Let me guess, it’s 2 a.m. and you’re lying awake begging your body to fall asleep. Maybe your aches and pains make it hard to get comfortable, or your mind is busy buzzing with all the tasks you have to do tomorrow. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating, and as you watch the time tick by your mind is helpfully calculating how much sleep you’d get if you fell asleep right now. 5 hours . . 4 hours . . 3.5 hours . .
Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep can happen for many reasons and if you’re not paying attention you could be accidentally making it more difficult for your body to get the rest it needs to be fast, focused, and fit.
So what contributes to poor sleep? And what can you do about it?
Cut the caffeine. You know that third cup of coffee you have in the afternoon? The one that helps you pretend to be awake as you struggle to get over the post lunch slump? Well unfortunately it can be contributing to your active mind at the end of the day. Caffeine in any form: coffee, tea, soda, chocolate – acts as a stimulant and the effects can last for hours so say no to caffeine at least six hours before bed. Tip: if you can’t give up all caffeine, limit it to the mornings, or try starting with one less cup of joe!
Stop the smoke. Similar to caffeine, nicotine can act as a stimulant, keeping you wide awake and hyper in the evenings. Limiting smoking in general is a great idea for your health, but giving up that before bedtime smoke may help you fall asleep faster. Tip: think of what you’re using that last cigarette for in the evening – does it help you wind down and relax? Test out other ways to unwind like listening to calming music, stretching, or reading a book. Whatever works for you!
Note: some asthma and weight loss medications also have stimulant effects. Talk to your doctor to find out whether any of your medications can interfere with sleep and see if they approve taking the medication at a different time of day. Never change how much or when you take any medication without first talking with your doctor.
Avoid Alcohol. Need a nightcap to fall asleep? Many people use alcohol to fall asleep because it makes people sleepy, the problem with this is that while alcohol may help you fall asleep it actually leads to more restless sleep and greater chances of waking up throughout the night. Tip: try some relaxing herbal tea instead.
Slow down the Stress. Yeah right. While we can’t always make our lives easier, we can take time to relax at the end of the day. Having a ritual for relaxing before bed can signal the brain that it’s time for sleep. Because what’s more important: watching another re-run or being able to function the next day?
Note: snoring can interfere with your sleep – and your partners! – and could potentially be a symptom of sleep apnea. Bring it up to your doctor next time you go in for a check-up.
Stand up (and move). Have you ever had that feeling where your mind is tired, but your body can’t quite get comfortable? Sometimes our bodies need to feel tired to rest and sitting at a desk all day at work and then relaxing in front of the TV at home doesn’t allow a lot of opportunity for your body to be moving. Taking a walk or going to the gym can increase your fatigue at the end of the day and make falling asleep a little easier. Tip: try to go for a walk outside in the sun. Sunshine helps adjust our sleep/wake cycle so when it gets dark your brain knows it’s time to sleep.
Bed is for Sleep. Television screens, traffic noise, extreme temperatures, and light can all adversely impact your sleep. Not to mention varying wake up times and naps. I get it feels good to take a nap in the middle of the day, maybe even feels necessary to keep going – I’m guilty of curling up on lazy Sunday afternoons – but waking up at a consistent time every day, no matter how much sleep you got the night before, and avoiding naps helps reset your internal clock so you’ll feel sleepy at the right time. And making your bedroom as cozy, quiet, and dark as possible will help to induce that drowsy comfortable feeling. Tip: limit your bed to sleep and sex; all other activities can and should be done elsewhere And if you’ve been lying in bed for 15-20 minutes (don’t watch the clock, it’s not the exact time that matters) get up and go do something relaxing in another room until you feel drowsy again and then get back in bed. Repeat as needed – it’s all about helping your brain learn that bed is for sleep.
What are you going to choose? Keep on doing the same thing, or try something new and finally get that shut eye you deserve.
Even if you think that caffeine doesn't effect you anymore or a glass of wine before bed isn't a problem, why not give these changes a try and see what happens? Think of it like an experiment: you can always go back to your old habits afterwards if they don't help.
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This blog was originally posted on actwithpurpose.ca
Dr. Jessica is a psychologist (supervised practice), author, and trainer who is dedicated to bringing science-driven advice and information to everyone.