The other night, I was struggling to fall asleep. I don’t know about you, but I get really frustrated when I can’t fall asleep. I know I’m tired, and I know I need my sleep. But for some reason, I’m tossing and turning in bed, restless. I look at the alarm clock and realize an hour has passed, and I’m STILL not asleep.
Luckily, there are some simple interventions we can implement to get better sleep. You still might have occasional nights of bad sleep—that happens to all of us. But if you put these 5 steps into practice on a daily basis, you will improve your sleep habits.
5 Steps to Better Sleep
- Develop a sleep routine. If you are having trouble sleeping, it’s important develop a routine around your sleep. For example, make it a habit to go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). Train your body to get on a specific sleep cycle. Have a routine that you go through each night before bed. For example, maybe you could take a warm bath, listen to calming music, or read a relaxing book. Make sure you give yourself enough time to wind down before bed (aim for at least 1 hour). Also, have a routine each morning to let your body know it’s time to get up and get going. For example, maybe you could get up and meditate, exercise, or have a quiet time.
- Limit or eliminate caffeine. People love caffeine because it’s a stimulant—it wakes them up and keeps them up. But consuming caffeine can interfere with your sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, check your caffeine use. Don’t consume any caffeine after 12pm. Limit your caffeine use to 1-2 cups of coffee per day. If you are really serious about improving your sleep, consider eliminating caffeine from your diet completely.
- Exercise regularly, but not too late at night. Having a regular exercise routine can improve your sleep. Exercise gets your body going and tires you out physically. If you engage in 30-60 minutes of strenuous exercise every day, your body will be ready to rest when you lie down at night. However, don’t try to exercise late at night and then go right to sleep. Make sure you give yourself a few hours post-exercise to let your body wind down.
- Deal with your stress and anxiety. High levels of stress and anxiety can interfere with your sleep. You might be trying to sleep, but your mind is racing, full of all the things you are dealing with. Develop coping strategies to manage your stress and anxiety so your mind can rest at night. Keep a notepad by your bed to make a list of all your concerns and worries, so you can get them down on paper and out of your head. Get a strong support system. Go to counseling if your stress and anxiety is too high.
- Get help if you need it. Most sleep problems can be addressed by getting the first 4 points in order. But if you (1) have a regular sleep routine, (2) have eliminated caffeine, (3) are exercising regularly, and (4) are effectively managing your stress and anxiety, and still have problems sleeping, don’t be afraid to get more help. Schedule an appointment with a professional counselor who specializes in treating insomnia and other sleeping problems. Getting professional help will provide you with a detailed assessment and tailored help for your specific problem.
Action Step: We all have trouble sleeping occasionally. But if you find yourself struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep consistently (i.e., more nights than not), try to implement the five steps to better sleep and see if you can make some changes. Your body will thank you!