Updated: Oct 7, 2021
There’s no doubt about it. Poor sleep makes everything in life harder. By working on improving your quality of sleep, you’ll notice that everything in life becomes a bit easier to deal with. Your stress tolerance will increase as you feel more rested.
In my life, sleep is exceptionally important. Most people close to me know that I’m heading to bed sometime between 9:30 and 10:30, pretty much no matter what. Friday, Saturday, at a party, out with friends…I really don’t care about the situation, I’m heading to bed at my usual time. My discipline about this helps me to be well-rested almost all the time. I’m maybe a little boring, but I’m OK with that!
I find many of my clients have worked on certain things to make sleep better, like cutting out their last coffee of the day or reading a book instead of falling asleep to the TV. Even so, I find that there’s almost always a strategy or two that they haven’t tried and that gives them an extra boost in sleep quality.
Even an additional 30 minutes can make a world of difference in your motivation, energy and drive for the next day. An hour or two more on a consistent basis can be life-changing.
Many of us have unintentionally trained our bodies and minds to sleep poorly. We’ve done this by getting into some bad habits, such as laying in bed for too long, having that late afternoon coffee or playing on our phones just before going to bed. We want to turn that conditioning around and train our bodies to be sleepy as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
The strategies below will help you to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel more rested in the morning. Try one or two that resonate with you or work on as many as you like. I bet they’ll help you not only sleep but improve the quality of your life, one night at a time!
Choose a regular sleep time.
Our bodies get used to a certain time for bed and a certain time to get up. Often what we end up doing is staying up late on the weekends, which makes us more tired on Monday and Tuesday. Then we get back on track for two days but start the entire cycle again on Friday night.
Try a 30-day challenge of going to bed at a certain time and getting up at the same time every day and see how your sleep regulates and energy improves. You might never go back!
Reduce or remove blue light before bed.
The sun emits energizing blue light wavelengths, which is why we often feel so motivated on bright, sunny days. We also receive artificial blue light from our electronic devices (tablets, phones, TVs, computers) and this light can make us more alert by blocking melatonin (a hormone that makes us sleepy).
Ultimately, blue light can contribute to insomnia if we’re getting too much exposure before bed. What can you do to reduce your blue light exposure and improve your sleep? You can buy blue light blocking glasses, use a blue light filtering app on your devices, dim the light on your device (there’s a nighttime setting on most devices now) and reduce electronic use 2-3 hours before bedtime (or at least 1 hour).
With babies, we often have a consistent bedtime routine that helps them to prepare their bodies and minds for sleep. It typically consists of a bath, bottle, book and then bedtime. Hopefully, by the time they get to their crib, they’re gently drifting off to sleep. We all know it doesn’t work every time, but it definitely helps
A wind-down routine before bed can be very effective in helping facilitate sleep not only with babies and children but adults as well. What it does is uses the principle of classical conditioning to promote sleep by training the body and mind to know that these activities lead to bedtime.
Have you ever heard the story of Pavlov’s dog? Pavlov was a Russian physiologist in the late 1800s who discovered that if he paired a bell with meat, he could teach his dog to salivate in response to the bell, even if the meat wasn’t present. This was the beginning of research into the process of classical conditioning, which is something that impacts us regularly whether we realize it or not. For example, when you drive by a corner where you previously had an accident and become anxious, this is classical conditioning. You’ve paired the corner with the state of anxiety. When you feel nauseous in response to a food that you’d previously become sick after eating, this is classical conditioning. You’ve paired nausea with the food.
You can use the notion of classical conditioning to train yourself to become sleepy in response to your bedtime routine. You’re pairing sleep with the routine. A good bedtime routine might involve a lukewarm bath (add in Epsom salts and lavender essential oils to really take it up a notch), a light snack like a piece of toast and a glass of milk (milk has tryptophan, which induces drowsiness and toast is high in carbohydrates which can also make us tired) then reading a book for 30 minutes. Other options could be doing meditation before bed (check out my sleep-inducing meditation here), doing a (not too challenging) sudoku, word search, crossword puzzle or colouring with relaxing music in the background.
Bed = sleep and sex.
Another important aspect of classical conditioning is to associate your bed with only sleep and sex. This way, when you get into bed, your body isn’t conditioned to be checking email, stressing about the day or watching TV.
