Do you struggle to fall asleep, no matter how much you need to sleep? Lying in bed feeling frustrated because you know you need to wake up in a certain amount of time when sleep won’t come isn’t fun. Or, do you go to sleep okay only to wake up a few hours later and lay awake until dawn? Both these scenarios describe common forms of insomnia.
There are two other types of insomnia. One involves waking up frequently throughout the night. The last type isn’t characterized by an inability to sleep. The individual experiencing the last type of insomnia isn’t aware of being unable to get to sleep or of waking up during the night, but they never seem to feel rested.
We provide information that will help you address these issues in this article. Most people don’t realize that sleep is as important as diet and exercise to good health. Knowing how much inadequate sleep affects the quality of your life may inspire you to make changes.
Insomnia causes sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a form of stress. It has both immediate and long-term negative effects on your physical, mental, and behavioral health. It can undermine your relationships at home and at work, leading to divorce and failures at work, substance abuse, and even accidents. If you want to know more about how sleep deprivation undermines your life, our article on the effects of sleep deprivation will fill you in.
When experts talk about sleep health, they refer to it as sleep hygiene, much as your daily self-care routine involves physical hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to actions you take, or don’t take that, are known to influence the quality of sleep you achieve.
If you are struggling with the quality of your sleep, you’re not alone. In many areas of the country, up to nearly 50% of the people don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
The reason so many experience sleep problems isn’t because the problem is unsolvable. The importance of good sleep hygiene is only touched upon briefly during your formal education, especially compared to the amount of time and effort given to what you should eat and how much you should exercise.
Sleep education generally focuses on how much sleep you need, the dangers of driving while drowsy, and daytime sleepiness as a sign that you need more sleep. The lesson plans usually don’t cover sleep hygiene and they typically ignore aspects of poor sleep patterns that students would relate to including:
Being grouchy and irritable
Poor relationships with parents, siblings, or peers
Making decisions they would not make if they were well-rested
Doing worse than expected on assignments, tests, and quizzes
It is no wonder that most Americans reach adulthood with a very limited understanding of sleep hygiene and end up developing sleep problems. Sleep deprivation can easily create downward spirals in the quality of your life. A downward spiral occurs when bad thing, like sleep deprivation, causes negative consequences in other things that make the first bad thing worse.
Sleep deprivation is notorious for causing downward spirals. Not getting enough sleep affects the decisions we make the following day. It also makes us focus more on things we don’t like, including things we don’t like about the people we love.
For example, someone who slept poorly last night is more likely to have a fight with their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or child the next day. After the fight, they’ll find it even more difficult to go to sleep because they’re worried about their relationship, which makes it more likely they’ll have another day of sleep deprivation.
The scenario continues the next day. Maybe they feel too tired or too stressed to do their usual exercise routine, or they eat unhealthy foods in a maladaptive effort to deal with their emotional pain. Day-by-day, their situation worsens because they don’t make up the sleep deficit.
If they realized they had a fight because one of them was sleep deprived, forgiveness would come more easily. If they had an agreement to go easy on one another if they argued when one of them was sleep deprived, they’d worry less when it was time to go to sleep, sure in the knowledge that they’d feel better and all would be forgiven the next day. Without the knowledge that sleep deprivation warps the way you perceive the world; it is easy for relationship issues to create permanent rifts even though the only reason the problem occurred was because one or both people were sleep deprived.
With a little bit of knowledge and effort, negative spirals can be avoided.
There are many reasons sleeping disorders begin. Anxiety and worrisome thoughts often start the process, then, like a snowball rolling downhill, momentum makes the problem bigger. But sleep deprivation that begins because of poor sleep hygiene can increase anxiety and worries. How or why a problem developed isn’t the most important part; you could spend months trying to figure out where a problem began when you really just need to know how to get to where you want to be from where you are. There are many onramps you can take that will develop sleep problems. Figuring out how you got there just helps you avoid that one path.
It’s better to understand many of the paths that lead to sleep deprivation and gradually develop healthy habits that help you avoid or correct the problem.
Multiple factors can influence your ability to sleep well. If two things are working together to cause your sleep deprivation, fixing one will help a little bit, but you won’t get the full benefit until you change both things.
