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Getting Better Sleep

If you are finding yourself struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, consider some of these tips to help you sleep better:

  • Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn.

  • Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm.

  • Be smart about napping. While napping is a good way to make up for lost sleep, if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, napping can make things worse. Limit naps to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.

  • Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you get sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating, such as cleaning up, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert.

  • Expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day. Take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day and try to get natural light during the day.

  • Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime. The blue light emitted by electronic devices can be disruptive. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software.

  • Make the room dark when it is time to sleep. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows or try a sleep mask. Also consider covering up electronics that emit light.

Regular exercise increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. Even light exercise—such as walking for just 10 minutes a day—improves sleep quality. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects. So be patient and focus on building an exercise habit. Try to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least three hours before bedtime. Relaxing, low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching in the evening can help promote sleep.

Your daytime eating habits play a role in how well you sleep, especially in the hours before bedtime. Limit caffeine and nicotine. Avoid big meals, too much alcohol and sugar at a night. All of these can have an impact on your sleep routine.

Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. Try to reduce unwanted thoughts at bedtime by practicing the following:

  • Make a list: Make a list of the things that you want to get done tomorrow and the days ahead. Knowing your to do list can give you a clean slate to start from each morning and can help put things into perspective.

  • Talk about it: If stress and anxiety consistently stand in the way of getting good sleep, talk about with your doctor, share your thoughts with friends and reach out to those who you know can help you. You are not alone.

  • Meditation: Meditation is used to let go of thoughts that are not productive right now. Learning how to mediate and clear your mind to make room for sleep is a practice. There are many apps and other programs that help guide meditation.

  • Other exercises to destress include:

    • Deep breathing. Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last.

    • Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up to the top of your head.

    • Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place that’s calming and peaceful. Concentrate on how relaxed this place makes you feel.

It’s normal to wake briefly during the night but if you’re having trouble falling back asleep these habits may help:

  • Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, because that stress only encourages your body to stay awake. To stay out of your head, focus on the feelings in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.

  • Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you find it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.

  • Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up.

  • Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.


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