Quick summary: I am giving you 10 tips that will lead you to create and maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Sleep is vital for optimal health… you owe it to yourself to dedicate yourself to a good night of sleep. If you can stay dedicated you should be able to create a stable sleep cycle with these 10 tips in just under a month with improvements surfacing in about 10 days. This is not solely based on the sleep studies that are widely circulated… this worked for me when nothing else did. Change often requires a degree of sacrifice… try this for a month and then do a cost benefit analysis… I would suggest that the benefits will greatly surpass your expectations.
1.) Create a reasonable and intelligent plan with a set bedtime and a set time to wake up (you should be going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day)… make sure that you are giving yourself around 8 hours of sleep.
- People who have a difficult time sleeping tend to not have the luxury of being able to operate on a variable sleep schedule. With peoples busy lives it can be truly difficult to set a schedule especially when you have a job with differing hours… for most people the benefits of a healthy sleep cycle with greatly out way the sacrifices that must be made while sticking to a schedule.
- To be reasonable you must accept that improvements will require dedication and you should accept that exceptions to the plan might work for other people, but they don’t seem to work for you.
2.) Start by waking up at the same time every morning even if you cannot fall asleep at your set bedtime.
- It is beneficial to set your internal clock and doing so at night is obviously difficult for you (or perhaps you wouldn’t be reading this). Waking up at the same time in the morning with help you to create a stable sleeping routine. If you need to catch up on sleep, go to bed earlier… it is important that you don’t make exceptions concerning the time that you wake up each morning.
3.) When it is your ‘bedtime’ give your self one very relaxing activity if you cannot go to sleep such as an ‘easy to read’ and ‘light’ book.
- Avoid books that cause extreme emotional arousal such as fear, anger, suspicion, or anxiety. I like to read books about mindfulness before bed… they have no real plot or conflict and they offer very light and comforting life lessons.
- Never watch TV or engage in any stimulating activity after your ‘bed time’.
4.) Stop ingesting added sugar, caffeine, or any other stimulant for at least 6 hours before you plan on going to bed.
- The idea is to get your body to go along with a desired rhythm… stimulants and depressants can have a negative impact on your body’s natural ability to create and to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. For many it would be best to avoid stimulants and depressants (such as alcohol and prescription narcotics) all together.
5.) Control your substance intake and make sure that you are ‘buzz’ free for a least an hour before your bedtime.
- This generally means that if you are going to have a drink you should finish that drink 2-3 hours before your bedtime. Substances impact your ability to go to sleep and the quality of your sleep.
- Drinking herbal (caffeine free) tea can be a great way of helping people who benefit from satiating an oral fixation (which otherwise encourages them to drink or smoke).
- If a rare social event leads you to drink until close to bedtime make sure that you still wake up at the same set time.
6.) Do not watch any screen – Television – computer – video game etc – for at least a half an hour before bed (the more time away from this stimulus the better).
- There are so many reasons why these electronic devises disrupt our ability to go to sleep… flashy lights, blue light, emotional content, cognitively invigorating content etc (the list could go on forever).
- They produce a myriad of measurable biological responses in your body which will inhibit your ability to go to sleep. Having a TV in your room is not a good idea for your sleep (or sexual) needs.
7.) Exercise is the best way to reduce anxiety and the health benefits of exercise will directly impact your ability to create a healthy sleep cycle.
- If there is lots of stress and anxiety in your life it would greatly benefit you to involve yourself in exercise as exercise releases chemicals in your brain which can counter the effect that anxiety and stress have on your brain (read my other posts on exercise for more information- http://www.thoughtsfromatherapist.com/2010/04/01/motivation-to-exercise-%e2%80%93-why-it-is-hard-and-how-to-make-it-easier/).
- We have created an interesting relationship with exercise in this country… do something in involving sustained motion… for 30 minutes every day.
8.) Seek assistance to resolve any issues that are negatively impacting your personal or relational health. Engage in activities that will help you to manage stress and anxiety.
- Problems in our life can be so significant that they inhibit us from getting sleep… if you need help in overcoming a trauma or if you have a relationship that needs repair it is a good idea to seek the assistance of a mentor, therapist, or some other trustworthy person.
- Certain people have too much stress and anxiety in their lives. Too much stress has a measurable impact on your brain and will greatly impact your ability to maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
- Supportive relationships, rest, vacation, exercise, art, hobbies, music etc can all be used to counter the effects of stress.
- You can also ask people to help you to stick with your sleeping plan.
9.) Prioritize your life and set boundaries to ensure that you are healthy… many people are giving too much of themselves and working too hard.
- You must take care of your own needs if you are going to truly be able to meet the needs of others… selfishness is needed to be selfless.
- What activities or responsibilities, which give you minimal satisfaction, can be cut out of your schedule?
- There are many choices that we make that have benefits (such as financial) that are horrible for our emotional, relational, and physical health… sometimes the best way to help your sleep is to leave the setting which is most disruptive to your health. Can you do your current job and be healthy? Can you be healthy with your current boundaries related to your friends and family?
- Create a boundary with people in your life surrounding your sleep cycle… let them know that you need to keep a schedule for your health.
10.) Spend at least 15 minutes a day engaged in mindful breathing or meditation. You can also engage in breathing exercises right before bed for added benefits.
- A simple technique is to breathe in for five second and breathe out for five seconds… place all your attention on the breath as it moves from your nose down your throat to your abdomen and then back up and out your mouth… thoughts will arrive – notice them gently and return your focus to the breath.
- Mindful breathing teaches us how to observe our thoughts and impulses as opposed to being controlled by them. Many people cannot go to sleep at night because their brain is racing and ruminating… mindfulness practice greatly reduces people’s tendency to act or think ‘automatically’.
- Mindfulness practice is also inherently relaxing and can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and suffering. Mindfulness teaches people how to live in the moment… most suffering, stress, and anxiety is not in the moment… when we worry about the past or the future we bring the experience suffering into the moment.
- With mindfulness you can learn to live in the moment and you will be better able to not allow the past or the future to impact your sleep.
- for more on mindfulness and for suggested practices simply click mindfulness in the category section of this blog -(http://www.thoughtsfromatherapist.com/category/mindfulness/) or look at the post – http://www.thoughtsfromatherapist.com/2010/03/23/mindfulness-%e2%80%93-why-it-is-helpful-and-what-being-in-the-present-moment-means/
Try this for one month… you should expect little to no changes (it could even get worse) for the first week or so.
Doing these 10 steps will work for most people… you have the plan now it is your responsibility to stay dedicated.
Hope impacts outcome… it will be of benefit to you to change the negative thoughts and labels that you have concerning your sleep cycle which impact your ability to be hopeful… you were made to have a healthy sleep cycle… you can absolutely have one.
If you believe… you can