Humans have been sleeping since the beginning of time. You’d think, by now, that we would have a pretty good handle on it, especially when you consider that most of us sleep every day, and that we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping (or at least trying to sleep).
Although sleep can be a challenge from time to time there are a number of things we can do to improve the quality of our sleep. The following is an extensive list of helpful tips I’ve accumulated over the years. If you employ these into your life I am confident that you will begin achieving better sleep right away!
If you have found something that works for you, and it is not on this list, feel free to add it to the comments at the end.
Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. The ideal is no more than a 15 minute variance in the time you go to sleep and when you wake up. At the very least, keep the range to within an hour.
- If you stay up late don’t sleep in late to try to make up for it. If you sleep in too late you may find it difficult to get to sleep the next night.
- Naps should be kept short (10-20 minutes) and early in the day. Most people get sleepy between 1-3pm, which is fine for a short power nap.
- It is best to avoid naps less than 8 hours before bedtime.
- If you suffer from insomnia do not take any naps.
- If you find yourself getting drowsy in the evening, after dinner but several hours before bed time, find ways to get up and get active – do the dishes, go for a walk, play an active game, get things ready for the next day, etc.
- If you want to make changes to your sleep schedule, do so gradually, in 15 minute per day increments.
Keep Your Body’s Natural Systems in Sync
- Make sure you get lots of daytime light. Use your lunch or break time to get outside during the daylight hours. Go for a walk or run before dark at the end of the day.
- One of the reasons insomnia cases rise in the winter is because of the lack of daytime light. Make it a priority to get outside as much as possible during the day.
- Keep the curtains or blinds open during the day to allow natural daylight to enter the room or home.
- A light therapy box can help if you simply can’t get enough natural daylight.
- In the evening use lower lighting. Use low-wattage bulbs, turn down the dimmer switch or just use fewer or further away lights.
- TV and computer screens and back-lit devices such as iPads and phones can disrupt your body’s readiness for sleep. Avoid using these in the last hour before bedtime.
Preparing Your Mind and Body for Sleep
- Establish a routine that you use every day. Using a consistent routine will train your mind and body to respond to these triggers and automatically become more relaxed.
- Spend the last 2-3 hours of the evening engaged in relaxing activities – no work!
- A warm bath or shower before bed can help to relax and prepare you for sleep. Just keep it short. Both baths and showers that are too long will raise your blood pressure which makes it more difficult to sleep.
- Eat a light dinner. Too much food will make sleep uncomfortable and will also raise metabolism, which tends to energize rather than relax a person.
- Likewise, eat an early dinner.
- Snack only lightly in the evenings, avoiding fatty foods and cutting off food consumption two hours before bed time. A light snack of proteins and complex carbohydrates can help induce drowsiness.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Many people report that alcohol helps them get to sleep. While this may be true in the short-term, overall your night of sleep will be of poorer quality and you will be more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Restrict fluid intake during the last couple hours before bed time. If you are well hydrated into the evening you should not need to drink more than a few ounces of fluid in the last couple hours. This will prevent you waking up every couple hours to visit the bathroom.
- On the other hand, a few ounces of a hot beverage such as caffeine-free tea (like chamomile tea) helps to relax.
- Milk contains tryptophan, magnesium and calcium, all which have beneficial impacts on sleep.
- Many folks claim that aromatherapy is beneficial to inducing relaxation. Lavender and sage are the most recommended herbs to use.
- Use visualization. A few minutes before bed take a moment to visualize lying down, feeling comfortable, and drifting off to restful sleep.
- Practice some deep breathing along with prayer or meditation for a few minutes before climbing into bed.
- A few minutes of gentle stretching can help the body to relax and be ready for rest.
- Reading a book is an ideal bedtime activity. Don’t read from a back-lit device (see above). Often just a few minutes of reading will induce drowsiness that makes sleep a cinch. Find a book that is easy and enjoyable, but not stressful. Read it until you can’t keep your eyes open. Once you’ve read the same paragraph over five or six times you are ready for sleep.
- If, after 20-30 minutes of trying to get to sleep you are still wide awake, get up and read in a dim light for a while.
The Sleep Environment
- Keep the room as dark as possible during the night.
- Reduce or mask disruptive noises in your room with a fan or white noise machine.
- Keep the room cool. Although the body will naturally cool once it begins to enter sleep, getting to that point may be difficult if the temperature is too warm. Keep the room at a temperature between 60-65 degrees. It is better to stay warm with extra blankets than by keeping the room warm.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. Sometimes a new mattress set is the best solution to a sleeping problem.