In each section, we’ll talk about things that help you sleep and things that interfere with your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Sleep deprivation and insomnia have become a major health threat in the United States partially because of changes in the sleep environment. A single generation ago, most people didn’t have computers in their homes, no one had a smart phone, and the options on television after the news came on at 11 were mind-numbing and more likely to induce sleep than keep you awake.
1. Avoid Continuous Entertainment
Today, you can connect with people online around the world so people continuously add interesting things on social media accounts. You may even have a fear of missing out (FOMO) if you stay off social media very long.
Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube provide around the clock entertainment. Without commercials to distract you from your show, it is easy to become so engrossed that you don’t realize what time it is until hours past the time you should have been asleep.
2. Avoid Outdoor Light Pollution
Add outdoor light pollution to continuous entertainment, and the environmental factors that interfere with sleep are apparent. If you look at Nevada, you’ll notice one county with the worst levels of sleep deprivation. If you dig further, you’ll see that the county is Clark County where Las Vegas is located. The light pollution in Las Vegas affects the inhabitants’ ability to sleep well.
A few weeks ago, I was driving on highway 93, coming from Sedona, Arizona toward Las Vegas after sundown. For over an hour before coming over the rise where the actual lights of Las Vegas become visible, the sky ahead was too light for a night sky. My daughter commented that it took a long time for the light to disappear after the sun set in the West. At first, she didn’t believe that lights from Las Vegas were making the sky lighter. As we got closer, the sky became even lighter. I later learned that the light at the Luxor is visible from 275 miles away.
3. Avoid Indoor Light Pollution
Our body’s circadian rhythms are affected by our exposure to light. Although dim lighting at night is best, not all light is created equal when it comes to its ability to disrupt sleep. Blue lights, or more specifically, light with blue wavelengths help us function during the day time by increasing our attention, reaction times, and mood. At night, light in blue wavelengths is likely to keep us awake. Smartphones, computers, and televisions all emit blue light.
Before TVs became massive, they didn’t put out as much light. Now massive big screen TVs are common. Some people even have large TVs in their bedroom. The light from a television can affect us even when our eyes are closed.
Melatonin is a natural hormone our bodies emit that let our body know it is time to sleep. Blue light disrupts melatonin levels more than other types of light. According to Harvard, exposure to blue light for 6.5 hours suppressed melatonin twice as much as the equivalent exposure to green light and also caused twice the sift in circadian rhythms.
Based on studies on the effects of blue light on our sleep patterns, this next image is an example of exactly what not to do. Not only does this media room have a massive TV that will put out enough blue light to keep you awake all night long, the designer chose to add even more blue light to the room with the light fixtures.
Remember, computer use, smart phones, and your television put out blue light. It doesn’t take a lot for most people to rack up 6.5 hours of exposure during the day. Avoiding screen time of any sort beginning a few hours before bed helps you sleep better. This is more important if you have a large screen television.
Changes in the circadian rhythms can cause significant health problems, including problems that shorten lives. There is a relatively simple solution that is easier for most people than giving up their nighttime TV, computer, and smart phone habits. Amazon offers a wide assortment of glasses that block blue light for $20 – $25.
If you use a night light in your or your child’s room or the hall, swap the white bulb for a red one. The red light won’t wake you up as much. This can help if you tend to have difficulty getting back to sleep after you get up in the middle of the night.
4. Avoid light
Using excessive lights, especially lights with blue wavelengths before going to sleep is a common habit these days. People use electronics right up until the time they are ready to go to sleep. They may also keep brighter overhead lights on until they decide to go to sleep.
Light tricks your mind and body, including your hormones, into thinking you should be awake. This makes it more difficult to go to sleep when you want to. If you change your habits so you avoid screen use for a couple of hours before bed and use dimmer lights or lights that don’t have blue wavelengths during the hours before bed, your body will be more cooperative when you’re ready to sleep.
Consider reading an actual book, not an eBook, using a yellow or red lighting source. Another alternative is listening to music in front of a fireplace or quietly talking with a companion before bed.
5. Avoid using your bed before sleeping
Many people have habits of using their beds for a different type of activities. They play video games, read books, watch TV, and even do their work while sitting on their bed.
This habit can also adversely affect their sleeping pattern. One should avoid using its bed for any type of activity besides sleeping and sex. In this way, the mind makes a connection between the bed and being asleep. This will cause your mind to subconsciously perceive being in bed as a signal that it is time to sleep.
