Sleep quality and quantity is something I’ve struggled with since I was a teen. Some nights I struggle to get to sleep, and other nights it’s the 3 am witching hour that gets me. I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Tossing and turning, the longer I go without going to sleep, the worse it gets. I start to worry about how tired I’ll be the next day and wonder how in the world I’ll be able to get all the things done if I haven’t gotten any sleep. Then it’s even more difficult for me to get to sleep. I’ve spent years researching and experimenting with those sleepless nights with different things to make sleep easier and more restful. I can tell you for sure what doesn’t work: worrying more about not sleeping!! Sleep depth and length is also affected by your environment and your daily activities and routines. I’ve tried many different things over the years and I can happily say that my sleep has improved. At the most difficult times, I’ve struggled several nights each week. Other times, it’s been more like once every week or two. Now I have fewer sleepless nights and exhausted mornings. In fact, it’s now the exception in my life rather than the rule. When I have a sleepless night now, I think WOW it’s been a long time since I’ve been awake at night like that. I’ve rounded up a few steps that I’ve found beneficial that you can try if sleepless nights are plaguing you.
1. Stay away from caffeine after 2:00 pm.
Although the biggest punch you get from caffeine happens within the first 30-60 minutes after drinking it, that same cup of coffee or soda interferes with your natural sleep-wake cycle. If consumed too close to bedtime, this can delay your ability to get to sleep by at least an hour. That caffeine you used in the morning to wake you up can keep affecting you throughout the day. Caffeine has been shown to reduce total sleep time AND quality of sleep. It also seems to stick around in your body. It typically takes between 4-6 hours for your body to process HALF the caffeine you consumed. That means that your afternoon pick-me-up could definitely still keep you up at night. I was an avid coffee drinker for MANY years. I loved everything about coffee. The taste, the smell, the warmth, the whole ritual of it. It kept me awake and moving through some difficult and sluggish times. Ah coffee, my old friend. After reading about how coffee can intensify anxiety, spike your stress hormones, throw off your blood sugar balance AND keep you up at night, I went completely caffeine free. It didn’t take me that long to get into a new routine, and I feel MUCH better for it. My anxiety is truly better, my blood sugar spikes lessened, and my sleep quality and quantity has improved. I switched to herbal teas so I still get a lot of the things I loved about my morning coffee: the same ritual and routine of making a warm steaming cup, and I’ve found new caffeine free tea blends that smell and taste wonderful. I highly recommend it, but if you aren’t ready to go completely caffeine free, try no caffeine after 2:00pm to help you sleep better.
2. Use blue-light blocking glasses if you’re using a computer, phone, or tablet in the evening.
These have gotten easier to find and you can find them in a variety of price points and styles. You can find blue-light blocking glasses anywhere from Target and Amazon to Zenni Optical or your favorite optical shop. I had blue-light filtering added to my prescription glasses and it works great. It’s not noticeable just by looking at them and helps filter out the blue light emitted from electronic devices. You don’t have to wear prescription glasses to get blue light blockers, though. The LEDs that are used in TVs, computers, smart phones and tablets have their peak emission in the blue light range. There are sensors in our eyes that detect different light waves to help set our circadian rhythm – or our sleep-wake cycle. This helps our body determine when it is time for sleep and when it’s time to wake up. It affects how melatonin is released, which is one of the chemicals in our body responsible for regulating this cycle. Studies have shown that exposure to this blue light can increase our alertness and stimulate the brain’s cognitive functions – keeping you awake. Your body thinks it’s daytime instead of nighttime and doesn’t release the sleepy time chemicals that you need to get a good night’s sleep. Blue light blockers help keep you on the right schedule.
3. Try reading a book, listening to music, journaling, or meditating before bed.
These activities all have shown to help you relax. In contrast, scrolling social media has been shown to have the opposite effect. In fact, social media use before bed has been related to difficulty sleeping. On the other hand, a 2009 study by researchers at University of Sussex showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68%. Reducing your stress helps clear the mind and ready the body for sleep. Listening to music also can improve the quality of your sleep as well as the duration – helping you sleep longer and better to wake up feeling more rested. I’ve written about my positive experiences with journaling. Journaling, especially at night, has also been found to help with chronic stress. This in turn improves your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Meditation also has a significant impact on your wellness. It can activate your relaxation response, reduce stress and anxiety, and can quickly have you sleeping better and feeling better. It doesn’t take long to begin to feel the benefits, either. Just a couple of minutes a day improves your mood. Try it at night to help you sleep. A guided meditation can really help you drift off peacefully into the night. Here’s a little practice that starts with some movement to help unwind, then moves into a guided meditation: https://youtu.be/BTlcn1R-4Sg.
4. Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime.
Using any kind of electronics – whether it’s TV, computer, phone or tablet can feel like a relaxing endeavor. However, they are often actually stimulating to your mind, and can keep you from falling sleep. Using electronics tends to delay the time when you actually go to sleep, causing you to get less sleep. It’s too tempting to keep scrolling, read one more email, or watch just ONE more episode. Keeping your technology out of the bed helps your brain associate being in bed with sleep and creates an environment conducive for a good night’s sleep. Having sounds and the blinking lights caused by sleeping next to your electronics can also disrupt your sleep. Even if you put it into silent mode, having them in the room creates the temptation to look at them if you wake up in the night – which can keep you from going back to sleep. Sleep experts recommend going with old school alarm clocks and leaving the phone in a different room. Need some recommendations? Check these out: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/best-alarm-clocks.
5. Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time.
Having a set schedule helps get your brain and body accustomed to getting the full amount of sleep you need. It helps set your circadian rhythm and get in sync. When you have a fluctuating schedule, it keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep. If you sleep more on the weekend, try to have it within an hour of your normal weekday time. Creating habits with your sleep is a powerful thing. Habit formation can promote long term behavior that persists over time with minimal effort or deliberation. Along with a consistent sleep and wake time, having consistent bedtime and morning routines also reinforce in your mind that it’s bedtime. Having a consistent morning routine eliminates some of the anxiety about morning that can keep you awake and reduces the rush and chaos that can start your day off on the wrong foot. More structure and less stress means that you will feel better during the day and be more ready to sleep at night.
Getting Better Sleep
Getting better sleep has helped me to feel more like I can do the things I want and need to do throughout the day. Not only am I more productive, but my entire health and wellbeing is better when I'm sleeping well. I get sick less often, and can take care of myself better in other healthy ways, too, like exercise and eating healthy. Try some of these sleep tips and see if they improve your sleep. Let me know in the comments what has helped your sleep the most.
*If you have long lasting or severe sleeping problems or daytime sleepiness, it’s best to talk with a doctor who can recommend the best strategies for you.
If your kids are struggling with getting to sleep and staying asleep, check out my new course: Sleep Better Toolkit for Ages 3-9. It includes so many useful tools to help your child get to sleep quicker and easier - routines, yoga, breathing, guided relaxations and more!
My Nervous System Reset Course for adults can also benefit sleep. Learning how to use your breath in just a few minutes a day, you can relieve stress, balance your energy, and improve your sleep.