Sleep deprivation is serious business. In the short run, not getting enough sleep can leave you just plain exhausted, it can impair your memory and cause plenty o’ stress. However, in the long run, sleep deprivation has been linked to strokes, high blood pressure, cancer growth, heart disease, depression, obesity, ADD, and a lot more harmful health effects.
Now, I’m naturally a night owl with a bedtime of 2-4 am, but with an 8-5 desk job, I’ve had to really tackle this problem of borderline insomnia. I’ve probably tried all of these things, and with a lot of troubleshooting, I can now force myself to sleep on a daily basis (even though I hate it).
1. Regular Bedtime and Wakeup time
There’s no one else in the world more bummed out by this rule, but having to get up at 6 for my “real job”, it’s a necessary evil. Yeah, being young, single and still sort of in a new city, having a 10 pm curfew sucks. However, your body needs enough sleep to function, so get over it and get to sleep. You should be getting 7-9 hours per night (on average).
2. Spend More Time Outside
Light affects the melatonin in your body, so if you spend all day indoors or spend your nights looking at screens (most of us), our sleep cycle can get a bit out of whack. So take a lunch outside, look at some clouds, tromp through the woods, whatever, just get some sun every day.
3. Don’t be Hungry or Stuffed
Trying to sleep when you’re stuffed or starved will mess with your sleep cycle. Eat your dinner at a reasonable time and train yourself to be done after that. If you need a tiny snack before bed, just don’t do carbs or sugar. Oh, and dairy gives me nightmares so watch out.
4. Don’t Drink Liquids
That’s a no-brainer. Getting up to pee doesn’t really help with the whole sleeping thing. Stop drinking 1-2 hours before your bedtime.
5. Smoking & Alcohol
Smoking is a stimulant, so although it may feel relaxing, taking a few drags before bed won’t help your sleep cycle. I’m a personal fan of 1 glass of red wine before bed, but although it helps us get to sleep faster, they say it disrupts our cycles later in the night.
6. Create a Pre-Bedtime Ritual
Train your body to calm the crap down even though it may not want to. Take off your makeup, brush your teeth, take a shower, read the Bible, do some stretches, whatever it is you need to do even if you’re not all that tired.
7. Don’t Watch TV, Phones, Devices or Computer
This one is hard for me, especially when I’m not tired. Between my computer and my iPhone, I’m pretty much looking at screens all day. But your brain registers that as “daylight” and your nighttime chemicals don’t kick in. So dis-conn-ect for a while, will ya?
8. Keep it Dark
Turn off every single light in your room, including those pesky electronic lights on your alarm clock, computer, or whatever. Tape it up if you have to. I’ve taped up the light on my coffee maker. Make it as dark as humanly possible.
I know some people hate this, but try it! I use them every single night. A little tip: If you try it and wake up with an ear ache, try cutting them in half like I do. Using them at a concert is a little different than using them all night long.
10. Sound Machine or Fan
For the past 10 years I’ve lived in very noisy places and I’m an extremely light sleeper. Between my earplugs and my fan or sound machine, it’s the only way I can get through the night. I’ve found that I enjoy a sound machine in the winter and the fan in the summer, but that’s just me.
If it’s nearly impossible to remove all of the light from your room, try an eyeshade. I only use one in desperate situations, like when I’m traveling, but it’s worked every time (even though I end up sleep-throwing-it-off-my-face). May take some getting used to, so don’t give up.
12. Firm or Soft?
The firmness of your mattress and pillow is probably one of the biggest factors in getting a good night’s sleep. I sleep on my stomach, so soft mattresses kill my back and I sleep horribly. Believe it or not, cheap, crappy spring mattresses give me the best night’s sleep. But my pillow is a super soft down feather pillow–anything else makes my neck hurt. Experiment and see what works for you.
13. Get the Pets Out
I love animals as much as rest of you, but they don’t belong in your bed. I had a cat once that would wake up every few hours to do that weird stiffed-legged licky thing and it’d wake me up every time. On the other hand, if you sleep fabulously with your animal in your room (maybe a sense of security?) keep it. Again, troubleshoot to see what it is that’s waking you up.