- Sleep in an appropriate body position. The best positions are on your back or side, with ample support for your neck. Although lying on your stomach may feel the most comfortable at first, it is much harder on the body, especially your neck and back, and you will awaken feeling stiff and sore.
- Don’t look at the clock while trying to get to sleep. This always proves counterproductive.
- What you wear to sleep may not be as important as some people make it out to be. The important thing is to wear what is comfortable. Some people wear long legged and sleeved pajamas. Others dress lightly and still others go nude. As long as it is what you are used to and you feel comfortable wearing it that is all that matters.
- If you listen to music at night it should be only instrumental music, and it should be recorded music (i.e. not the radio). Singing or DJ voices can capture your attention even while you’re asleep and cause you to wake up.
- Some people like to wear earplugs to block out all distracting noises. I don’t personally like them as I can’t seem to wear them comfortably and I can’t ever get them in quite right. But, many many people report a benefit to sleeping with them. If you are used to wearing them for work you have a good head start.
How to Get back to Sleep in the Middle of the Night
- First, don’t use any bright lights. Bright light causes the brain to think it is time to wake up. Use a dim night light, or a dim flashlight to get to and from the bathroom.
- Use a darker colored light, such as a blue light bulb to see at night.
- Praying or meditating can work wonders to get you back to sleep. No doubt many people have prayed for sleep to come, but the actual activity of praying or meditating is beneficial, too. It keeps the brain from wandering and quickly brings on drowsiness.
- Memorize something and practice it in your mind. I have used this many times and it works incredibly well. As with the previous tip, rehearsing something memorized keeps the brain trained on one thing which tires it out very quickly. I often can’t get through more than a few sentences before my brain slips back into sleep. If you don’t have anything memorized think through the lyrics of a song you know well. See, you do have something memorized!
- Count sheep. This is a famous remedy for insomnia, and it actually does help. Again, like the previous two tips, counting keeps the mind focused on one thing rather than wandering, and your brain quickly tires. The best way to do this is to count backwards. It takes a little more thought so is extra tiring. Start with a high number, like 1000, and go to work.
Getting to Sleep the Night before a Big Day
- Don’t go to bed early. Stick to your usual schedule, even if you have to get up earlier.
- Keep the evening routine the same, too. However, make sure to do some activities to relax your mind and body even if you don’t normally.
- If your mind is particularly restless in anticipation of tomorrow try to write down the thoughts you are having. This can have the effect of allowing your brain to let these things go.
- Make sure everything is prepared for the next day before going to bed. Double- and triple-check the details.
General Sleep-Enhancing Lifestyle Choices
- Smoking has a huge impact on sleep.The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant that, like caffeine, keeps the body awake. Even worse, the long break from smoking during the hours of sleep cause a person to go through withdrawal symptoms every night. This is very stressful on the body and also disrupts your sleep.
- Cut down on the amount of caffeine you consume. Obviously you shouldn’t drink coffee right before bed, but caffeine should be limited throughout the day. The stimulant effects of caffeine can hamper your ability to sleep for as much as 10-12 hours after consumption.
- Cut down on sugar consumption, especially in the second half of the day, but generally as well.
- Don’t use your bed for anything but sleep and sex. If you use the bed for other activities, such as TV, work or playing video games, it will be harder for you to relax in bed.
- Be active. Many studies have shown the positive effects of physical activity on sleep. Light activity will have a slight impact. Moderate daily exercise, however, will greatly improve your ability to sleep and the quality of that sleep.
- Don’t do anything more than light activity in the three hours before bedtime.
- Be grateful. Those who habitually covet what others have, who focus on what they don’t have, who are always looking for what they can get do not sleep well. On the other hand, the person who is thankful for what she has, who seeks to give and help others, and views all of her possessions as a gift is truly content and able to find restfulness.
I Still Can’t Sleep
If sleep continues to elude you, even after implementing these tips, you may need to try visiting a sleep specialist. There is an entire branch of medicine dedicated to the science of sleep.
There are also some good books on insomnia and other sleep-related subjects. One of my favorites is written by Ray Comfort. Ray is a Christian, and that perspective certainly comes through. If that doesn’t bother you his book is filled with excellent helps for overcoming insomnia, helps he has learned from his own personal experience.
Well, that should give you a few things to try out. Again, like I said before, if you have found something that works for you please add it to the comments below.