Getting enough sleep is integral to our health and well-being, both physically and mentally. Yet many people struggle with both the quality and quantity of their sleep. While there are medications to treat insomnia, there are also many effective behavioural strategies that help improve sleep. Whether you have difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, regularly practicing the tools described below can help consistently promote a better night’s sleep in the long term.
- Establish a routine
Bedtime routines are not just for kids. One of the best ways to train yourself to sleep well is to set a schedule where you go to bed and wake up more or less at the same time each day. This way you are conditioning your body to know when it is time to sleep and the whole process starts to happen a lot more automatically.
You can even set up a bedtime ritual of sorts that cues your body to know it is time to relax. Things like taking a warm bath, stretching, reading a good book, or even just brushing your teeth are all good ways to get ready to sleep.
- Stop looking at the clock
Do you find yourself consistently watching the clock when you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep? This is one of the worst things you can do because it forces you to fixate on the fact that you can’t sleep. If you let yourself get worked up over it, what’s the chance that you’re actually going to get back to sleep?
Rather than watching the clock, try setting the stage for sleep with a brief mindfulness exercise, body scan, or progressive muscle relaxation. You can learn more about these techniques here (insert link).
- Use a sleep diary
The only way to truly know how much sleep you are getting is to right it down. Keeping a sleep diary helps to ensure that you have the right facts about your sleep and are not just making assumptions. You may only think you’re getting 1-2 hours a night, when in reality, you are actually getting 3-4. That doesn’t mean that 3-4 hours is enough, but it sets an accurate starting point to work from. Just keep in mind that sleep diaries do require watching the clock so you only want to do this for the first couple of weeks when changing your sleep. This allows you to get a sense of what your sleep schedule currently is and figure out what you want to change.
- Get out of bed
If it has been more than 20-30 minutes and you are still awake, rather than forcing yourself to try and fall asleep, get out of bed and engage in a calm activity like reading. Once you are feeling sleepy again, then you can get back in bed and try to sleep. Doing this helps to prevent you from conditioning your bed to be a place where you don’t sleep. The more time you spend in bed not sleeping, the more your body fights against actually going to sleep. So get up, do something else, and then try again. This way your body remembers that your bed is a place for sleeping, not for lying awake anxiously trying to go to sleep.
- Avoid doing things other than sleeping in your bed
As an extension of the above point, you really want to condition your bed to be the place where sleep happens. The more you engage in other activities like eating, watching TV, or working on your laptop, the weaker the connection between your bed and sleeping becomes. You want your body to associate your bed with being asleep, not being awake, so try to avoid wakeful activities in bed.
- Eat right and exercise
Getting a better night’s sleep is sometimes as simple as making changes to your overall lifestyle. Taking care of your body by engaging in regular exercise and eating well are two simple ways to help improve your sleep. Just avoid eating or exercise too soon before bed or else they can have the opposite affect and keep you awake!