Why can’t this be 10 tips for better sleep TONIGHT? You have waited long enough. You’ve had enough sleepless nights. Please! Just let it be over TONIGHT!!!!!
Unfortunately sleep is too important, too complex. It is a combination of complicated procedures, long established customs and tangled physical properties. If we only focus on the short term; i.e. sleeping better tonight, we miss the big picture, which is Better Sleep for Life! Is not that what you want?
Sleep is natural, normal and essential. It’s so elementary that a baby can do it with ease. Why then should it be so damn difficult?!
When you’ve been having regular difficulty sleeping you know how bad sleep on a nightly basis effects your days. Perhaps you are late for work or school. You have difficulty concentrating, focusing and it’s harder to be creative. Your mood suffers when you’re sleep deprived. You are more inclined to be irritable without great sleep behind you. The propensity to blurt out something that you do not mean or shouldn’t say is much higher when you’re tired. It’s harder to exercise and it may seem you’re always hungry. Surely your health and your life in general will be better if you can just start getting some decent sleep.
So here you are. And I can help! Keep reading and together we’ll get you going in the direction of better sleep and a better life.
A few nights of restless sleep before a big event, in a new environment or during times of illness are normal and to be expected in everyday life. The problems begin when “a few nights” becomes “most nights” and any great reason for the sleeplessness is now a distant memory or is a complete mystery.
By definition, a chronic sleep problem has developed over time and existed as a concern for many months, at least. Thus it is unrealistic to think it could be fixed in one or two nights. It took awhile to get this awful; it takes time to get better. I know that’s disappointing, but it is true.
The good news is you are able to start to make it better right away. The changes you make tonight and the commitment you make today will be the first actions to healthy sleep for the rest of your life!
Read and follow these 10 tips. Just reading them won’t help. You must also follow them! Some look really simple — stupid in fact. However you will likely find that simple does not always mean easy. Also, in regards to sleep, it’s often the “stupidest” items that prove to be the most powerful. So trust me on this. Your success will depend on your willingness to really work on these suggestions and be patient while the magic functions with time.
Ready? Here we go.
Hint #1 Titusville Rat Removal.
This implies weekends, too. The actual time you select as “your time” does not matter that much, but being regular about it does. If you have to be up by a certain time to make it to work 4-5 days per week, then that is going to be your time – workdays and weekends. This is a crucial step, and really, really hard for most people.
Sleep is undoubtedly a natural process, but we need to allow the wisdom of nature to work with us and regular rhythms are a hallmark of character. The sun rises and sets, the temperature goes down and up, the seasons change. We will need to get in that dance, move in regular rhythms to become regular in our responses.
Tip #2 Set an “intended” bedtime.
This too should be the same every night so that you can be certain you are allowing sufficient time in you schedule for sleep. I say “intended” because you might not be sleepy at exactly the exact same time every night and, as we will afterwards see, you should only try to sleep when you’re sleepy. It’s absolutely necessary, though to designate a time when all else will be laid aside and sleep are the priority.
We live in a very busy, overscheduled, hyper-stimulated society. Sleep has taken a backseat to everything else and it needs to be given the respect it deserves. Set an alarm clock in the living room or kitchen that will proclaim your bedtime as surely as the one in the bedroom proclaims your morning. Don’t allow the 30,000 other distractions of life eat into your sleep schedule.
Tip #3 Allow enough time for sleep. Well, grandma was right again. Most humans need close to eight hours. 7 to 8 is a fantastic range to test yourself. Some will need 7 hours and many others 9, but science has shown us that we are likely to die earlier if we don’t average at least 6 hours each evening. That does NOT mean that 6 hours is enough for a good life, just enough to keep going.
Sleep isn’t a passive process. It’s not “down time”. It is an extremely important opportunity for the body to heal, build, restore, re-balance and to wash up tissues, organs and systems. Without enough sleep the easy maintenance functions may not get completed. Some of the most important hormones, like human growth hormone and testosterone are produced most effectively, sometimes only while, we’re asleep. If you never emptied the wastebasket in your office? If you never restocked your fridge?
The brain has plenty to do while we sleep also. There are hundreds of stories of creative breakthroughs that came through dreams or were just upon awakening.