14. Enough Space?
This one is both a no-brainer and a potentially complicated fix. Not all of us can upgrade our bed size that easily, but if you find yourself and your spouse always waking each other up with the middle of the night toenail scratching, get a bigger bed. I tried to train myself to start sleeping on my side so I bought a body pillow. That didn’t work so well on my tiny single bed, so the pillow had to go.
15. Low Lights Before Bed
This is one of the most important ones, much like #7. Instead of using overhead lights for the last hour or so before bed, try only using ambient lighting like floor or desk lamps. The bright lights just shock my brain into thinking that it’s not time to sleep yet.
16. Turn Your Brain Off
This is one I’m starting to master. Being a sensitive, over-analytical woman, my thoughts tend to race as soon as I hop into bed. No kidding, it used to feel like a train just chugging through my head. I have found that a little tough love has been one of the most successful factors into getting myself to sleep. Silently chant words to yourself like “No”, “Stop”, “Sleep”, “Peace” or “Deeper”. If your thoughts start popping up again, just stop. This is not the time for you to be solving your problems. This is a time for you to sleep. So shut up, relax, and go to sleep. Figure it out in the morning.
17. Don’t Work or Browse the Net in Bed
Whether it’s writing your next big novel, catching up on work e-mail or just browsing brainless sites like Pinterest or Facebook, you’re forcing your brain to work when it should be relaxing. Don’t get in a habit of making your brain work too hard while you’re trying to get to sleep. It’s not the time or place for that.
18. Light Stretches
Many people find it very relaxing to do a few quick stretches before bed. I recommend actually doing this in your bed with your jammies on right before you fall asleep.
19. Low Volume Before Bed
Just like keeping your lights low, you should also try to keep anything you’re listening to (music, TV, etc) at a low volume up an hour before you go to sleep. This is a hard one for me, because I tend to like my music and TV LOUD.
20. Take a Bath/Shower
Honestly, this one doesn’t work for me because the temperature shock from a nice hot shower to my freezing bedroom ends up just waking me up even more. But they say that the lowering of your body temperature after it’s been raised by the heat actually makes you sleepy. Experiment and see what works for you.
21. Brush Your Teeth Early
This kinda has to do with #3 and is also a good weight loss tactic. I try to brush my teeth way before I’m ready to go to bed. It not only keeps me from wanting to eat again (which is bad for sleep) but also gives my brain another signal that it’s time to start winding down.
22. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is not only great for your body, but it’s also an easy way to reduce stress. Take a series of deep, slow belly breaths as you wind down. Pair this with stretching or your chants from #16 and you’re in business.
23. Try to Relax, Not Sleep
The more you think about the fact that you’re not falling asleep causes nothing but anxiety. When you lie down in bed and notice you’re not falling asleep immediately, don’t freak out. That anxiety will keep you awake. Your only goal is to relax, and the sleep will follow.
Antidepressants, antihistamines, weight loss pills, and many other types of medications have ingredients in them that causes sleeplessness or interfere with your REM cycle. Be aware of what’s in your medications and if possible, use them earlier in the day (obviously get your doctor’s permission).
25. Quick Massage
Whether it’s with your spouse, your kid, someone you live with, or even yourself, a light massage before bed is an excellent stress and tension reliever.
26. Lyric-Free Music
If you’re as obsessed with music as I am, lyrics can be distracting when I’m trying to relax. I must work or relax with lyric-free music (or lyrics in another language you can’t understand), such as Sigur Ros or Balmorhea. If you do listen to music, though, keep in mind that you should keep the volume low.
27. Warm Liquids (Tea or Milk)
Drinking warm milk before bed to promote sleeping is actually in your head. The supposed tryptophan in the milk does not actually help you sleep, but studies show that it relaxes some people because it’s a comfortable part of their falling asleep process, like holding a teddy bear. Drinking tea before bed also has a lot of benefits, primarily, to simply help you relax.
28. Avoid Naps
Everyone’s made differently. I take a nap about once every 3 years, seriously. But some people I know simply must take a nap in the middle of the day or they can’t function. If you find yourself having trouble sleeping at night and you also regularly nap, take a break from naps for a few weeks and see if it helps.