6. Make your surroundings comfortable
One of the most overlooked aspects of the sleep environment is the right mattress and pillow. The wrong mattress or pillow can make sleep difficult and can make you wake up stiff and sore because your body can’t relax the way it should while you sleep. Our Mattress Purchase Checklist can help you find the best mattress to satisfy your sleep preferences.
Everything in your sleep environment influences the quality of your sleep. Your bedroom should be calm and peaceful. This bold striped wall does the opposite of creating a restful place to sleep.
The most important thing that can affect your sleeping habit is your surroundings. Make sure to have a comfortable bed, mattress, and pillow. Choose these things wisely. Sometimes, we don’t feel it, but the actual thing that is preventing us from falling asleep faster is our excessively stiff pillow or too soft mattress.
Also, there should not be any noise or bright lights around you. These things will also keep your mind awake and add to difficulties getting to sleep. An exception to not having noise is using a white noise machine if there are unavoidable noises in your sleeping environment. A white noise machine can drown out sound that can keep you from falling asleep or startle you back into wakefulness.
White noise machines are superior to earplugs because wearing earplugs every night can cause infections and even hearing loss.
If your bedroom is affected by outdoor light pollution, consider putting blackout curtains behind your window coverings to eliminate the source of the light.
This bedroom creates a calm environment that will allow you to drift off to sleep.
When a person sleeps deeply, their body temperature decreases.
You can regulate your room temperature according to your body. The temperature of your room should not be too warm or too cold. Rather make it moderate to slightly on a cold side. In this way, your body will get assistance for the process of going into lower temperature, and trigger your sleep.
You should not make your room too cold. Otherwise, it would make you uncomfortable.
Although many people sleep better in a cool room, some people, especially those who experience low level achy pain such as that from arthritis, get pain relief when their muscles are heated. Eliminating low level pain that tends to be in the background all day long can help them relax quickly and go to sleep. Quite a few people with this type of low-level pain that is eased with heat report falling asleep very quickly if they pre-heat their bed with a heated mattress pad or a heated blanket. Couples prefer the heated mattress pad because it is easier to heat one side of the bed and not the other. This works best with a cool room and heated mattress.
Psychological factors, such as a tendency to worry, lead to a great deal of sleep loss. Techniques that can help you control psychological factors can help you reduce or eliminate sleep loss from a brain that won’t shut down. Active Mind Syndrome can generate worrisome thoughts or it can just be thoughts about things you need to do or even something you’re excited about, like a child on Christmas Eve who won’t go to sleep because they’re eager to see what Santa Claus brings them.
Many mental illnesses can cause insomnia. Insomnia increases the risk of developing a mental illness. Many people who experience a diagnosable mental illness delay treatment as much as a decade and suffer profoundly during the delay. Mental illnesses are easier to treat in the early days because the habits of thought that sustain them are not as engrained in the early days. If you suspect you may have a mental illness, your best option is to consult a mental health professional.
8. Avoid looking at time
Watching the clock when you’re having trouble getting to sleep can create anxiety. If you look at the clock and do the math to see how much sleep you still have time to get, it creates worry about how you’ll function the next day on so little sleep. This can lead to thinking about the things you have to do, which can add to the anxiety.
If you’re having trouble going to sleep, it is best to get up and do something quiet in dim light until you feel sleepy. Lying in bed watching the clock just increases your anxiety which will keep you up longer.
The key is to pick your activity carefully. You don’t want screen time, although a boring show might be okay if you wear glasses that block the blue light waves. You want to stay in dim light because bright light can wake you up even more. Putting lotion on your body and rubbing it in has a soothing effect and does not require bright light.
Petting your dog or cat is another activity you can do in dim lighting. If your partner is also awake, sex can be a great way to relax so you can sleep.
9. Avoid overthinking
Our lives are so busy during the day, for many of us, the only time we have to think is after we’re tucked in bed for the night. The problem is that if our thoughts are anxious, worrisome, or angry they have a tendency to keep us awake.
The list won’t automatically stop you from thinking about the things you have to do because you have a habit of thought that makes you think about those things. The list provides a shortcut that helps you stop your train of thought. Here’s an example:One effective method to stop thinking about everything you have to do is to make a list before you go to bed of everything you need to do the next day and important tasks even further in the future. Use your judgment based on the types of thoughts that typically keep you awake to guide what you put on the list. If you think you might stay awake thinking about it, put it on the list.