Schedule sufficient time for sleep so that the brilliance of your body and mind can have a chance to shine.
Tip #4 Create a bedtime ritual.
When you have children, or if you ever were one, you are most likely familiar with this idea. At a certain time every evening, the kids are helped or reminded to take a warm bath, change into their snuggy jammies, brush their teeth, read a nice bedtime story, recite their hopes and gratitude, kiss their loved ones and then turn out the lights.
This could be an excellent pattern to copy for yourself. The advantages of doing these kinds of things every night, at the same time are twofold:
First the regularity of timing, as discussed in Tips #1 and 2 is reinforced. Having a regular sequence of actions that lead up to “lights out” serves as a signal to your body that the possibility of sleep is approaching. This lets the systems begin to reset and ready for their sleep tasks, as opposed to abruptly hoping to change course in midstream.
Secondly, the quiet relaxing nature of these pre-bedtime activities provides you an opportunity to shift gears mentally and emotionally as well. You disengage in the temptations and pull of the daily responsibilities and ease into rest. Relaxing reading, soothing music, a tub, a massage, a romantic moment with a lover; these all can create an effective “moat” to safely separate your busy day and your relaxing night.
When you walk into your bedroom at the end of a full day, ready to start your successful sojourn into slumber you should get one and just one message: Sleep…! (OK, Sleep and Gender – but two and only two messages!) With so much diversion the mind doesn’t know exactly what you want or intend.
Exactly like training a new puppy, there has to be a very clear message about what should happen where. Bed = Sleep (and gender). That’s IT!
So move everything from your bedroom that does not relate to or promote decent sleep. Now with all that mess gone, you can “invite” sleep in. Choose your favourite restful colors. Hang pictures that remind you of relaxed times and places. Make it soft, like a hug and silent like a sanctuary.
Hint #6 Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
In the beginning, when attempting to reset you sleep patterns, you may realize that while you have set regular hours, followed a relaxing bedtime ritual and gone to bed in a tranquil cocoon, sleep still doesn’t appear on demand. Remember it took awhile for it to get inconsistent and erratic, it is going to take some time before it becomes reliable again. In the meantime you need to stay true to your intentions and continue to retrain yourself into better answers.
If you find yourself awake in bed and getting upset over it, get out of bed! Whether this is at the beginning of the night, the middle of the night or in the hour before the alarm, don’t teach your brain it’s acceptable to be awake in bed. If sleep is clearly not there, get up. Proceed to another room and do something quiet and restful until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed and try again. Repeat until you fall asleep easily. Training is all about establishing a firm connection between two conditions, in this case Bed = Sleep. Do not let there be any other choices.
Now this is one of those things that seems silly or counter-intuitive or just plain dumb. I know what you are thinking. I have heard patients say it before: “But if I just lay here perhaps I will eventually fall asleep.”
“But at least I am resting.”
“But it’s too cold to get out of bed.”
“But I’m too tired to get up.”
“But I do not want to disturb my spouse.”
All those excuses may be accurate, but the reality is, staying in bed when you aren’t sleeping, especially when you are feeling any negative emotion about it, just brings more of the same on subsequent nights. It’s a big part of why you have had this problem as long as you have, despite all of the other things you have tried. To break the pattern you have to break in the pattern.
When you finally get this part and start this exercise, you could very well have some rough nights at first. You might feel a few nights like you have even less sleep than before you began following any of “these stupid tips”! I am truly sorry for the distress and wish it weren’t so. But keep the long term goal in mind here and know you are making important progress toward good sleep and excellent daytime energy that you can count on in the future. To skip or postpone this step is very likely to reduce or postpone your success.
Are you beginning to see why we can not fix everything all at once? Sleep is a process. Fixing broken sleep is a process. Every step along the way builds on previous actions. If your old habit is sleeping badly we need to replace this with new habits. So stay with it. Don’t try one thing or each thing for just one night and announce “this does not work!” Remember one-night solutions don’t work!
Medical science shows us it takes at least 18 days to begin to change a habit. As you go through these changes on your path to healthy sleep daily, let yourself 3 weeks of solid commitment to each stop before making any decisions. It will take even longer to cement in, but you can find some fantastic feel for the outcomes before the first month is over. With some changes you may indeed see nearly instant benefit, but if you’re looking for the entire package, you’ll have to be patient and consistent.