29. Get into Position (No, that’s not dirty)
I have a very specific position that can almost guarantee an almost-immediate sleep if I’m anywhere near tired. My arms, legs, blanket, pillow and clothes all have to be just right. Don’t mess around with lying in a non-sleep position. Even if you do almost fall asleep, the readjustment to get to your position will just wake you up. Again, you’re not there to think. You’re there to sleep.
30. Turn Your Phone Off or Silent
Unless there’s a legitimate emergency happening that very night for some reason, no one NEEDS to talk to you when you’re trying to sleep. Just about anything can wait till the morning, so turn your blasted phone on silent or vibrate and turn it face down so the lights don’t even wake you up. I even put my phone on a soft ledge of my bed, because if it was on my wooden nightstand, the sound would wake me up.
31. Visualize Beauty
This goes back to the chanting exercise of saying, “No”. I’m an extremely visual person and I think in mental pictures all the time. If you’re going to think about anything, think of something beautiful. Don’t think about someone’s face that you’re in a fight with, or maybe something you saw on TV earlier that night that disturbed you. Focus on something simple: a leaf, a sunset, something natural.
32. Heating Pad or Hot Water Bottle
Some people simply can’t sleep if they’re cold, or if they’re used to having a spouse in bed with them and they’re not there. Try keeping a heating pad or hot water bottle in bed. Not only will it possibly help save on your energy costs, but it’s excellent for cramps, other aches & pains, and just plain warm and comfy!
My feet get cold easily and our house is pretty cold all year round, so I have to sleep with socks, otherwise I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with frozen toes. Not just any socks though–Smartwool medium cushion boot socks. Wool does an excellent job with regulating body temperature, much more than cotton or other synthetic materials. A few times I couldn’t find them and had to use some flippin’ mountaineering socks and I woke up sweating because of it. So, again, experiment.
34. Play Musical Instrument
This may not apply to all of you, but definitely applies to me. Playing the guitar is unbelievably soothing because I can literally think about nothing else than what I’m playing and singing at that moment in time. I have the guitar right above my bed and play it right before I turn over to fall asleep. If you don’t play an instrument, find something else that doesn’t take too much brain power and is naturally relaxing for you.
35. Exercise Early in the Day
Listen, if you’re like me and hate mornings, have a full time job, but must work out, sometimes exercising in the evenings is your only choice, and that’s okay. But we all know that working out in the morning is better for you. If you have to work out in the evening, don’t procrastinate after work. Do it as soon as you possibly can so your body can start relaxing for your bedtime.
36. Tuck Pajamas in Socks
I frequently get mocked for my night socks, but ya know what? I just convinced my roommate to do it yesterday and she loved it. I flail around in my sleep like a freak, which used to cause my pajama pant legs to sneak up, which would wake me up in the middle of the night because I was freezing and uncomfortable. Now, I tuck my pajama pants in my Smartwools right before going to bed and I don’t have that problem anymore. You may look like an idiot, but who cares? You’re getting good sleep! Speaking of which, I’m considering an adult onesie. Don’t hate.
37. Cut Caffeine
Have as much caffeine as you want in the morning–I mean, you’d have to pry away my perfect morning coffee from my cold dead hands. But really, try to cool it on the caffeine after 3-4 pm, or it’ll start interfering with your sleep. Try to stick with water for dinner, as boring as it may sound.
38. Room Temperature
Everyone has different preferences for a sleeping temperature, but find what you like and keep it that way. I love when it’s a little chilly in my room, and they say that you sleep better when it’s cooler. However, I keep a space heater within reaching distance of my bed in case it’s too cold. Experiment!
39. Force Yourself to Try
My natural sleep time is between 2-4 am. So forcing myself to sleep every night by 10 pm literally makes me cry sometimes. For night owls, it’s just plain hard to make yourself fall asleep early. But don’t whine about not being able to fall asleep when you’re sitting on the couch eating ice cream, watching a loud movie in your living room. Force yourself through your routine and let your body do the rest.
