Individual therapy is important in addressing thoughts or feelings that interrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep. At the same time, it can be helpful to examine your sleep rituals and the day-to-day choices you can make to improve your chances of a good night's rest.
If you have a partner or someone who shares your bed regularly, involve them in the below steps. Work together on determining how to most realistically meet your sleep needs.
The first step is to set a bedtime and wake-up time. Poor sleep patterns are just that - patterns. If you are going to make a real change in your sleep quality, your sleep pattern needs attention.
There is mixed research on the value or detriment (to maintaining sleep patterns) when it comes to catching up on sleep over the weekend. This is one of those situations where it is best to try to simply pay attention to what works best for you.
Next, take a look at your bedroom to determine if it is a restful place.
- Does it become dark enough at night? Alternatively, would a small nightlight help you feel more secure?
- Is it quiet? Would a white noise machine be helpful in blocking out sounds from the street or your partner's breathing?
- Is your room neat enough so that you feel at ease?
- Are your pillows and bedding comfortable?
- Is your bed only for sleep or sex? Is there a way to keep work outside of the bedroom so that this can be a place of relaxation?
- Is your phone coming to bed with you? Consider buying an actual alarm clock so that your phone, and all of its wonderful distractions, can be left in a different room at night.
Avoid naps as best as you can. Naps further throw off the sleep pattern you are attempting to establish. If you absolutely need one to get through the day, try to nap before 3pm and limit the length to 45 minutes at a maximum.
Start putting aside caffeine and nicotine at around 4pm.
Exercise, even just a long walk, can help tire out your body and improve your chances of sleep. Try not to exercise after 7pm as an elevated heart rate and adrenaline can counter your efforts to relax.
Have a satisfying dinner, while at the same time avoiding heavy or spicy foods that may make you uncomfortable.
Drink water up until about an hour before bedtime. Keep a glass of water by your bed so that you do not have to get up if you wake up thirsty.
While alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, it interferes with your ability to stay asleep. Avoiding alcohol in the hours before sleep is a crucial step in improving your sleep quality.
Establish a restful, soothing bedtime routine. It will help you relax and send the message that it is time to ease into sleep. Below are some suggestions:
- Take a warm shower. Avoid baths if there is a chance you may fall asleep while in the tub.
- Write down or think about 5 things you are grateful for.
- Listen to a body scan exercise to relax any areas of tightness.
- Find a particular scent that you find soothing, such as lavender or vanilla, that you might like to spray on your sheets or use in a lotion.
- Practice mindful breathing.
- Listen to a guided sleep meditation. I recommend a sleep meditation from UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. I also recommend the two meditations found on the album Be Free: Release Stress and Anxiety by Dr. Friedemann Schaub.
- A gentle nighttime yoga practice can help you work out any kinks and relax your breathing.
Once you are in your relaxing, comfortable bed, try not to watch the clock. Literally turn your alarm clock away from the bed. Remember that although our goal for you is to get a full night of sleep, your body receives important benefits even from laying quietly in a dark room with your eyes closed. Simply relaxing in bed is worthwhile in itself.
If after roughly 20 minutes (remember no clock watching) you are still having difficulty sleeping, leave your bed and resettle in the living room. Engage in a relaxing activity for about 15 minutes, such as a reading, playing solitaire (with actual cards), or returning to any of the above bedtime routine tips. Avoid television and computer screens as the blue light can wake you up even further. Try going back to bed and repeat this as necessary.
Feel free to reach out to further discuss any sleep difficulties.