Automatic Thought: I have to remember to call Don tomorrow. It’s the last day to RSVP for the conference.
Reassurance (effortful thought): Don’t worry. It’s on your list. Just work the list tomorrow. It’s okay to go to sleep. Everything you need is on tomorrow’s list.
Automatic Thought: I have to pick up Suzi’s uniform from the cleaners. She’ll need it for rehearsal tomorrow night.
Reassurance (effortful thought): Don’t worry. Relax. You already put it on your list. You’ll remember. It’s okay to go to sleep. Everything you need is on tomorrow’s list.
Do you see how you can use the list as a shortcut to stop worrisome thoughts? If you develop a habit of making a list every night, your mind will begin to relax once it realizes that you’ve taken care of the task of remembering by making the list.
This is also a good place to use affirmations. Assuring yourself that you are a competent, capable, responsible adult who tends to your responsibilities can help your mind relax. You may have some programming from your childhood or an early influencer that makes you worry about forgetting important tasks. Affirming your strengths can reprogram your mind’s expectations about your competence.
If you are struggling to get rid of your anxious thoughts on your own, you’ll be happy to know that a brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) intervention is highly effective at helping individuals who experience insomnia. Look for a practitioner trained in iCBT. In some cases, a single session is enough to make a significant difference in the ability to get to sleep.
10. Trick your mind
This method is also known as sleep paradox. This method involves attempting to force your mind to stay awake. It will act opposite to it.
Our mind does not process negatives accurately. For example, if you tell someone “Don’t forget” they are far more likely to forget. If you tell them, “Remember” they are more likely to remember.
Telling yourself not to go to sleep distracts you from worrisome thoughts that are keeping you awake and tells your brain to go to sleep without creating anxiety about your inability to sleep.
11. Refute Worrisome and Anxiety Laden Thoughts
A lot of people have trouble recognizing that thoughts they think are not necessarily true. There can be a tremendous difference between the truth and the thoughts we think. We think more than 50,000 thoughts in a typical day. Most of our thoughts are generated automatically. Our initial thoughts are unexamined ideas or concepts. Far too many people think that a thought is true simply because they thought it.
Thinking thoughts that aren’t true doesn’t reflect poorly on anyone. We all do it. Humans have cognitive biases that distort our initial perceptions all day long. Cognitive biases and distortions can wreak havoc on our sleep patterns and mental health if we believe everything we think is true. These distortions are completely normal. They are only problematic when we accept thoughts that arise as true without bothering to examine them and compare them to other things that we know are true.
If you are facing a big hurdle the next day and your mind starts generating thoughts that are undermining your confidence, believing the thoughts reflect your true abilities will harm your performance. Confidence plays a role in every good performance, whether it is in the board room or the Olympic grounds.
The solution is to refute thoughts that don’t help you achieve what you want to accomplish.
One way to know what to refute is whether refuting it feels better or worse. If your thoughts are urging you to practice more at a time when you have time to do it and believe that more practice will help your performance, committing to do more practice will feel good. On the other hand, if your performance begins at 6 a.m. the next day and there is no more time to practice and you have done all you can to prepare, refuting the thought and asserting, “I don’t need more practice. I’m prepared to do well tomorrow.” is a better choice. On the other hand, believing you’re not ready when you have to do it at 6 a.m. would feel worse.
In nearly every situation, the option that feels better is better for you.
12. Follow the same routine
One habit many people find effective is establishing a set bedtime.
Making a schedule and following it closely can help you go to sleep faster every night. Routines are so helpful, we wrote a separate post that will help you make a schedule for your sleeping routine. Once you start going to bed at one specific time, your brain will make you sleep faster. It is because your mind will be in the habit of following the same routine.
13. Avoid eating heavy foods
Eating a heavy meal before bedtime can interfere with your ability to sleep in two ways. Eating heavy before bedtime contributes to sleeping problems for many people. Taking any kind of heavy meal before going to sleep can reduce the chances of getting to sleep fast. Many foods can cause heartburn when you lie down too soon after eating them. Pizza, any red sauce, and other heavy or fatty foods can cause heartburn as can foods with high levels of protein, such as meat or eggs.
Sleeping propped up slightly or on your left side can alleviate some heartburn but the best option is not to eat foods that cause heartburn before bed.