Go to bed when sleepy and get out when not sleeping.
Do you have the habit of tossing and turning for long periods when you go to bed or when you wake in the night? If so, this habit is training you to respond with wakefulness in your bed. It’s important to only go to bed when you feel sleepy, which means that it’s hard to keep your eyes open.
If you wake in the night and are up for 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you’re feeling sleepy. Only at that point do you go back to bed.
Exercise in the morning, afternoon or early evening.
People who exercise regularly tend to get better sleep, but it’s important to get the timing right. Make sure you exercise earlier in the day, or you may be too wired to fall asleep. The exception would be light stretching or relaxing yoga, which could be a part of your bedtime routine.
Bedroom: cool, dark and comfortable.
Research shows that the ideal temperature for your bedroom is around 18 degrees C (65 degrees F). It’s pretty chilly, so get yourself some comfortable blankets to snuggle under. I’m a big fan of weighted blankets- especially if you struggle with insomnia or anxiety. I bought this one as a Christmas present to myself last year and it’s wonderful (shopping tip: it went on sale during Black Friday). Buy a good-quality mattress and keep the room as dark as you can. Don’t keep electronics in your bedroom and cover up or remove any items that emit light.
Feeling overly stressed is often a big factor in disrupted sleep. It’s important to allow for time for self-care in your day-to-day routine. Make sure you’re taking time to exercise, connect with loved ones and engage in hobbies and activities that are relaxing to you. You’ll begin to notice a great improvement in sleep as you prioritize your wellness as a whole.
If you struggle with falling asleep at night, do the best that you can to cut out naps, as this will have the effect of increasing your drive for sleep. By not napping during the day, you will improve the quality of your nighttime sleep and you will feel less urge to nap over time. If you’ve been a regular napper for a long time, you can begin by reducing the length of your naps, moving in the direction of stopping naps altogether.
Getting up to go to the bathroom disrupts your sleep cycle. If you notice that you’re regularly needing to use the washroom at night, consider limiting fluid intake for an hour or two prior to bed.
Caffeine and alcohol.
Speaking of fluids, the effects of caffeine and alcohol are detrimental to sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant and if you’re having sleep issues, work to limit caffeine intake to 1-2 caffeinated beverages daily, preferably in the morning. Make sure you gradually reduce your intake so you reduce the potential side effects of headache, drowsiness and irritability. If you’re open to completely cutting out caffeine, that works too.
Sometimes people use alcohol as a method for inducing sleep. Research shows that alcohol does increase the likelihood of falling asleep, but it results in poor quality sleep and usually when alcohol is digested, people wake up and have a harder time falling asleep. Overall, alcohol does not work as a sleep aid. Use the other strategies outlined here for better, long-term sleep help or speak to a medical professional.
Work on your thoughts about sleep.
Our thoughts determine our reality and for any aspect of your mental health, it’s important to examine thoughts. When it comes to sleep, common problematic thought patterns might be, “My day is ruined if I don’t get enough sleep” or “My sleep has always been bad and it’s never getting better.” See if you can lessen the intensity of these thoughts by reminding yourself of healthier and more balanced beliefs, such as “It’s best when I sleep well, but I can deal with it if I don’t” or “I can work on improving my sleep and see what happens.”
If your thoughts are racing at bedtime or you wake in the night worrying about this or that, it’s a sign that you’re not facing and dealing with your worries enough in your waking hours. One great strategy for dealing with this is to set a specific time for worrying every day. Then, when a worrisome thought pops in your head at any time, write it down and deal with it at your scheduled worry time. At your worry time, give yourself 15-30 minutes to sit and worry about everything on your mind. You can journal about it, problem-solve, work on developing more balanced thoughts or perhaps just have a cry. Then, you can use a closure technique, such as the Container Method (see it described as coping strategy #3 in the blog post here). Make sure you don’t do this too close to bedtime (early evening is the latest you should do this).
There’s nothing like meditation for reducing overall stress and getting you into a state of mind that is primed for sleep. Check out my latest meditation download that you can use tonight to get a better night’s sleep. Download it instantly here.
Good luck with the strategies and comment below to let me know the strategy you plan to use.