Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Sometimes it is hard to get to sleep. Sometimes it is hard to stay asleep. Many different things can disrupt our sleep schedules: anxiety, needed bathroom breaks, your pesky neighbor’s dog that won’t stop barking, or that car alarm that likes to go off at 3 am every night. Whatever the reason, interruptions to your sleep schedule can mess up your day, so here are some tips to help you make the most of your pillow time.
Limit the use of electronics before bed.
The blue light emitted from screens on your TV, phone, and tablets can interfere with your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep. The short wavelength of the blue light from your electronic devices reduces the production of melatonin in your body, which is the hormone responsible for controlling your sleep cycle. The National Sleep Foundation recommends reducing not using electronics for at least 30 minutes before your bedtime. If you do need to use electronics before bedtime, ensure you have a light on to help counteract the glare and intensity of the light from your electronics, or use the nighttime function available on some electronic devices.
Create a bedtime routine
Our bodies need time to slow down at the end of the day, and having a bedtime routine can help cue our bodies that it is time to slow down and hit the hay. As we often do not wake up and go to sleep with the cycle of the sun, cuing your body for sleep time can re-teach your body when it is supposed to sleep. Make your routine simple and repeatable: perhaps brush your teeth, wash your face, incorporate some stretching, read a chapter of that book you have never finished. Everyone’s body is different and for some people it may take 5 minutes to wind down, others may take an hour. Customize your routine for your body’s needs.
Treat your bed like a bed
To build on the cues for sleep that your bedtime routine will help create, build up an association between your bed and sleeping. Often we use our bed for more than what it was intended for: we study there, watch tv, have deep conversations, eat, etc. Reserving your bed specifically for sleep and sex will help you build the association that that object has only a couple functions rather than several. Then when you go to bed your body will know what to do rather than be trying to figure out if it should stay awake and pay attention to the movie or not.
Make your room a sanctuary
Since about a third of your life is going to be spent in bed, it should be comfortable! Is your mattress old and saggy? Does your pillow feel like nails? If you answered yes it may be time to upgrade to a more comfortable option. In addition to your bed and pillows, make sure your environment is comfortable. If those ambulances and police sirens keep you up at night, consider wearing earplugs. If the strobe lights from the club across the street flood your room with light, consider getting some black out curtains or wearing a sleep mask. Cooling sheets or a fan can help if you have a tendency to overheat at night, and conversely if you get icy feet maybe wearing socks to bed would make you more comfortable.
Get your thoughts out
Sometimes we can’t sleep because we have a million thoughts rolling around in our brain. Incorporating some journaling or making a list of all the things you have to do the next day as part of your bedtime routine can help get the thoughts out of your head. Getting your thoughts out on paper helps your brain know that it doesn’t have to remind you 10,00 more times not to forget to pick up grandma from the bowling lane tomorrow, because you have it written down.
Have a bedtime snack
3 am is traditionally known as the witching hour because in olden days people thought that witches and demons were most active at this time and that’s why people often wake up at 3 am. Although we can’t confirm or deny if this is true, we do know that in reality for many people their blood sugar drops around 3 am, and that is why they commonly wake up. Eating some protein or a small snack before bedtime can help keep your blood sugar more even and you asleep longer.
Be mindful of what you drink
If you often have to wake up to use the washroom in the middle of the night: consider restricting your liquid intake close to bedtime. In addition, avoid consumption of caffeine close to bed, and opt for lower or non-caffeine options instead. In addition to coffee, energy drinks, pop, and chocolate are common culprits for caffeine, so avoid these as well.
Try some hypnosis or relaxation techniques
Sleep responds to hypnosis very well, with the best results after 2-3 weeks of consistent practice. YouTube has a wealth of sleep hypnosis tracks available for free and there are lots of apps that are available for android or iphone as well. Other relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or some mindful breathing can help you fall asleep faster.
Don’t put pressure on yourself
Putting pressure on yourself to fall asleep can make it more difficult to drift off. Instead, try just focusing on relaxing your body and mind. Deep breathing and focusing on releasing tension may help you relax and allow your body to fall asleep sooner.
See a professional
If you are having continual sleep disturbances or aren’t feeling rested, see a specialist about your sleep habits. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can interfere significantly with a good night’s rest. The Edmonton Sleep Institute offers a variety of individualized services, assessments, and treatment plans to help improve your sleep. Your local psychologist can also help improve your sleep habits by working with you to determine what isn't working, establish routine, and teach you other techniques to fall asleep faster.