleepy at bedtime causing you to stay up too late and being tired again the next day and the cycle continues…
- Sleeping in. Trying to get caught up on sleep by sleeping in only makes it harder to fall asleep the next night.
- Stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, energy drinks, and sugar). Even though they can give you a temporary boost when you’re tired, they’ll interfere with you feeling sleeping at night and having a restful sleep. So try limiting these things especially in the afternoon and evening.
- Alcohol or pot. You may feel like they help you relax and fall asleep, but they interfere with the quality of your sleep.
- Electronics. Avoid electronics at bedtime as they emit a blue-light spectrum that keeps you alert and makes it harder to get to sleep.
- Checking the clock. This only makes you more anxious. So, turn your clock around!
- Worrying. Worrying, especially about not sleeping, is a guarantee to keep you awake. Instead, accept that you can’t sleep and do something relaxing. Or, try writing down your worries so that you don’t have to keep them in your head. Tell yourself that there’s nothing you can do about them right now and you’ll deal with them tomorrow.
3 key things to do when you can’t sleep:
- Get out of bed. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 or 30 minutes get out of bed and do something boring or relaxing. When you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again.
- Do something relaxing. Keep the lights dim and try relaxing by reading, meditating, or listening to soothing music. Check out the How to Chill section to get some ideas about how to relax.
- Try some helpful self-talk. Try telling yourself some helpful things like, “Trying hard to sleep interferes with my ability to fall sleep. I need to accept that I may not be able to sleep tonight”, “I may not feel great in the morning if I don’t get a good sleep, but I can still get through the day”, or “A bad night’s sleep is often rewarded with a good night’s sleep the next night or the night after that”. Check out Making Sleep Count – Thinking Right for more helpful thoughts.
Developing good sleep habits take time. Be prepared to keep tweaking your strategies so they become more effective over time.
For more help and ideas for getting a good night’s sleep, check out our MindShift CBT app for iOS and Android.