Struggling To Sleep? Changes You Can Make To Get Those Zzz’s


1 out of 3 Americans report that they don’t get enough sleep each night.

Imagine this: You find yourself laying in bed struggling to fall asleep. Again. You look at the clock. It’s 3:00 am. The urge to know how long you’ve been tossing and turning trumps your logic. You start calculating how many hours of sleep you’ve had, how many you still need, and how tired you’re going to be as you move throughout your day tomorrow. These “midnight math” calculations happen often and ironically lead to anxiety that makes it even harder to get the sleep you need.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of 8 hours of sleep per night for adults, and even more for kids and teens. But Americans often fall short. A lack of sleep (defined as less than 6 hours) can have serious consequences. It’s correlated with problems in focus, memory, immune system functioning, reaction-time, emotional control, and decision-making.

If you find that you can’t fall asleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night, some simple adjustments could really help to improve your quality of sleep, effectively improving your quality of life.

Get Your Zzz’s With These Strategies:

1) Institute a bedtime routine:

Most of us have a routine to get going in the morning. A coffee and newspaper, the gym and a shower, breakfast with cartoons: these are signals to you that it’s time to transition into your day. A bedtime routine is just as important for sleep hygiene. It may include a bath or shower, reading, listening to music, drinking tea, cuddling, meditating, writing in your journal, or anything else that signals you to slow down and relax.

2) Limit blue lights:

Activity right before bedtime should be conducted away from bright lights emitted by screens. The blue lighting in computers, tablets, and phone screens simulate daylight, which causes the body to produce less melatonin, an integral sleep hormone. The good news is that most devices today have a programable timer you can activate to turn off the blue lights automatically in the evening (find these in your device’s settings).

3) Turn off media:

Speaking of devices, 24-hour news cycles, social media, email, and pinging phones all create stress and overstimulate the brain. Additionally, people typically reflect upon the last thing they were engaged in as they start falling asleep (also known as the recency effect). Tuning in to negative or stressful subject matter can lead to unhelpful rumination at bedtime. Turn off your screens and disable notifications at least an hour before bedtime to give yourself time to unwind before going to sleep.

4) Go to bed around the same time (even on the weekends):

And wake up around the same time as well. This helps to regulate your circadian rhythm or your body’s internal clock. Your body produces hormones that signal when it’s time to go to sleep. By keeping to a schedule, you can use these signals effectively.

5) Exercise daily:

Regular physical exercise is shown to improve both sleep quantity and quality, regardless of when it occurs. It also provides the benefit of increasing feelings of alertness during the day. Note: make sure to finish exercising at least 3 hours before bedtime because exercise can leave some people to initially feel invigorated.

6) Create your optimal sleep environment:

Your bedroom should be dark and have a comfortable temperature (between 60 and 67 degrees). Drops in light and temperature signal to the body that it’s nighttime. Find a bed and bedding that is comfortable and meets your sleep needs. Keep your room free of any noises or lights that make it difficult to fall asleep. This may include a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring or movement. Consider using blackout curtains, sleep masks, earplugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices.

7) Slow Down Racing Thoughts:

If you find that your mind starts racing the minute your head hits the pillow, there are several things you can do (Learn More about Obsessive Thoughts). Keep a notebook handy next to your bed to write down any “next morning to do’s” that you are afraid you might forget. You can also use the notebook to take note of persistent worries or thoughts you have. Look for patterns to determine if there are things you need to do to address your concerns or to determine if you need more support in managing them. A deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visual imagery practice can also help people slow their thoughts and fall asleep. To get started, I like the free app, Smiling Mind. The narrator walks you through breathing and relaxation techniques to build your skill in quieting the mind.

8) Limit Caffeine:

Keep caffeine intake to no more than 400mg (about 4 cups of coffee) and don’t drink it after 2:00 pm. Kids should get no more than 100mg of caffeine. Although some people think that they are “immune” to the effects of caffeine, (they can fall asleep), it blocks the production of Adenosine (another hormone essential for sleep) as well as limits REM sleep cycles. 

9) Pay attention to what you eat before bedtime:

Avoid going to bed either hungry or stuffed. Try to avoid eating large meals or sugary treats for two to three hours before bedtime. Indigestion is a sleep-killer. And sugar can act as a stimulant. Opt for a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re hungry.

10) Rethink that 3rd glass of wine:

One or two glasses of alcohol do not appear to affect sleep, but more than that could backfire. Like caffeine, alcohol affects REM sleep, the deep sleep that allows you to wake up feeling rested. Not to mention the extra bathroom breaks needed when you drink too much liquid before bedtime!

A final note: Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, even with good sleep hygiene, you should contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve. Sweet Dreams!


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