Sleep is critical for health, safety, and sanity. This includes not only enough hours of sleep, but also quality of uninterrupted sleep. If you have a hard time relaxing and falling asleep, or staying asleep, these tips are for you.
What to Do If You Can’t Fall Asleep
- Consider caffeine. Caffeine has an average 4-6 hour half-life, meaning that the body will take 4-6 hours to remove half of the caffeine in the blood stream out of the body. So even if you just have one venti coffee at 6am (400mg) it will take roughly 24 hours to eliminate all the caffeine from your system. And, that’s if you stop at that one cup. What if you’re having a second or third cup of coffee? Watch this quick 1 minute video for a more visual explanation of how “half-life” works. It just might encourage you to cut back on your caffeine – so you can get a better night’s sleep.
- Darken the room. Melatonin supplements might be useful for managing jet lag, on a temporary basis. But, it’s best to encourage the body to produce its own melatonin. (Yes, we can produce our own). That means keeping the house dark. Turn off the hall light. Close the blinds – and maybe use a “black out shade” if you just can’t get it dark enough.
- Don’t look at any lights, especially the blue and white. Use a night light in the bathroom instead of turning on the bright lights. And, think about replacing the white night light bulb with an orange or red light one. The blue lights emitted from phones, ereaders, laptops, and digital clocks also interrupt this normal production. In fact, just glancing at your phone in the middle of the night might be enough to shut down melatonin production.
- Avoid things that interrupt sleep in the first place. Have you ever started to drift off to sleep only to have even the slightest noise or movement wake you up again? Interrupted sleep will make you feel worse the next day, than even a short night’s sleep. If you have a snoring bed partner, get them help. Consider getting your pets and kids out of the bedroom. Any interruption (even if you don’t fully awaken) can knock you out of critical deep sleep – and into a lighter sleep, leaving you exhausted in the morning. It may help to use a sound soother (I use an air purifier) as a white noise if intermittent noise awakens you.
- Establish healthy daytime routines. People who exercise on a regular basis are more likely to report they got a good night’s sleep. Large evening meals two to three hours before bedtime can also disrupt sleep. And, while alcohol may help you to relax and feel sleepy, it prevents long-lasting rejuvenating deep sleep – even as little as a quarter of an alcoholic beverage. Nicotine, too, can interrupt our sleep cycles.
- Establish a healthy bedtime routine. Just like we do with children, it helps to have a bedtime routine that gets you ready for bed. Dim the lights two hours before bedtime. Then shut down the work computer and phone an hour before. A healthy routine might include having a small nighttime snack (not recommended if you suffer from acid reflux), washing up, slipping into pjs, stretching, and reading a book or journaling. Some people are successful listening to a relaxation or mediation app to relax.
- Check the medicine cabinet. Talk with your physician and pharmacist about your medications. Certain meds (like decongestants) can prevent you from getting a restful night’s sleep.
- Manage the stress that tends to pop up in the middle of the night. Keep a notebook by your bedside to write down anything you have to remember for tomorrow. And, rein in repetitive thoughts like, “I’ll never get back to sleep, I’m going to be so tired tomorrow…”which will only make things worse! They cause a release of adrenaline which causes alertness. Just understanding how this fight-or-flight response works is a start, but a psychologist or counselor may be needed if this is a major issue.