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A simple recipe for a good night’s sleep

It seems we all feel pressured to fit more into each day. Whether it’s at work or at home, there don’t seem to be enough hours to get everything done. But if you think you can get more done by ignoring the needs of your brain and your body, think again. The constant pressure catches up to you at night when you try to fall asleep, or remain asleep.

Your brain and body are quite sophisticated. If you ignore your own self-care during the day, chances are you will have trouble falling asleep, or will pop wide awake during the night, and have to address the issues that you’ve ignored before you can get back to sleep.

How to fix things so that you get sleep better? Here are 19 proven tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

1. Set aside 20 minutes each day to do nothing

During these 20 minutes, allow your mind to wander wherever it wants and needs to go. If you try to avoid allowing your mind free time, you will more likely than not find yourself wide awake, staring at the ceiling, at 2 am.

You don’t have to sit still to allow your mind to wander. Instead, you can schedule a regular morning or evening walk, get in a swim, spin on your bike, or soak in the tub. The idea is to engage in an activity that requires almost no brain power so that your thoughts can drift wherever they need to go. Don’t try to control your thoughts. Just allow them to wander.

2. Plan to get enough sleep

Most people don’t get enough sleep, and you know the consequences. Difficulty waking up, hitting the snooze button until you absolutely have to get out of bed, being dependent on caffeine to wake you up and keep you up, being snappy and irritable throughout the day, performing at a lower than peak level because your brains isn’t working optimally, not enjoying your lives because you’re dragging yourself around throughout the day, and dreading each new action item on your to do list because you just want to go to sleep.

You might think you only need 7 or 8 hours of sleep, but many of us need to get 9 hours of sleep on a daily basis to feel and function at our best. Try rethinking your priorities and go to bed an hour or two earlier each night.

3. Go to bed at a consistent bedtime, even on weekends

It’s more important to have a consistent bedtime than a consistent wake time. This means going to bed at the same time every night of the week. This will likely mean rethinking some of your priorities, like not watching your favourite TV show if it originally airs on Tuesday night at 10 pm, or missing your team’s late-night hockey games if the only ice time that’s available is at 11 pm.

4. Avoid napping

Do your best not to nap unless it’s necessary. Instead, try going for a walk to help bring your energy level up. Napping makes it harder to go to sleep at night and throws your body’s circadian rhythm out of whack. Tired? Plan to go to bed earlier at night and keep the date.

Uncomfortable going to bed early because you feel like you’re going to miss out on something? Here’s a trick you can try. Put on your pyjamas, get into bed, and tell yourself that you’re only going to lie down for 15 minutes. Tell yourself you can get out of bed and watch that late night TV program if you’re not asleep within 15 minutes. Most likely, if you try this experiment, you will be asleep within ten. It works every time for many of us.

5. Only use your bed for sleep and sex

People that have difficulty sleeping at night often have a television in their bedrooms. This is a mistake, because your body can learn that being in bed doesn’t necessarily correlate with being asleep.

To correct this problem, move the TV out of your bedroom and install a large sofa chair where you can sit to watch TV or read before you get into bed.

6. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep

If you aren’t asleep within 15 minutes of getting into bed, or if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, then get up and do something that’s not too stimulating like reading. Don’t watch the clock. Get back in bed only when you feel tired.

7. Journal if your thoughts are racing

For many people that can’t fall asleep, or that wake up during the night, simply getting out of bed isn’t enough to stop their thoughts from racing. If this is you, then put on a bath robe and a pair of slippers, and journal. Write down your thoughts that are spinning through your head. If you’re afraid you’ll lose important thoughts that are keeping you up, then jot them down on post-it notes and put these on the bathroom mirror so that you’ll see them when you brush your teeth in the morning.

If you do get up to journal, chances are high that you’ll fall asleep again within 20 minutes of getting back in bed. If you don’t get up because it feels like too much effort, you are much more likely to still be awake four hours later.

8. Make sure the bedroom is cold enough

Many people find that the temperature in the bedroom makes a huge difference. Too hot? Try turning on the ceiling fan or the air-conditioner. It works like a charm for many people.

9. Make sure your mattress is firm enough

This isn’t rocket science, but it’s funny how many people don’t get a good night’s sleep because their mattress isn’t firm enough. If you think hotel beds are better than yours, then chances are high that you need to replace yours, because hotel beds are generally of low quality.