You are doing well so far. So, ready to keep on?
Tip #7 Control Your Environment.
You will sleep better if it’s dark. This might seem to be obvious, but I am frequently amazed how many people ignore this simple fact.
The mind gets one of its biggest clues about when to sleep in the daily changes in light. In reality melatonin, the most famous of the natural sleep chemicals, is only produced when the ambient light begins to fade. Melatonin production may also be shut down by no more than seven minutes of light exposure. Streetlights, nightlights, the glow from a computer screen, TV or even the alarm clock can be cutting into your ability to produce adequate melatonin to fall asleep, stay asleep or get back to sleep. Switch off, screen out and eliminate what light sources you can, and attempt a comfortable sleep mask if it is not enough.
Here is another obvious one: It needs to be quiet. This may be challenging in some areas, but very good earplugs can be transformational. There are scores of different earplug designs and you will find most of them at your local drugstore. Everybody is different, so try a few. If you can’t find anything you like already made, you can have a custom pair made just for you by most hearing aid dispensers. These generally cost approximately $40.
Here’s one of the most frequent environmental mistakes people make. There are hundreds of people who attempt to get decent sleep with the television on in the background. These flashing lights and quick dialogues, often with varying volumes between shows and commercials are merely the opposite of the environment required for healthy sleep to develop. Bear in mind, the human mind is wired to alert to your voice. It doesn’t matter whether that voice is recorded or live, talking to you straight, loud enough to comprehend or even in your language. When the ears pick up human voices, the brain wave patterns change to alert status. This is not what you want if you are trying to sleep. Turn the TV off. Better yet, move it from your sleep sanctuary all together!
The temperature of your bedroom is vital. Sleep happens most easily when the temperature is falling. That’s why it is so tricky to sleep on these hot summer nights. The best temperature range for sleep is between 72 and 58 degrees. There’ll be some individual variation with this and finding a fever to agree on is a classic couple’s dilemma. If you are waking too early in the morning, your normal temperature curve coupled with the room temperature may be the culprit. Try lowering the bedroom thermostat a couple notches or exchange your blanket for a milder one.
We often ask about what sort of bed they should buy. My advice is to get the most “comfortable” mattress you are able to afford. This will be different for every person, which accounts for the popularity of the customizable number system beds. Just remember you will spend over 2800 hours in the bed in the next year and it’s worth the investment – in yourself.
The point here is, where you sleep greatly effects how you sleep. Take the time to study your sleep environment and identify potential sleep stealers. Change what you can to minimize outside disturbances and you may be astounded to discover just how much difference a seemingly small adjustment can make. And please, no TV…
Hint #8 Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sleep disrupting prescriptions and drugs close to bedtime.
This is a large one. Each of these substances has a distinct effect in the sleep centers of the brain.
Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and some pain medications, keeps the brain’s alerting system turned on. The effects can last up to 9 hours! That means a diet cola at 3 pm may be what’s keeping you up at midnight.
Nicotine has comparable alerting effects. Cigarette smokers can also experience withdrawal symptoms during the night which can cause restless and broken sleep, especially in the last half of the night.
Alcohol is possibly the most common self-medication strategy used by people who have difficulty falling asleep. This can really backfire, though. It is true that alcohol may result in some relaxation and quicker sleep onset. However, the sleep which ensues is brief on the restorative deep sleep many people desire and it conveys an earnest Trojan horse that is shown when the alcohol is metabolized.
The body cannot safely eliminate alcohol in the same form you drink it in. The liver needs to change it into other safer chemicals first. One of those substances has stimulant properties similar to caffeine! This happens about four hours after the glass of wine, whiskey or brandy strikes you stomach. You will have some trouble getting back to sleep, too, until the new chemical is cleared from the body.
Obviously recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines interfere with sleep. Even drugs that seem to cause drowsiness typically do not lead into normally restful sleep. The pills sold as “sleep aids” are usually anti-histamines that can make you sleepy, but they don’t bring about normal sleep either. There are lots of over the counter and prescription medication that also change sleep patterns in surprising ways. Make certain to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about how these may be affecting you.
