If you suffer from insomnia, getting good quality, restful sleep might seem impossible. There are ways to improve sleep, however, and many of them are easy to accomplish. By taking care to follow healthier sleep habits, you can increase your ability to get to sleep quickly and stay asleep through the night. Good sleep hygiene can work for you, even if you deal with jet lag, insomnia or an unusual schedule.
1. Avoid stimulants and depressants – If you’ve been having trouble getting enough sleep, it can be tempting to regulate your sleep cycle with coffee or other stimulants. Indulging in caffeine, nicotine or other energy boosting substances within about six hours of bedtime could keep you up, however.
Having a drink before bed might be a problem, as well. While the alcohol can help lull you to sleep initially, it actually behaves as a stimulant after a few hours in your system. The result is frequent wake-ups and poor quality sleep. You can still enjoy a drink if you have sleep issues, but make sure you keep alcohol consumption to only a drink or two per day. Avoid drinking at all within three hours of when you need to go to sleep.
2. Control your environment – The right environment can help you sleep much more easily, especially if your bedroom is prone to changes in light, sound or temperature. Consider installing heavy curtains or blackout shades to mask light and insulate the room. A less expensive option is to purchase a quality sleep mask.
Maintain a temperature of about 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the risk of night sweats, and maintain good air flow. In noisy rooms, wear earplugs or purchase a white noise generator. Choose a comfortable bed whenever possible and keep pets out of the room if they’re likely to wake you during the night.
Ideally, your bedroom should be a place only for rest if you’re hoping to improve sleep quality. That means keeping the television, computer and all work materials out of your room at all times. You should associate the bedroom only with sleep.
3. Establish a before-bed routine – Habit makes a lot of things easier, and that includes sleep. By setting up a good pre-bedtime routine, you can help your body get ready to shut down and repair itself. About an hour before you go to bed, consider taking a bath or engaging in another calming activity.
Consider reading, watching a favorite television show or meditating, but avoid working or talking about anything distressing. If you know that you tend to worry about your problems in bed, write them down on a notebook before you turn in, and make sure you set that notebook aside.
4. Sleep when you’re tired – Sleeping on a schedule is a good idea, but it can be very difficult if you don’t feel tired when you head to bed. If you find that you’re still awake 20 minutes after bedtime, get up and engage in a relaxing activity until you feel a little more tired. Keep the lights dim and all sounds relatively quiet. When you return to bed, you may have an easier time falling asleep.
5. Avoid the clock – Watching the clock when you’re trying to sleep can be stressful and difficult. It often increases the pressure to get a good night’s sleep while decreasing overall sleep quality. Turn the clock away from you when you go to bed to decrease the temptation to watch it obsessively.
6. Regulate your sleep with light – The human body’s sleep hormones are regulated by exposure to light. That’s why so many people feel drowsy in midwinter. By exposing yourself to the right kinds of light at the right time of day, you can help keep your body on track. Get out in the light as soon as you can during the morning, take breaks to go outside during the day, and keep the lights low in the evening to ensure a natural routine. Wearing an eye mask at night is advised if there is too much light in your bedroom at night.
7. Maintain a consistent schedule – Many people attempt to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping in on weekends. Unfortunately, this can throw off your internal clock, making it much harder to rest during the work week. Maintain a consistent internal schedule by getting up and going to bed at about the same time every day, no matter how you slept the night before.
8. Nap in the afternoon – Taking a nap in the early to mid afternoon, when natural rhythms usually signal a sleep period, can make it easier to sleep well in the evening. You won’t improve sleep if your nap occurs too late, however. Sleeping after about 5 pm can make it extremely difficult to get back to bed later at night.
9. Choose a light supper – Heavy foods or a big evening meal could cause sleep problems later. Whenever possible, keep the last meal of the day light. Have it several hours before bedtime to keep your digestion quiet. If you get hungry later, consume something small that you know won’t cause indigestion.
10. Drink moderately – It’s good to stay properly hydrated, but too much water could wake you up several times in the night. Drink enough to make sure you won’t be thirsty before morning, but don’t overdo it.
11. Choose early exercise – Exercise is another natural signal that can help your body stay on track, but you have to time it correctly. When you exercise early in the morning or in the middle of the day, your body produces hormones that keep you awake and energized. Physical activity that occurs too late in the day could disturb your sleep instead of improving it. Never work out within three hours of bedtime.
12. Get expert help – All these techniques have the potential to improve sleep, but they don’t work for everyone. If you’ve tried keeping a schedule and maintaining good sleep hygiene without many results, the problem could be something deeper. See a professional to rule out the possibility of sleep apnea or another serious disorder.