Improve your sleep by improving your sleep hygiene. Start healthy routines before bed to get your body used to going to sleep at a certain time each night. The key points here: light, noise and temperature. If you have bright lights shining through your window, the charging light from a cell phone, a bright clock display or other light sources that glow once you turn the lights off, this impacts the quality of your sleep. It’s a bit sneaky – you’ll still fall asleep, but you won’t spend as much time in deep or REM sleep, so you’ll feel tired in the morning even after a full night in bed. An eye mask works well here; you won’t need to make any other changes in your room. Otherwise, consider turning off or covering all light sources, and installing thick curtains that block out all light. Use earplugs to block out your partner’s snoring, loud appliances, noisy neighbors and rumbling trucks outside.
Room temperature makes a surprising difference in the soundness of your sleep. According to a TIME article, insomniacs wearing a special cooling cap to keep their head from getting too hot during slumber improved their sleep back to normal levels. Additionally, keeping your room at a cool temperature, like 66 degrees Fahrenheit, allows your metabolism to work better and has possible blood sugar-controlling benefits. The act of cooling your body’s core temperature down before falling asleep encourages restful sleep, but it’s important to have just the right amount of bed covers to keep you comfortable at night – not too cold, and not too warm. Consider replacing your fluffy, too-warm comforter with a natural wool fiber blanket, since wool makes a great body-temperature regulator.
Never underestimate the value of tracking your sleep over time. As you experiment with different tweaks and changes, you’ll want to have some kind of consistent measure, such as the sleepiness scale, to see if your efforts are paying off. Keep a simple notebook by your bedside, a document on your computer or make notations in your smartphone each day on how rested you feel, if you needed a nap and other measures you find helpful while trying new things so that you can keep what works and toss the rest. Sleep researchers at Stanford University have developed the Stanford Sleepiness Scale to help determine the quality of your sleep quickly and easily, without needing to endure a sleep study. The scale has seven different qualitative levels of tiredness; you would rank yourself at different parts of the day, and track this over a period of time to get an idea of how much sleep deprivation you have, if any. Do an internet search for “Stanford Sleepiness Scale” and you’ll find a pdf of the questionnaire for your own use.
Stress reduction is key, and insomnia itself can cause stress, as people get angry while lying awake yet another night. Implement some of the tried-and true stress reduction techniques and see if they help you. Keep a paper pad at your bedside. Do a brain dump each night before bed and get all of the “to do” items out of your head and on paper. If you wake in the middle of the night with your mind racing, remind yourself that you’re much better equipped to solve your problems during the day when your brain’s fully awake – nothing gets solved in the middle of the night. Lay off the computer, TV and tablet at least 30 minutes before bed, because the light gives your brain a signal to stay awake. Try meditation, deep breathing exercises or gentle yoga moves for 10 to 20 minutes. Calm yourself with chamomile tea or a hot bath, and have a good paperback book ready to read. If you wake in the middle of the night, get out of bed and do something boring or relaxing to distract your mind. Dr. William C. Dement, a sleep research pioneer and leading sleep authority, recommends getting up after 20 minutes of wake time and doing something boring until you feel sleepy.
Eating meals late interferes with sleep because lying down can cause acid and stomach contents to flow back up the esophagus. Known as acid reflux, this common ailment doesn’t always have detectable symptoms but can keep you wide awake for several hours, night after night. Eat earlier, at least three hours before bed time, and choose lighter, healthy food items that won’t over-tax your digestive system.
Don’t forget to check the side effects of any medications you currently take. If insomnia is one of the known side effects, talk to your doctor about taking your medication earlier in the day. Your doctor may also be able to switch you to a different medication that doesn’t interfere with sleep. Pay attention to any over-the-counter drugs you take as well. Nightly antihistamines may keep your nose from getting congested, but Baylor College of Medicine sleep experts say that antihistamines not only cause dry mouth and urinary problems, but can hurt the quality of your sleep, making you wake up tired and groggy instead of refreshed.
If nothing else works, talk to your doctor about prescription medications and a possible diagnostic sleep study. Although potential side effects, poor-quality sleep, dependency and tolerance-building over time offset some of the drugs’ benefits, according to WebMD, sometimes you just really, really need sleep and these sleep aids can be a huge help if prescribed and used properly.
Do you know what a sleep disorder center is? We explain it in a great article meant to help you overcome your sleeping problems.