Struggling with restlessness, insomnia, or middle of the night awakenings? Sleep disturbances are all too common, and interfere with the quality of our day to day life. Unfortunately, it seems that sleep disturbances seem to pop up when we need our sleep the most; we often find that sleeping issues can be triggered or exacerbated by times of heightened stress. Luckily, establishing a regular sleep hygiene regimen can help you combat sleep deprivation through regulating your circadian rhythm. Check out my sleep hygiene tips, below!
1. Set a schedule. Establish a regular sleep schedule and maintain it every day of the week. Try not to sleep in more than an hour, even on your off days. Log sleep patterns in sleep diary daily (example: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/sleep-diary.pdf)
2. Reduce the number of hours spent in bed. Let’s say you’re currently spending 8 hours in bed but only actually sleeping for 5 of those hours. Start by reducing the total amount of time spent in bed to 5 hours. Once you’re able to fall asleep and stay asleep within the 5-hour time frame, you can begin gradually extending the amount of time spent in bed until you are able to get a full 8 hours of rest.
3. Don’t force yourself to fall asleep. Spoiler alert- it won’t work. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes after getting into bed, go into a different room and do something calming (you don’t want to associate your room with restlessness). Read a book, meditate, draw, write in a journal—etc. Avoid electronics or anything else that’s stimulating and could lead to becoming more awake. Once you notice your body starting to feel tired (e.g. yawning) get back in bed and try falling asleep again. Repeat as needed (this part will require patience). It’s okay if it takes a while to notice yourself feeling tired, it could take up to several hours at first.
4. Only use your bed for sleeping. If your body learns to associate your bed with sleep, you’ll start to feel tired as soon as you lie down. Using your phone, doing work/ homework, watching TV, or other waking activities in bed can have the opposite effect—causing your brain to become more alert.
5. Make your bedroom your sacred space. Help your brain associate your room with zen by introducing soothing elements such as candles, plants, essential oils (I recommend lavender for relaxation) and cozy pillows & blankets.
6. Stop napping!! I know you’re exhausted and desperate for some shuteye, but napping during the day will make sleep more difficult at night. Naps that are over an hour long, or those that are later in the day, are especially harmful to sleep hygiene.
7. Avoid use of electronics before bed. If possible, avoid electronic use for a full hour before getting into bed. Meditating or other mindfulness exercises are a good substitute (I recommend the Omvana app). The book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is a great resource, and includes guided meditation audio tracks that can also be found here.
8. Cover up any lights in your room. (e.g. blue lights on electronics). Even something as tiny as the lights on your cable box can stimulate the brain, causing you to feel more alert. A sleeping mask is a good back up option if your room lets in a lot of light (try the Alaska Bear mask from Amazon). Also consider ordering a white noise machine if your sleep is often disturbed by sound throughout the night.
9. Diet and exercise. Limit caffeine intake to the morning. I know, I know—you think you need it to get through the day since you’re already sleep deprived. Ultimately, allowing yourself to feel that fatigue later in the day will help you when it comes time for bed. Incorporating gentle exercise like yoga, stretching or walking (in moderation) can help your body expend excessive energy—just not too close to bedtime!
10. Don’t be afraid of feeling tired! It will only be temporary, and you can tolerate it. Improving sleep hygiene may cause an increase in tiredness at first, but eventually will result in more sound sleep and increased energy levels. Sleep hygiene is designed to help you sleep more efficiently, and that may require feeling fatigued while your body adjusts to a new schedule. Allowing your body to feel tired helps facilitate regulating the sleep cycle. Consider how long you have been struggling with sleep. Months, maybe even years? So, we can expect that it might take more than a few days to reset your circadian rhythm. Be patient.