Why can’t this be 10 tips for better sleep TONIGHT? You have waited long enough. You have had enough sleepless nights. Please! Just let it be over TONIGHT!!!!!
Regrettably sleep is too important, too complex. It is a combination of complicated processes, long established customs and tangled physiological properties. If we only focus on the short term; i.e. sleeping better tonight, we miss the big picture, which is Better Sleep for Life! Is not that what you really want? It’s so elementary that a baby can do it effortlessly. It’s a basic function of life, like eating, moving, thinking and creating. Why then should it be so damn difficult?!
If you’ve been having regular trouble sleeping you know how bad sleep on a nightly basis effects your days. Perhaps you are late for school or work at
Cocoa Rat Removal. You have difficulty concentrating, focusing and it is harder to be creative. Your mood suffers when you’re sleep deprived. You are more inclined to be irritable without good sleep behind you. The tendency to blurt out something that you do not mean or shouldn’t say is much higher when you are tired. It’s harder to exercise and it may seem you are always hungry. Surely your health and your life in general will be better if you can just start getting some decent sleep.
So here you are. And I can help! Keep reading and together we will get you moving in the direction of better sleep and a better life. The problems begin when “a few nights” becomes “most nights” and any great reason for the sleeplessness has become a distant memory or is a complete mystery.
By definition, a chronic sleep problem has grown over time and existed as a concern for many months, at least. Thus it is unrealistic to think it can be repaired in a couple of nights. It took time to get this awful; it will take awhile to get better. I know that’s disappointing, but it is true.
The good news is you are able to start to make it better right away. The changes you make tonight and the commitment you make today will be the first steps to healthy sleep for the rest of your life!
Read and follow these 10 tips. Just reading them won’t help. You must also follow them! Some seem really simple — dumb in fact. However you’ll likely find that simple does not always mean easy. Also, when it comes to sleep, it’s often the “stupidest” items that turn out to be the most powerful. Your success will depend on your willingness to actually work on these suggestions and be patient while the magic functions with time.
Ready? Here we go.
Hint #1 Establish a regular time to get up daily.
This means weekends, too. The actual time you select as “your time” doesn’t matter that much, but being regular about it does. In case you’ve got to be up by a certain period to make it to work 4-5 days per week, then that is going to be your time – workdays and weekends. This is an essential step, and really, really tough for most people.
Sleep is definitely a natural process, but we need to allow the wisdom of nature to work with us and regular rhythms are a hallmark of character. The human body, like the squirrel body or the bear body or the chrysanthemum “body” dances with rhythms of the natural world. The sun rises and sets, the temperature goes up and down, the seasons change. We need to get in that dance, move in regular rhythms to become regular in our responses.
Tip #2 Set an “intended” bedtime.
This too should be the exact same every night so that you can be certain you are allowing adequate time in you program for sleep. I say “intended” because you may not be sleepy at the same time every evening and, as we will afterwards see, you should only try to sleep when you are sleepy. It’s absolutely necessary, though to designate a time when all else will be laid aside and sleep are the priority.
We live in a really busy, overscheduled, hyper-stimulated society. Sleep has taken a backseat to everything else and it ought to be given the respect it deserves. Post your bedtime in you PDA. Set an alarm clock in the living room or kitchen which will proclaim your bedtime as surely as the one from the bedroom proclaims your morning.
Hint #3 Allow plenty of time for sleep. Well, grandma was right again. Most people need close to eight hours. 7 to 8 is a fantastic range to test for yourself. Some will require 7 hours and others 9, but science has shown us that we are likely to die earlier if we do not average at least 6 hours each night.
Sleep isn’t a passive procedure. It’s not “down time”. It is an extremely important chance for the body to heal, build, restore, re-balance and to clean up tissues, organs and systems. Without enough sleep the easy maintenance functions may not get completed. Some of the main hormones, like human growth hormone and testosterone are produced most effectively, occasionally only while, we’re asleep. What would happen if you never took your car to the store? If you never emptied the wastebasket in your workplace? If you never restocked your refrigerator?
The mind has plenty to do while we sleep also. There are hundreds of stories of creative breakthroughs that came through dreams or were at hand just upon awakening.
Schedule sufficient time for sleep so the brilliance of your body and mind can have an opportunity to shine.
Tip #4 Create a bedtime ritual.
If you have children, or if you ever were one, you are probably familiar with this idea. At a certain time each evening, the kids are helped or reminded to take a warm bath, change in their snuggy jammies, brush their teeth, read a nice bedtime story, recite their hopes and gratitude, kiss their loved ones and then turn out the lights.
This would be an exceptional pattern to copy for yourself. The advantages of doing Such things every night, at the same time are twofold:
First the regularity of time, as discussed in Tips #1 and 2 is reinforced. Having a regular sequence of activities that contribute to “lights out” functions as a signal to your body that the chance for sleep is coming. This lets the systems start to reset and ready for their sleep tasks, as opposed to abruptly trying to change course in midstream.
Second, the quiet relaxing nature of the pre-bedtime actions provides you an chance to shift gears mentally and emotionally also. You disengage from the stressors and pull of the daily responsibilities and ease into rest. Relaxing reading, soothing music, a bath, a massage, an intimate moment with a lover; these all can create an effective “moat” to safely separate your active day and your relaxing night.
Tip #5 Make your bedroom into a Sleep Sanctuary.
When you walk into your bedroom at the end of a full day, ready to begin your successful sojourn into slumber you should receive one and just one message: Sleep…! (OK, Sleep and Gender – but two and only two messages!) With so much diversion the brain doesn’t understand exactly what you would like or intend.
Just like training a new puppy, there needs to be a very clear message about what needs to happen where. Bed = Sleep. Bed = Sleep (and gender). That’s IT!
So move everything from your bedroom that doesn’t relate to or promote good sleep. Now with all that mess gone, you can “invite” sleep in. Choose your favourite restful colors. Hang pictures that remind you of relaxed times and places. Make it soft, like a hug and silent like a sanctuary.
Tip #6 Get out of bed if you can not sleep.
At first, when attempting to reset you sleep patterns, you might find that while you have set regular hours followed a relaxing bedtime ritual and gone to bed in a tranquil cocoon, sleep still doesn’t appear on demand. Remember it took awhile for it to get inconsistent and erratic, it is going to take time before it becomes reliable again. In the meantime you need to stay true to your own intentions and continue to retrain yourself into better answers.
If you end up awake in bed and getting upset over it, get out of bed! Whether this is in the start of the night, the middle of the night or in the hour before the alarm, don’t teach your brain that it’s acceptable to be awake in bed. This goes back to training the puppy-sleep-brain. If sleep is clearly not there, get up. Proceed to another room and do something quiet and restful until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed and try again. Repeat till you fall asleep easily. Training is all about establishing a firm connection between two conditions, in this case Bed = Sleep. Do not let there be some other options. I know what you are thinking. I have heard patients say it before: “But if I just lay here maybe I will eventually fall asleep.”
“But I am resting.”
“But it is too cold to get out of bed.”
“But I am too tired to get up.”
“But I don’t want to disturb my spouse.”
All those excuses might be true, but the reality is, staying in bed when you aren’t sleeping, especially when you’re feeling any negative emotion about it, just brings more of the same on subsequent nights. It’s a huge part of why you have had this problem as long as you have, despite all the other things you have tried. To break the pattern you need to break into the pattern.
Once you finally get this part and begin this exercise, you could very well have some rough nights at first. You might feel a few nights like you have even less sleep than before you began following any of “these dumb tips”! I am truly sorry for the distress and wish it were not so. But keep the long term goal in mind here and know you are making important progress toward good sleep and excellent daytime energy which you can count on in the future. To skip or postpone this step is very likely to reduce or postpone your success.
Are you beginning to see why we can not fix everything all at once? Sleep is a procedure. Fixing broken sleep is a process. Each step along the way builds on previous actions. If your old custom is sleeping poorly we will need to replace this with new habits. Habits take time to take hold. So stick with it. Don’t try one thing or each thing for only one night and declare “this doesn’t work!” Remember one-night solutions do not work!
