If you’ve opened this article, you are probably having trouble with getting to sleep, or staying asleep.
Try These Basics
Have a look at this list of sleep hygiene tips and see how many you already do. If you’ve been struggling with your sleep time or quality, see which habits listed below may suit your lifestyle.
The key is to choose 1-2 to do consistently for a few nights, before adding any others to your routine.
This is not a comprehensive list of things you can do for better sleep, and it’s not to say that if you don’t do these things, you will have terrible sleep. This is just what science says can help most people.
Try them out for yourself and see what works for you! If you’re still having trouble or would like extra guidance, a psychologist can help you out with more advanced sleep techniques.
Try to have the same wake time each day regardless of when you fall asleep.
Turn on the lights or open up the blinds as soon as you get up.
Try doing some intense exercise in the morning as it helps us regulate our circadian rhythm.
Limit naps to 20-40mins max during the day.
Last caffeine (i.e., coffee, tea, choc) 6hrs before bedtime
If drinking alcohol, last drink at dinnertime (Recommended 1-2std drinks)
Last cigarette at dinnertime. No smoking when waking up in the night.
Light dinner (not too many carbs)
Not hungry before bed – light snack (e.g. apple or warm glass of milk)
No more technology 1hr before bedtime (i.e. phone, laptop, TV) or use a blue light filter if technology is needed.
Dim the lights.
Try out some light stretches to help relax your muscles.
Have a hot shower/bath.
Wind down with a quiet/boring activity.
In the Bedroom
Lights out, as dark as possible.
Maintain a cool temperature, not too hot/cold.
No sound ideally or use white noise if that’s not possible.
Only use the bed for sleep/sex.
How do these habits help us sleep better?
All of the suggestions above are trying to achieve a few things.
Firstly, they are trying to get your circadian rhythm (a fancy term for sleep/wake cycle) to become regular, so that your body will know when to start feeling sleepy or alert.
Secondly, they are preparing your body and mind to be in optimal condition to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Lastly, they will help you get the most physical and mental rest out of the time you are in bed so that bedtime can be a relaxing and restorative event.
I've tried all these, so what's next?
A psychologist can help you get better sleep by collaboratively setting up a realistic routine that suits your lifestyle. By having a psychologist on your team, you have the accountability to put some of these ideas into action. A psychologist will also explain to you why each of these is helpful, which will further motivate you to keep trying, when things don’t change straight away.
A psychologist can also look at some of the thoughts that may be contributing to bedtime anxiety, such as, “I have to relax now so that I can get to sleep by 10, so that I can wake up at 6 refreshed since I have a meeting I’m presenting tomorrow at work”.
As you can see, anxious thoughts such as this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy by ensuring that you won’t be able to relax, which means it will be hard to fall asleep by 10, and if you do, you may have a lot of awakenings, which means you won’t be refreshed, will likely wake up anxious, and feel unprepared for your meeting.
A psychologist can help you come up with more helpful and realistic thoughts such as, “I’ll do my best to relax and get to bed by 10. If I can’t fall asleep straight away, although not ideal, I’ll still be resting my body. When I wake up at 6 in the morning, I’ll be able to get mentally prepared for my meeting. I’ve presented at meetings before even though I haven’t had the best night’s sleep”.
There are many ways we can change our sleep patterns through behavioural or cognitive changes. The key is to do something different from what you have been doing if it is no longer working. Try some of these strategies for at least a week at a time before moving onto the next strategy.
If you’ve already been struggling with sleep, then this night will be like the others you have experienced, or it could be better, what’s the harm in trying something different? Accept that you’re working on improving your sleep so it will take time to see a noticeable change. Be patient with yourself and seek guidance/support if quality sleep has eluded you.