Sleep is a potent restorative for not only the body, but also the mind. It improves cognitive function, maintains metabolic homeostasis, and prevents many chronic health conditions.
However, many people find it difficult to get to sleep. Sleep specialists offer some helpful advice on dealing with this condition, such as the following:
- Develop good sleep hygiene
- Practice stimulus control
- Develop a routine for sleep restriction
Establish a bedtime routine to help you relax. This could be as simple as listening to some quiet or ‘sleep’ music, or having a warm shower or bath for a few minutes just before going to bed. The bedroom should ideally be closed, comfortable, and darkened. Keep noisy play and other distracting events outside. If you need to share your bed or your bedroom with others, try a pair of soft earplugs.
Avoid obvious obstacles such as lumpy or uncomfortable mattresses, and hot stuffy bedrooms. Moderate exercise in the early evening helps with getting better sleep. Stretching or yoga exercises may help with relaxation at bedtime.
Don’t take on big challenges or emotionally draining tasks just before bedtime. Eat an early dinner, and have a healthy light snack at bedtime if you wish. Avoid caffeine (colas, soft drinks, tea, and coffee) in the night to reduce arousal levels and to improve sleep quality. Limit the amount of fluid ingested after dinner to avoid having to get up at midnight to empty your bladder.
Sleep restriction may help. This refers to reducing your time in bed to just above your actual sleep time. This will help prevent lying awake in bed. Set a regular time for going to sleep, which is around the time you feel tired. This will help your brain understand it is time to get ready to sleep.
Once your actual sleep time corresponds to above 80% of time in bed, you may increase the latter by 20 minutes. This process is continued until you are able to spend 7-8 hours asleep with a regular bedtime.
Never wait for sleep for more than 20 minutes once you are in bed. After that, move to another room, put on a light which is not too bright, and do something quiet and non-stimulating. Avoid phone, computer, and television screens which may arouse your brain to greater awakeness. Listening to exciting music is also not recommended. The minute you feel sleepy, return to your bed.
No matter how late you get to sleep in this way, make sure you awake on time in the morning to re-adjust the rhythms of your body to the new routine. Avoid long naps (over 30 minutes), or time them for early afternoon.
Make sure you do not do anything related to daytime activities in bed, if you suffer from insomnia. This includes reading, listening to loud or stimulating music, or to audio stories, and watching television. The bed should be reserved for bed and for physical intimacy with your spouse.
Exposure to early morning sunshine is a technique useful to reset the Circadian clock and advance your sleep onset time to coincide with your bedtime. Learn relaxation and stress relief techniques to cope with hyperstimulatory responses to others’ stress.
Avoid quick fixes such as sleeping pills, alcohol, and cigarettes. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, forcing you to wake up to go to the bathroom, and may also cause a hangover, besides upsetting your natural sleep rhythms. Tobacco smoking also increases blood pressure and heart rate, causing physiological arousal. Sleeping pills are notorious for causing rebound insomnia.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc