Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? You’re not alone. According to Psychology Today, 1 in 3 people is affected by insomnia.
While severe insomnia, chronic insomnia, or insomnia related to mental health conditions or physical discomfort will likely require additional treatment from a healthcare professional or sleep therapist, there are some things you can do to help improve your ability to fall asleep today.
Check out the eight easy tips below, make them part of your routine, and you will hopefully, over time, start seeing results.
- Avoid daytime naps or at least keep naps short and on a regular schedule. If you have a sleepless night, don’t sleep late. Get up at your normal time anyway. Experts at the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School say that keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—maintains the timing of your internal clock to help you fall asleep more easily.
- Get some exercise during the day (but not too close to bedtime.) In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, previously inactive older adults with chronic insomnia who exercised three or four times per week for about 30 minutes slept more soundly than those who did not exercise. The exercisers slept about 45 minutes to an hour longer on most nights, woke up less often, and experienced less daytime sleepiness. This does not mean you need to join a gym or start training for a marathon. You can start by taking walks, monitoring your steps with a Fitbit or smartphone, or working in your garden—whatever you enjoy that gets you moving more.
- Speaking of exercise, try yoga. No, you don't have to do headstands, but some yoga stretching has been shown to help with sleep. A study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, for instance, found that nurses who practiced yoga had lower stress and improved sleep compared with those who did not. The nurses in the study did about an hour of yoga at least three times per week after work.
- Eat a balanced, small dinner (about 500 calories, says WebMD) that includes protein and complex carbohydrates and then, perhaps, a small carb-rich snack of crackers and fruit or toast and jam before bed. Avoid anything too spicy in the evening. Keep in mind that as you adjust your eating to include this small dinner, you may need to turn lunch into your biggest meal of the day.
- Change your bedtime slowly. According to the National Sleep Foundation you should set your bedtime and wake-up time based the amount of sleep you are currently getting and then gradually increase that total sleep time by only about 15 minutes every few nights. If you attempt to change your sleep time by too much too soon, you may only succeed in getting frustrated.
- Spend time winding down before bed. One sleep expert recommends starting a relaxation routine about two hours before your bedtime. What counts as winding down? It depends on the individual, but I can tell you what does NOT count: working and devices. Try reading, listening to music, a warm bath, or gentle stretching instead. Watching TV in the evenings is okay, but it’s recommended that you aim for a screen-free hour before you finally climb into bed.
- As part of your relaxation routine, savor a warm, no-caffeine drink. Herbal tea is a nice choice. The National Sleep Foundation recommends chamomile, ginger, or peppermint tea, or warm milk noting that there may be a link between the tryptophan and melatonin in milk and better sleep.
- If sleep won’t come, try not to get anxious or upset. I know this is MUCH easier said than done but attempt to clear your mind. Write your worries away using a notepad kept at your bedside. Think of positive memories, favorite calm places, and things you are grateful for. Still can’t sleep? Get up and do something relaxing for half an hour and then try again. Don’t fret about the sleep you are missing. Remind yourself that rest comes in different forms. The National Sleep Foundation says that resting with your eyes closed, while not as beneficial as real sleep, can reduce stress, improve mood, and increase alertness.
If your sleep concerns don’t improve with these and other basic sleep hygiene improvements, or if you have other medical conditions or mental health factors impacting your sleep, be sure to reach out to your doctor or to a trained sleep therapist for assistance. He or she may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i). To make sleep conversations with your healthcare professional more productive and efficient, try Circady’s one-week sleep diary app. The app empowers you to easily collect and record accurate sleep information—information your doctor will need to help create your individual treatment plan.
Wishing you a productive day and restful night.