Tips for Getting to Sleep — and Staying Asleep

By Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP

Tips for Getting to Sleep -- and Staying AsleepScenario 1: You’re nice and relaxed. You’ve gotten into your comfortable pajamas, and you’ve gotten in just the right spot. You’re warm, comfortable, and in no time you are fast asleep. You wake up feeling somewhat rested and look at your alarm clock and it’s 2:53 am. Now you can’t go back to sleep.

Scenario 2: You’ve tried everything you can think of. You’re lying in the bed and you think you’re relaxed. You’ve tried meditating, counting sheep, watching TV, turning the TV off — even pretending to be asleep hoping that sleep will come. You just can’t get to sleep.

Scenario 3: You got comfortable, you fell asleep, you stayed asleep — mission accomplished. Your morning alarm goes off and now you just don’t feel rested. You’ve slept all night, but you’re still sleepy.

The above scenarios are common. But how well we sleep at night determines how well we feel and function the following day. It is vital not only to get a healthy amount of sleep, but to sleep well. With good sleep habits, we may be able to prevent some mental fogginess or the need for that morning pick-me-up, as well as avoid the mid-afternoon crash.

The first key to getting good sleep is finding out what works for you. This may require some experimenting on your part. There is no cure-all. We are all designed differently; therefore we all require different things.

It is equally important to find out how much sleep your body requires. Most research shows that the average adult needs 8 hours of sleep, but you may be able to function well with only six, while others may require 10.

Personally, even with some medically-based reasons for poor sleep, I have been able to improve matters by using some of the following tips and techniques:

  1. Eating a healthy diet.

    Some of you may be wondering what eating well has to do with sleeping well. Well, as the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” Remember too that “what you eat may affect your sleep.” Avoid eating foods that may upset your stomach. No one likes stumbling to the bathroom in the dark; surely no one enjoys trying to sprint in the middle of the night, either. Avoid foods that may cause acid reflux or heartburn. Cut back on your liquids before bedtime to avoid these bathroom sprints as well.

    While you may enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner, you may want to make that your last glass for the night. Alcohol may make you fall asleep quickly, but it also causes sleep disturbances and may have you looking at the clock in frustration mid-morning. If you’re hungry or must have a bedtime snack, choose something high in protein and low in sugar. Resist the urge for the midnight chocolate cake and go for a healthier choice such as peanut butter, a protein bar, or a glass of milk.

  2. Creating a relaxing environment.

    Remember, this is specific to you and may take some experimenting. I have learned that creating a relaxing environment starts long before I get into bed. It is important to wind down before making your way to the bedroom.

    Find something stress-free and relaxing to do and try to make it your nightly routine. Your brain will soon pick up on this habit and start telling your body it’s time to go to bed.Next, find your comfort noise level. Some people enjoy background noise, while others prefer quiet. Then, find a comfortable temperature. There is nothing worse than waking up because you are too hot or too cold. Lastly, get comfortable.

  3. Leaving your stress, worries, and wonderings at the door.

    If you’re like me, you may suffer from the “I can’t seem to turn my brain off” syndrome. I lay down and think I’m going to relax and find myself thinking of things I didn’t get done, making a to-do list for the next day, or wondering why certain colors don’t seem to match, or how animals got their names.

    I have found that this is where guided meditation and relaxation works for me. I have been fortunate enough to download a few on my phone and they seem to work. If you can’t download apps to your phone or another device, look for meditation CD’s. I have found some pretty good ones at the local library and those are always free. Even on the nights where I can’t quite meditate I may start to wonder “why does this guy’s voice sound so strange” and it still takes my mind off other things. Soon, I’m asleep.

If you wake up, don’t think about going back to sleep. I’m sure it sounds weird, but it works. I went through a period where I woke up every morning at 2:33 a.m. I would wake up and not even have to look at the clock because I already knew the time. This was later determined to be due to some hormonal issues, but it was frustrating nonetheless. I found myself looking at the clock and thinking “I have to go back to sleep.” I didn’t realize I was actually creating more anxiety for myself and making it more difficult to go back to sleep.

I’ve learned to go back to my guided meditations or to just lay and be aware of how my body is feeling. If I find that I absolutely cannot go back to sleep after 10-15 minutes I get up. Avoid stimulating activities or bright lights if possible. On nights like this I try to enjoy some warm tea, a light snack, then get back and bed and try to relax again.

Sleep disturbances can be caused by a variety of issues. If you try various techniques and still have frequent or persistent problems falling asleep or staying asleep you should seek medical attention. Sleep disturbances can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Interruptions in sleep caused by loud snoring or pauses in breathing can be symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a treatable condition, but can be fatal. Falling asleep at inappropriate times could be a sign of narcolepsy or other disorder. You may also wish to contact your physician if you continue to wake up and do not feel rested, have strange body sensations or movements while lying down, experience sleep paralysis, frequent vivid dreams or sleep walking.

Again, there are no quick fixes for sleep issues. It takes some time and work to figure out what works best for you, but once you find a routine that works, stick with it. If you find that after some time it no longer works, change it up. Our bodies and their needs change, so we have to be ready to adapt. Here’s to happy sleeping!

 

APA Reference
White, D. (2013). Tips for Getting to Sleep — and Staying Asleep. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 15, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/tips-for-getting-to-sleep-and-staying-asleep/00015211
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Feb 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.