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) – and that’s it for the whole day – it will take roughly 24 hours to eliminate all the caffeine from your system. Watch this quick 1 minute video for a more visual explanation of how “half-life” works.
- 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? If you have a snoring bed partner, get them help; you’ll also get better sleep in another room. I’m amazed, though, at how many people sleep with their pets. Any interruption (even if they 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 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.
- Establish a healthy bedtime routine. Just like we do with children, it helps to have a bedtime routine that gets you ready for bed. Shut down the work computer or phone an hour or two before bedtime. A healthy routine might include having a small nighttime snack, washing up, slipping into pjs, stretching, and reading a book or journaling. Some people are successful listening to a relaxation or mediation CD or 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 reaction works is a start, but a psychologist or counselor may be needed if this is a major issue.