For many people, the hardest part about getting quality, restful sleep is just getting started. You’re in bed, the lights are turned off, and now suddenly it seems your brain is turned ON. In some cases, anxiety can play a role in racing thoughts throughout the day, including at night. However, for others it has little to do with anxiety and more to do with making sure you are preparing yourself for sleep, and that your bedroom is the best place possible to get sleep. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are fighting a racing mind at bedtime, or anytime you aren’t getting the sleep you need:
- Recognize that SLEEP is IMPORTANT. You can read just how important in the article by Noran Clinic’s board-certified neurologist and sleep specialist, Eric Hernandez MD PhD, “Sleep is an essential part of life“
- Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. This includes computers, cell phones, tablets, TV’s…anything with a screen. Exposure to lit up electronic devices at night can be not only mentally stimulating, but the light actually impacts the way your body works, fooling it into acting as if it is still daytime and feeling like it should be awake. Put away the device at least 30 minutes prior to when you want to be sleeping, but earlier is better.
- Don’t drink caffeine after lunch. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours for most people. This means that if you drink two cups of coffee at 3pm, by 8pm your body will still feel like it has just had one cup of coffee. In another 5-6 hours, around 1am, you will still have half a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine in your system. If you think that drinking coffee right before bedtime, or in the middle of the night, might keep you up – remember that half of the caffeine you take in during the day will be in your system for another 5 hours at least! If you drink caffeinated beverages, make sure you are drinking it early enough in the day that you get the boost but still have enough time for it to be mostly out of your system by bedtime.
- Don’t use tobacco or alcohol as sleeping aids. You may think it will help you sleep because you feel relaxed or drowsy shortly after smoking or drinking, but certain chemicals in tobacco are actually linked to wakefulness, and alcohol causes sleep to be lighter and less restorative. Both substances tend to lead to earlier waking (sleeping for fewer hours), and higher rates of insomnia.
- Keep a schedule. It can be tempting to stay up late or sleep in on the weekends, but maintaining too much of a difference in sleep and wake times can make it difficult to fall asleep when you really need to during your regular week. Keep your bedtime and wake up schedule to within 1-2 hours of the same times every day, even on the weekends.
- Create an optimal sleeping environment. Have a comfortable mattress, pillow, and blankets, and keep your bedroom temperature cool at night – what is comfortable varies person to person, but some studies suggest between 65 – 72 degrees F. Getting too warm or too cold at night can disrupt sleep.
- Write down your worries or to do list earlier in the day. When your mind is regularly cycling through things you feel you need to remember at night, it can help put your mind at ease to know it is all written down somewhere for the next day so that you do not need to worry about it in bed.
- Still can’t sleep? Don’t stay in bed! If you can’t sleep, don’t stay awake in bed trying to will yourself to sleep. The bed is for sleeping, so if you aren’t, get up and do something quiet or boring somewhere else until you feel like sleeping. Here are some ideas from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on what to do, or not do, if you find yourself in this spot: Can’t sleep? Do this, not that!
If you feel you have tried it all and you are still regularly losing sleep to bouts of insomnia, particularly if it is impacting your day to day life, it may be time to talk to a doctor. To schedule an appointment with a board-certified sleep neurologist at Noran Clinic Sleep Center, call 612-879-1500.