The first step on the road to a good night’s sleep is the ability to get to sleep quickly. Once you have this, the other aspects of a good night’s sleep fall into place fairly readily.
How do you get to sleep quickly then? Here are a number of things to consider when preparing for that ideal slumber.
1. What’s stopping you?
Take a moment to consider the thing (or things) that’s holding you back from getting to sleep quickly. Perhaps you just don’t feel tired when you first climb into bed, or you lie there thinking about things. Maybe you’re hungry. Whatever it is, identifying the cause will help enormously.
2. Awake at a fixed time
Regardless of what time you go to bed, wake up at the same time each day. Naturally there are limits to this - if you’re out partying until 5am, a 5:30 wake-up just isn’t going to happen. But the more regular your rising times are, the better you’ll sleep.
3. Make weekends the same
As far as your sleep routine’s concerned, treat Saturday and Sunday the same as the rest of the week. This means waking up at the same times - no more Sunday lie-ins.
4. Try to avoid a major caffeine hit
I tend to drink several cups (perhaps 5 or 6) of high-caffeine green tea per day. This, however, doesn’t seem to have any negative impact on sleep - although an intense coffee session does. If you like your coffee (and I really can’t blame you for that; I certainly love the stuff), spread it out a bit. No bingeing at the nearest cafe.
5. Exercise at the right times
Regular exercise (no matter what type) can certainly help you sleep, but the timing of your workouts is something to think about. A short session of something moderate will help you sleep, and can be done shortly before bedtime; a longer session (or a more intense one), however, can actually keep you awake for a while. If your schedule permits it, keep these longer/more intense sessions away from your intended sleep times.
6. Avoid slow-digesting foods shortly before bedtime
If your digestive system’s working overtime while you’re trying to get some sleep, it’ll win every time. The simplest thing to do is to hold off on that piece of cheese, spicy foods or anything covered in sugar until after you wake up.
7. Remove distractions from your sleep environment
Get rid of as many items with noise or changing light from your bedroom as possible. TVs, computers and rechargeable devices with flashing lights should all go. If you can’t get rid of them, switch them off when you’re trying to sleep. Minimise distractions.
8. Don’t take your worries to bed
A couple of years ago I discovered that I’d spend an hour or two each night simply lying there thinking, unless I wrote the problems down. A quick to-do list containing the main things on my mind (and the action I planned to take - even if that was ‘not sure what to do’) worked wonders. If you’re in a similar situation (lying there thinking about things each night), try it.
Comfortable bedding and room temperature make a big difference. Making the bed isn’t just to keep your mum happy. It’ll help you sleep better.
10. Physiological factors
Health conditions such as arthritis, heartburn, menstruation and headaches (and many other things) are known to affect sleep. If you suspect the problem stems from your health, discuss this with your doctor. As some medications have sleeplessness as a side-effect, there are sometimes changes which can be made.
© 1997 - 2006 Scott Bird.