Jamie Sculley, ND
5 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Starting Tonight
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
This week has been rough in regards to sleep for me. Insomnia has been front and center so I thought I’d write about it because I know it’s an issue for many people. As anyone who has dealt with insomnia knows it can really ruin your night. It’s a vicious cycle of tossing and turning and feeling frustrated about why you can’t fall asleep. If you suffer from this night after night it can set up the expectation that you are going to have a difficult time getting to sleep, which just prolongs the onset of sleep even more. So how do you get out of this cycle? In an effort to help you improve your sleep I want to share 5 things that you can try starting tonight to get to sleep more easily.
Yes, I know this may sound counterintuitive, but if you are like me and are tossing and turning and trying really hard to fall asleep it’s just making it worse. So I recommend that you get up if you are not able to fall asleep after about 15 -30 minutes. If you have insomnia night after night you may start to associate your bed and bedroom with not sleeping. So, if you can’t get to sleep, get up and go into another room, keep lights as low as possible while you’re up and do something gentle and easy like reading. After about 15 minutes go back into your bedroom and try again. Repeat this process if needed.
This one is tough for a lot of people, including me. Our phones and tablets are a constant source of information and entertainment. Chances are, your phone is probably your alarm clock so it’s right there next to your bed within arms reach. The reason that you want to avoid electronics starting about 1 hour before bed is the blue light they emit from the screens. That light prevents the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin from being produced in our brains. If this recommendation is a hard change to adopt you can make small changes that will have some benefit. Start with using the blue light filter that is on many phones and set it to automatically turn on in the evening. This filter will make your screen’s light appear softer and warmer. You can also download apps on your laptop to have the same effect. One that I love using is called f.lux. I have it set to turn on at sunset and turn off at sunrise. If I’m working in the evening I’ve noticed it’s much easier on my eyes. At the very least try not to use electronics in bed right before you go to sleep because they can be too stimulating. So scroll through your social media in the living room and then be done with it once you climb into bed. Or better yet, leave your phone out of your bedroom. Charge it overnight in your office or living room so you won’t even be tempted to check it at night.
Keep Your Room Dark and Quiet
This may seem like a no-brainer but you need darkness and quiet to sleep well. When I say “dark” I mean really dark. Get some blackout curtains and hang them up over all the windows in your bedroom. Remember the effect of light on melatonin? Darkness increases melatonin production so if you have street lights or porch lights shining into your bedroom it’s going to keep you awake. Also, cover lights coming from electronics or even use an eye mask. White noise or fans can be soothing and help you fall asleep but otherwise keep noise to a minimum especially if you’re a light sleeper. Temperature is also important. Your body temperature cools in the evening to encourage sleep so keep your bedroom cool with a fan or by opening a window to let that cool night air in.
If an active mind is keeping you from sleeping, incorporate practices that get your thoughts out and calm it down. Doing 5-10 minutes of deep breathing before bed either on your own or with an app can do wonders for calming the mind and preparing it for sleep. I’ve noticed that my sleep feels deeper and I feel more rested when I meditate before bed. Other ways to calm the mind are journaling, writing in a “worry journal”, doing gentle yoga or stretching before bed.
I usually try the above ideas but sometimes they just don’t work. In that case, try taking melatonin about 30 minutes before bed. It comes in a variety of strengths so I recommend starting low and work up to the dose that works for you. It comes in capsules, tablets and sublingual tablets that you let dissolve under your tongue allowing it to get into your bloodstream faster. There is also a type called timed-release that releases a dose soon after you take it and then again a few hours later, which I like to recommend if you are waking up at night. Melatonin can cause vivid dreams, headache, dizziness and makes some people feel groggy on waking so take this into account before trying it. And, as always, speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about interactions with other medications.
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