Ten Tips For Better Sleep

Palo Alto Psychologist

For some people, going to bed in the evening is a pleasant and natural part of their day.  They curl up under blankets and drift peacefully off into dreams as soon as they close their eyes. However, many find the process of getting to bed to be a nightly challenge that results in hours of tossing and turning before managing to capture a few hours of quiet slumber.  If you are in the later category there may be a few simple things that you can do to start the process of getting a better night of rest.

  1. Set a consistent time to wake up every morning.  Although it can be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, or to catch up on sleep after a short night, an inconsistent sleep schedule can confuse your body and lead you to feel awake when you wish to be going to sleep, and sleepy when you are intending to wake up.
  2. Don’t watch your clock.  In fact, you should probably turn it around so it does not face you.  Watching minutes or hours pass by while you lie awake in bed will just increase anxiety, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
  3. Get out of bed if you are too alert.  If you find yourself lying in bed for more than 20 minutes (your estimate not based on the clock) without falling asleep, it is best to get out of bed and do a calming activity (like reading or writing, not something activating like browsing the internet) somewhere else.  The goal is to avoid associating being in bed with being alert or anxious.  Therefore, you should only return to bed when feeling calm and sleepy.
  4. Your bed is only for sleep and romance.  Again, you want to avoid associating your bed with eating, doing work, fighting, or anything else that might be stressful or activating.
  5. Avoid napping.  It is natural to want to doze if you are feeling exhausted, but if you are someone who has difficulty falling asleep at night, napping is a bad idea.  People need to accumulate a certain amount of “sleep debt” to feel tired at night and napping can disrupt this.  If you absolutely must nap, try to do it early in the day and for no more than 30 minutes.
  6. Limit your caffeine intake.  While some people can drink cups of coffee before bed and still sleep soundly, if you are someone who has difficulty sleeping you may want to try cutting out caffeine altogether, but definitely after noon.
  7. No “night caps.”  While alcohol can induce drowsiness, as it wears off it interferes with sleep cycles making the hours you do get to sleep less refreshing.  It can often cause early morning awakening as well.
  8. Put anxious thinking on hold.  If you feel your thoughts starts running as soon as you get into bed, you may want to try a few tricks to try to calm yourself and empty your mind.  You can try keeping a notepad and writing down topics that come into your mind.   Once they are on paper, tell yourself you can let go of them and can come back to them tomorrow.  You can also try relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation (find an MP3 to guide you through an exercises here) or can count down from 100 while visualizing walking down stairs.
  9. Avoid eating or exercising close to bedtime.  Exercise is physiologically arousing which interferes with sleep, and digestion slows when sleeping which can lead to discomfort.
  10. Try to control light and sound.  Some people find it helpful to have earplugs or a fan for “white noise” when they sleep and others benefit from an eye-mask.

If you have tried out all of these tips and still find sleep to be out of your grasp, it may be helpful to work with a psychologist who can help to apply some additional behavioral skills such as “sleep restriction.” This can help a person facing insomnia to reset their bodies in a way to enable them to sleep more easily.

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