40. Watch Your Diet
Studies aren’t totally clear about why crappy food gives you crappy sleep. But they do show that those with a more balanced diet just sleep better. Our culture generally eats a small breakfast, medium lunch and big dinner, but it should be the other way around. Eating too close to bedtime, especially dinners that have a lot of processed ingredients, can leave you with heartburn and discomfort.
41. Dress Comfortably (Even if it’s Dorky)
Similarly to my sock routine, you’ve got to be comfortable when you sleep. Whether it’s buck naked or with socks, sweatpants and a sweatshirt. This is where the troubleshooting comes in. What is waking you up at night? Are you too hot? Too cold? Do certain materials bunch up or cause discomfort?
42. Design Your Sanctuary
My friend always used to say that her bedroom was her sanctuary. Your bedroom ought to make you feel comfortable, so whether it’s the wall colors, the furniture, the color or material of your sheets, whatever it is… do everything you can to make it your comfortable space.
43. Keep a Notebook Near
I don’t like journaling in bed at night. I don’t believe that critically thinking too hard while you’re in bed is a good habit. It then gives you permission to let your mind race. However, keeping a notebook near may be useful in certain situations. My best ideas usually come to mind right before I go to sleep. If you have a moment of brilliance or a trippy dream in the middle of the night or right before bed, quickly write a few words about it and go back to sleep. That way, you won’t worry about whether you’ll still remember it when you wake up.
44. Get Organized for Tomorrow
If you’re like me and don’t think straight at 6 am before work, spend a few minutes before you go to bed by preparing for the next day. Lay out an outfit, pack your lunch, prepare your coffee, whatever you need to do. Don’t start making mental checklists of all you have to do in the morning. Otherwise, you’ll just think about that when you should be sleeping.
45. Mind Tricks
This is a weird one, but sometimes if I know I need to sleep and I’m not sleepy, I attempt to trick my brain into thinking I’m tired. Try yawning a few times and dimming your eyes for a while. It has helped for me, though, I know it’s all in my head.
46. Relax, Muscle by Muscle
If you hop in bed and your heart is racing and your muscles are tense, try this little exercise. Start with your toes, and make a conscious effort to relax your entire body, muscle by muscle. Work your way up your body, making sure even your fingers, arms and neck are all relaxed.
47. Sink Down in Your Mattress
Do you remember that scene in Trainspotting when he overdosed on drugs and when he laid on the floor, the floor went up around him? You had this image of Ewan McGregor literally sinking down in the floorboards. Well, without overdosing on drugs, imagine yourself sinking in your mattress. Sinking down… down… down… I’m really tired right now.
48. Lose weight
Easier said than done, I know. But studies show that being overweight can severely impact your sleep health, among other things.
49. Natural Sleep Aids
Almost every night I take a natural sleep aid called Midnight. I don’t like having to take any kind of medication whatsoever, but I truly have a terrible time with sleep, and having to wake up at 6 for my job doesn’t allow too many sleepless nights. Midnight can be found at just about any grocery store or pharmacy in the sleep aid section. It only has a little melatonin, lavender, lemon balm and chamomile. I have to take it about 2 hours before I have to go to sleep. It works slowly because it’s natural, so keep that in mind if you decide to try it.
Also, if you need help sleeping, please avoid pills like Tylenol PM. If you’re not in any pain, DON’T TAKE PAIN RELIEVER. Use sleep aids that are specifically designed to help your body relax, like Midnight. If this is a once-in-a-while thing, it’s not a big deal. But you don’t need a Tylenol or NyQuil every night.
One more thing: If you’ve tried sleep aids before but had a bad experience, just experiment with other types. For example, a full melatonin pill not only knocks me out and gives me terrible dreams, it also gives me an awful hangover feeling in the morning like you wouldn’t believe. So, experiment.
50. See a Doctor
If you have tried every one of these tips and truly made an effort to fix this problem the natural way, and it’s still not working, you may need to go see a doctor about it. I can promise you, though, that they will probably ask you if you’ve done the things I’ve listed here. Prescription sleep aids are hard core and you can get addicted to them very easily. So don’t go there unless you’re desperate.