Hint #9 Eat well to sleep well.
Sleep is just one of the three legs on the stool of good health. The other two legs are exercise and nutrition. To do anything well, including sleep, the body and brain need adequate, clean and appropriate fuel. Feed yourself great food that you prepare yourself or understand has been recently made. Prevent large, spicy, fatty or rich foods close to bedtime. Dinner ought to be finished at least 2 hours before your planned bed time to allow time for initial digestion.
Likewise, it is essential that you not go to bed hungry. If your body is hungry, lacking nutrients, minerals and amino acids, your sleep will be restless and the body’s housekeeping chores aren’t going to receive completed correctly if the raw materials for restoring and repairing tissues aren’t at hand.
There are many unique foods that can improve your ability to get to sleep. Warm milk is a famous example. The reason this works is because milk has tryptophan which the body uses to make serotonin. Serotonin is one of those brain chemicals, neurotransmitters, necessary for normal, consistent sleep. Other sources of tryptophan are turkey, soy products and sesame seeds.
There are also foods that could keep you awake; ginger for example. A meal high in protein without balancing carbs, may block serotonin. If you’re having trouble sleeping a major meal of hot ginger beef, just before hitting the sack, would likely not be your best choice!
Tip #10 Don’t worry about it.
Now here is some crazy sounding advice! After spending so much time going through all the various things you need to do to improve your sleep, telling you all the terrible things that could go wrong if you do not sleep well, now I am saying not to worry about it?
The operative word here is “worry”. Yes, I do think decent sleep is important – I know you do, too or you wouldn’t still be reading this. Yes, I think we will need to be paying attention to each of these conditions, behaviours and programs we’ve listed here. Yes, I know it’s hard work and yes, I know it’s worth it. But worrying about is, stressing over it and making it larger than is has to be is not helping. In fact that goes for all the other nagging anxieties in our lives!
We mentioned earlier that losing some sleep before a big event, a trip or during a move or some other exciting time is natural and normal. The trouble begins when the sleepless pattern appears to linger when the triggering event or circumstance is no longer relevant or present. For many people the “problem” becomes a “problem” and then a “sleep disorder” when they start to worry about it throughout the day as well. Fretting over it, stressing and getting upset over it doesn’t make it easier to sleep.
If worry and anxiety, about sleep or anything else, is there with you when you go to bed at night, you will need to find a way to take care of it in the daylight first. Stress reduction strategies and techniques include meditation, yoga, martial arts, easy play, counselling, prayer, hobbies and fresh air exercise. Music, guided meditation, creative visualization, progressive relaxation and biofeedback may also be incredibly effective instruments.
One of my favourite tricks is to perform a nightly “brain dump”. When everything seems to be on overload, I will be sure to take time each evening to sit down and write out all I would normally be worrying about in bed. This might include large stuff, like how to pay the mortgage, smaller things like remembering whether the tires require rotating as well as stupid stuff like wondering if my favorite summer shirt will still be in fashion next year. Later, in bed, when those worrisome thoughts start to come up I will say “no, I wrote you down, so I do not need to presume you right now”. It really works.
As much as you have been proactive about taking control of your schedule, your surroundings, your diet and behaviours, you must accept responsibility and reclaim control of your thoughts. This may require external assistance from a coach or counselor, but finally it’s the key to lasting success – in sleep and in life.
So there they are, 10 Tips for Better Sleep – tonight, next Tuesday and beyond. To recap, they are:
1) Establish a regular time to get up every day.
2) Establish an “intended” bedtime.
3) Allow enough time for sleep.
4) Create a bedtime ritual.
5) Make your bedroom into a Sleep Sanctuary.
6) Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
8) Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sleep disrupting drugs.
10) Don’t be concerned about it.
I know it is not easy. Keep in mind that when you’re able to depend on full refreshing sleep every night, your days will be brighter, more productive and more creative. Your relationships will flourish and your personal capacity will expand. Fantastic sleep lets your body heal from daily use and rebalance for every new day. Reducing cumulative damage can help prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression.
In other words when you sleep well you will live better, longer and happier than you dreamed possible!