Medical science shows it requires at least 18 times to start to change a habit. As you go through these changes on your way to healthy sleep for life, let yourself 3 weeks of strong commitment to each stop before making any decisions. It will take even longer to cement in, but you can get some good feel for the results prior to the first month is over. With some adjustments you may indeed see nearly instant benefit, but if you’re looking for the whole package, you’ll have to be consistent and patient.
You are doing well so far. So, ready to continue on?
Hint #7 Control Your Environment.
You will sleep better if it is dark. This may appear to be evident, but I am often amazed how many people discount this simple fact.
The brain gets one of its biggest clues about when to sleep in the daily changes in light. In fact melatonin, the most famous of these natural sleep chemicals, is only produced when the ambient light starts to fade. Melatonin production may also be shut down by as little as seven minutes of exposure. Streetlights, nightlights, the glow from a computer screen, TV or even the alarm clock can be cutting into your ability to create adequate melatonin to fall asleep, stay asleep or get back to sleep. Switch off, screen out and eliminate what light sources you can, and try a comfortable sleep mask if it’s not enough.
Here’s another obvious one: It needs to be quiet. This may be a challenge in some areas, but very good earplugs can be transformational. There are dozens of different earplug designs and you can find most of them at your local drugstore. Everyone is different, so try several. They are cheap. If you can’t find anything you like already made, you can have a custom pair made just for you by most hearing aid dispensers. These generally cost approximately $40.
Here’s among the most common environmental mistakes people make. There are hundreds of people who attempt to get decent sleep with the television on in the background. These flashing lights and quick dialogues, often with varying amounts between shows and commercials are just the opposite of the environment required for healthful sleep to develop. Remember, the human brain is wired to alert to the human voice. It doesn’t matter if that voice is live or recorded, talking to you directly, loud enough to understand or even in your language. When the ears pick up human voices, the brain wave patterns change to alert status. This is not what you want if you are attempting to sleep. Turn the TV off. Even better, move it out of your sleep sanctuary all together!
The temperature of your bedroom is important. Sleep happens most easily when the temperature is falling. That’s why it’s so tricky to sleep on those hot summer nights. The best temperature range for sleep is between 72 and 58 degrees. There’ll be some individual variation with this and finding a fever to agree on is a traditional couple’s dilemma. If you’re waking too early in the morning, your natural temperature curve coupled with the room temperature may be the culprit. Consider lowering the bedroom thermostat a couple notches or trade your blanket for a lighter one.
We often ask about what kind of bed they should buy. My advice is to have the most “comfortable” bed you are able to afford. This will be different for each person, which accounts for the prevalence of the customizable number system beds. Just remember you will spend over 2800 hours in the bed in the next year and it’s worth the investment – in yourself.
The point here is, where you sleep greatly effects the way you sleep. Make time to study your sleep environment and identify possible sleep stealers. Change everything you can to minimize outside disturbances and you might be astounded to discover how much difference a seemingly small adjustment can make.
Hint #8 Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sleep disrupting prescriptions and drugs close to bedtime.
That is a big one. Each of these substances has a different effect from the sleep centers of the brain.
Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and some pain medicines, keeps the brain’s alerting system turned on. The effects can last up to 9 hours! That means a diet cola at 3 pm may be what is keeping you up at midnight.
Nicotine has similar alerting effects. Cigarette smokers can also experience withdrawal symptoms during the night which can cause restless and broken sleep, particularly in the last half of the night.
Alcohol is perhaps the most frequent self-medication strategy used by people who have difficulty falling asleep. This can definitely backfire, though. It is true that alcohol may lead to some relaxation and faster sleep onset. However, the sleep that ensues is short on the restorative deep sleep many people today want and it carries an ironic Trojan horse that is shown when the alcohol is metabolized.
The body can’t safely eliminate alcohol in precisely the same form you consume it in. The liver needs to change it into other safer chemicals. One of those substances has stimulant properties similar to caffeine! This happens about four hours after the glass of wine, whiskey or brandy strikes you stomach. You will have some trouble getting back to sleep, too, until the new compound is eliminated from the body.
Obviously recreational drugs like cocaine and amphetamines interfere with sleep. Even drugs that appear to cause drowsiness generally do not lead into normally restful sleep. The pills marketed as “sleep aids” are often anti-histamines that may make you sleepy, but they do not bring about normal sleep. There are lots of over the counter and prescription drugs that also change sleep patterns in surprising ways. Be sure to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about how these may be affecting you.