10. Get help for chronic pain

If you have trouble sleeping because of chronic pain, then find a good acupuncturist, physiotherapist, massage therapist or chiropractor to help you ease those tense muscles. You might also want to find a personal trainer, or participate in a regular gym class, so that you can strengthen weak muscles. It’s amazing how many people live with chronic pain when what they really need to do is get active and strengthen their core muscles.

11. Don’t use electronic devices before bed

It’s ironic how many people check their email messages and text messages or read on their computers directly before bed. There’s been a lot written about how the light from electronic devices interferes with your brain’s signals that sleep is coming.

So, don’t look at your electronic devices 1.5 hours before you go to bed. Give it a try for a week. You’ll likely find a difference in how easy it is to fall asleep.

Believe you need to check your phone right before you get into bed? You might want to experiment with reading your messages first thing in the morning instead.

12. Don’t drink alcohol before bed

Lots of people say they have a couple of drinks before bed to help them unwind. One problem with this habit is that alcohol interferes with your brain’s natural cycle of brain waves that are required for sleep to be restorative.

Need another way to relax? Try playing a board game for 20 minutes when you get home from work to unwind. Reading is another sure-fire way to let go of the days stresses and unwind without sacrificing your quality of sleep a few hours later.

13. Don’t drink caffeine after 2 pm

Many people drink a huge amount of coffee during the day. You might believe you can’t give up coffee because you need it to get out of bed in the morning. But if you’ve built up a tolerance to it, is it doing anything for you in the morning? Might it be hampering your ability to get a good night’s sleep?

As an experiment, you might want to give up coffee for a month to see what the effect is. The physical dependence on caffeine only lasts for three days, so if give it up on Friday morning, you’ll be caffeine-free by Monday morning. That headache you experience over the weekend? That’s your body going through withdrawal from caffeine.

If you still want to drink coffee, don’t drink any after 2 pm because it takes 7 hours for your body to process caffeine and get it out of your system so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

14. Don’t use sleep medications unless it’s necessary

Sleep medications should be used as a temporary solution to a truly difficult problem that keeps you awake at night. They shouldn’t be depended on to help you sleep routinely because they are highly addictive, and they don’t allow your brain to go through the natural cycle of brain waves that are required for sleep to be restorative.

Have a really serious problem sleeping? Look for help from a professional that will offer you alternatives to sleep medications to try.

15. Establish a regular routine before bed

Establishing a regular routine that you engage in every night before you go to bed will let your brain anticipate that sleep is coming and begin to shut down. You might want to have a shower, put on your pyjamas, brush your teeth, floss, and then set your alarm. You get the idea.

16. Don’t jump straight into bed at the end of a huge day

If you get home from work late and must go to bed immediately so that you can get up first thing in the morning to be back at your desk, chances are you will encounter problems at some point along the way. Your brain is not built to handle this kind of load.

Instead, slow down. Give yourself some time to process your day. Maybe read a book or tidy the kitchen for 20 minutes. Then take a long, lazy shower or a warm bath. Your brain needs time to process your day before it will allow you to sleep.

17. Don’t watch television immediately before bed

Watching television right before bed is a lousy way to relax. Research confirms this observation. In fact, you can do practically anything else and be more relaxed than you will be if you park yourself in front of the television after supper and stay there until it’s time to go to bed.

As an added insult, television interferes with getting a good night’s sleep because you tend to ignore your body’s signals that you need to go to bed when you watch TV.  This is why so many people find themselves asleep on the couch with the TV still blaring away, rather than in bed.

Instead, stop watching TV 90 minutes before your regular bedtime. Technology is wonderful. You can watch the shows you will miss at another time when the shows won’t interfere with your ability to function the next day.

18. Exercise regularly

It’s amazing how well your body and your brain function when you give them what they need. You’re built to get regular exercise, and you need it to function optimally. Ignore your body’s needs at your peril.

19. Don’t accept hot flashes

If you’re a woman and you’re of a certain age, chances are you will experience hot flashes at some point in time. When and if this happens, don’t just accept them. Instead, do some research to see what you can do. Getting sugar, spicy foods, hot drinks, alcohol and caffeine out of your diet can go a long way towards reducing this problem.

— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

If you would like support, contact me to schedule an appointment or a free 15 minute consultation.


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