14. Avoid taking caffeine
A late afternoon pick-me-up may seem like a good option when you’re beginning to drag in the middle of the afternoon. Coffee, tea, and soda with caffeine are popular drinks. But afternoon and evening drinks with caffeine can disrupt your sleep hours later.
If you enjoy coffee, espresso, or cappuccino after dinner, it can keep you awake half the night.
Coffee is normally loved by every other person. It is considered as a great source of keeping your fresh. But few people have a very bad habit of taking coffee at night or with dinner.
The less caffeine you have once the morning is over, the less likely your intake will disturb your slumber.
15. Avoid taking liquid
Although you certainly don’t want to be dehydrated, it is best to limit your intake of liquids during the hour or so before you go to sleep. Even if you can’t go all night without getting up, the longer you can sleep before you wake up, the better quality of sleep you’ll enjoy.
Therefore, it is a good idea to stop taking liquids few hours before going to sleep. You should also use the bathroom right before you go to sleep, even if you don’t feel the need as that can help delay the middle-of-the-night trip.
16. Practicing Yoga Method
Some yoga methods can help significantly in allowing you to fall asleep faster. One technique involves taking a breath through your left nostril only. This method is calming and lowers your blood pressure.
In this yoga technique, you first lie on your left side while pressing your right nostril closed with your finger. Then you take slow and deep breaths through only your left nostril. This technique is very helpful if you are experiencing problems with overheating.
Some people who are trained in Reiki use a modified Reiki technique to go to sleep quickly and easily. The process involves laying your hand over your forehead lightly and giving yourself a gentle suggestion, “Sleep.” Given the adverse side effects of sleeping pills and the safety of Reiki, it is a good alternative.
18. Relaxing your body
This method involves an easy exercise that helps you go to sleep faster. During this process, you relax all your body muscles from head-to-toe, one at a time.
First, lay on your back and take a slow and deep breaths through your nose. Now, start squeezing your toesslowly (as if your foot is your fist and you’re clenching them). Then release them. In the next step, curl your toes up towards your knees and then relax them.
Continue this squeezing and relaxing process, moving up your body. Move on to your feet, ankles, claves, thighs, buttocks, belly, chest, as well as working up your arms beginning with your fingers. Contract and release your muscles one after the other.
This exercise relaxes your body which helps you prepare for sleep. Once you are relaxed, you can give yourself a suggestion to go to sleep.
19. Check your sleeping position
Most people assume the position they sleep in, the one they’ve probably been using for years, is perfectly fine. However, your sleeping position can influence the quality of your rest significantly.
According to experts, the best position to sleep is on your side. The left side is a better position than the right for avoiding heartburn, but the right side is better for heart health. People who tend to sleep on their backs usually face more sleeping problems and lower back issues.
Sleep apnea affects 22 million Americans. Sleeping on your stomach is the worse position for sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back is the second worse position for sleep apnea.
While you probably won’t be able to change your sleep position overnight, you can begin the process by deliberately getting into a healthier position before you go to sleep. Stomach sleepers have more success changing to a side sleeping position when they use pillows to prop themselves up because the pillows create the feeling of pressure against their stomach that they are accustomed to feeling.
This is one of the most effective techniques for falling asleep faster. This method basically involves breathing and relaxing through breathing in a specific pattern. Though this process can be performed anytime and anywhere, it is preferable to perform it when trying to sleep faster.
This method involves different steps. In the first step, you are required to inhale your breath gradually for exactly four seconds through your mouth. Also, don’t forget to compress your tongue against the top side of your mouth.
The next step involves keeping your breath seized for exactly seven seconds. The last step involves exhaling the breath gradually for eight seconds. Repeat the method.
This method is quite easy. It works by making your body relax, which will let you get to sleep faster.
21. Taking warm water bath
A warm bath is one of the most well-known remedies for falling asleep faster. Taking a warm water bath right before going to sleep helps your muscles relax. As your body cools down from the bath, it mimics the cooling effect you experience when you drift off to sleep which can trick your body into going to sleep.
A warm bath is a wonderful addition to your bedtime routine. It is something you can do in dim light away from blue lights that can interfere with your ability to sleep.
22. Splash Freezing Water on Your Face
Though it may sound scary in cold weather, this trick can do magic in making you asleep faster. This trick involves dipping your face in cold water.
This process will make your body relax while controlling your nerves. In the other words, it resets your nervous system by making it focus on your face which allows it to relax.