Hint #9 Eat well to sleep well.
Sleep is just one of the three legs on the stool of good health. The other two legs are exercise and nutrition. To do anything well, including sleep, the body and mind need adequate, clean and appropriate fuel. Feed yourself great food that you prepare yourself or understand has been freshly made. Regular schedules are important for healthy meals, too. Avoid large, spicy, fatty or rich foods near bedtime. Dinner should be finished at least 2 hours before your intended bed time to allow time for initial digestion. Lying down with a full stomach is an open invitation to heartburn and acid reflux.
Likewise, it’s essential that you not go to bed hungry. If your body is hungry, lacking nutrients, minerals and amino acids, your sleep will be restless and the body’s housekeeping chores will not receive completed correctly if the raw materials for restoring and repairing tissues aren’t at hand.
There are many unique foods that can enhance your ability to get to sleep. The reason this works is because milk has tryptophan which the body uses to make serotonin. Serotonin is one of those brain chemicals, neurotransmitters, necessary for normal, consistent sleep.
There are also foods that could keep you awake; ginger for example. A meal high in protein without balancing carbs, may block serotonin. If you’re having trouble sleeping a big meal of hot ginger beef, just before hitting the sack, would probably not be your best option!
Tip #10 Do not worry about it.
Now here is some crazy sounding advice! After spending so much time going through all the various things you will need to do to improve your sleep, telling you all the terrible things that can go wrong if you do not sleep well, now I’m saying not to be worried about it? Yes, I do think good sleep is important – I know you do, too or you wouldn’t still be reading this. Yes, I think we need to be paying attention to all these conditions, behaviours and schedules we’ve listed here. Yes, I know it’s hard work and yes, I know it’s worth it. But worrying about is, stressing over it and making it larger than is has to be isn’t helping. In fact that goes for all the other nagging worries in our lives!
We mentioned before that losing some sleep before a big event, a trip or during a move or any exciting time is natural and normal. The trouble begins when the sleepless pattern seems to linger if the triggering event or circumstance is no longer present or relevant. For many people the “trouble” becomes a “problem” and then a “sleep disorder” when they begin to worry about it during the day as well. Fretting over it, stressing and getting upset over it doesn’t make it easier to sleep.
If worry and worry, about sleep or anything else, is there with you when you go to bed at night, you will need to find a way to deal with it in the daylight first. Stress reduction techniques and strategies include meditation, yoga, martial arts, easy play, counseling, prayer, hobbies and new air exercise. Music, guided meditation, creative visualization, progressive relaxation and biofeedback may also be incredibly effective tools.
One of my favorite tricks is to perform a nightly “brain dump”. When everything appears to be on overload, I will make certain to take time every evening to sit down and write out all I would normally be worrying about in bed. This might include large things, like how to pay the mortgage, smaller things like remembering whether the tires need rotating in addition to stupid stuff like wondering if my favorite summer shirt will still be in fashion next year. Later, in bed, when those worrisome thoughts start to come up I will say “no, I wrote you down, so I do not have to think you right now”. It really works.
As much as you’ve been proactive about taking control of your program, your environment, your diet and behaviors, you also must accept responsibility and recover control of your thoughts. This may require external assistance from a coach or counselor, but ultimately it’s the key to lasting success – in sleep and in life.
So there they are, 10 Tips for Better Sleep – tonight, next Tuesday and beyond. To recap, they are:
1) Establish a regular time to get up daily.
2) Set an “intended” bedtime.
3) Allow enough time for sleep.
6) Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
7) Control Your Environment.
8) Avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking and sleep disrupting drugs.
10) Do not worry about it.
I know it’s not straightforward. But it like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Keep in mind that when you can depend on full refreshing sleep every night, your days will be brighter, more effective and more creative. Your relationships will flourish and your personal capacity will enlarge. Fantastic sleep lets your body heal from daily usage and rebalance for each new day. Reducing cumulative damage can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression.
In other words when you sleep well you’ll live better, longer and happier than you dreamed possible!