Many of my clients tell me they have difficulty sleeping at night when we initially meet. I tell them that if the goal is to get a better night’s sleep, they can start working towards that goal by implementing some positive behavior changes that they can maintain over the longer-term.
With every goal we set in life, we will be more likely to achieve the goal if we have a detailed plan or strategy that we follow. Here are a few bedtime strategies to help start you on your way to getting a good night’s sleep.
Strategy #1. Establish a regular bed time and wake time that you practice every day.
If you keep a regular sleep schedule, by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you can help yourself get in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Go to bed at the same time each day, even on the weekend, and get out of bed — no matter how tired you are — at the same time every morning. Sleeping-in on weekends and napping during the day will not help you fight insomnia over the longer-term.
Strategy #2. Journal before you go to bed every night, especially if you are on the go all day long.
Journaling is an excellent way to help calm your mind if racing thoughts keep you awake at night, or if they awaken after you’ve fallen asleep. Racing thoughts are your mind’s way of asking you to pay attention to things you did not pay adequate attention to during the day. Do not worry about grammar or correct sentence structure as you write. Just write. The idea is to do a “data dump,” so that your brain can let go of what is troubling it and fall into restorative sleep.
Strategy #3. Do not read or watch television in bed.
Many people read or watch television in bed. Reading or watching television in bed can spell disaster because your body becomes confused, not knowing whether it should be alert or asleep while in bed. Your bed is for sleep or for sex only, so get into bed only when you are ready for one of these activities, so your body directly associates your bed with sex and sleep.
An aside: Research shows that watching television is not relaxing, so it is best to avoid watching television for the last hour before going to bed. Remember, learning to sleep well will be worth missing a television show or two in the evening.
Strategy #4. Get out of bed if you do not fall asleep within 15 minutes.
Get out of bed if you are unable to fall asleep within fifteen minutes of going to bed, or of awakening during the night, for the same reason you do not read or watch television while in bed. Engage in a non-stimulating activity and stay up until you feel tired. Do not watch the clock and return to bed because you “should” be asleep.
Remember, you are teaching your body good sleep habits, and you may initially be more tired rather than better rested while your body learns these new habits.
Read more about What habits can I change to help me get a good night’s sleep?
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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