Thirty percent (30%) of Americans report experiencing insomnia.
This includes difficulty falling asleep (initial insomnia), frequent awakenings (fragmented sleep/middle insomnia) and/or awakening too early (terminal insomnia). Our mental and physical health can be impacted when we are not getting good, brain-healing, body restorative sleep.
Here are several factors to consider as you improve your sleep hygiene.
- Recognize in order to sleep, you need safety; and boundaries help you feel safe. Your bedroom space should be, to the greatest extent, a place where you feel safe. Avoid arguments, office work, and television (especially news programing) in your bedroom. Keep your bedroom for sex and sleep only. Keep intrusive sounds to a minimum where possible (a special shout-out to parents of young children, where this may be difficult!)
- Minimize blue light: fluorescent, LED, electronic tablets, smartphones. Blue light (especially) before bedtime can suppress production of melatonin, as does excessive light in general. If using a relaxation source (music, sounds of waves, etc.), close your eyes and listen instead of watching.
- Smell some lavender. This aroma promotes relaxation and decreases heart rate and blood pressure.
- Take a warm shower or bath, and sleep in a cool room. Raising your body temperature a bit before bedtime then having a steeper decline at bedtime promotes a deeper sleep. The ideal temperature of a room for sleep is 60 to 68 degrees, so if possible bury yourself into the covers and re-create a warm snuggle with your bed.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation or walking meditation. Walking slowly without urgency calms the nervous system and helps slow racing minds and restlessness. Avoid vigorous exercise right before bed; however, regular exercise during the day has been shown to alleviate insomnia.
- Unplug. Turn off your electronics and technology an hour or two before bedtime. See minimizing light above!
- Caffeine. Cut out caffeine 8 hours before bed. Caffeine not only affects going to sleep, but how deeply you sleep. Warm milk with nutmeg or chamomile tea with lavender, tart cheery juice, and vanilla are good bedtime substitutes for caffeine.
- For a ruminating mind, say “good night John Boy” in true Walton family style to those who intrude your sleep sanctuary. Remind them they will have access to your attention later, but NOT during sleep time. Or, if you have an intrusive thought, briefly write it down and put it away from your restful space.
- Cover up all clocks. Worrying about not getting to sleep is a major factor in keeping your arousal level elevated. Stop peeking at the clock. The worst thing that can happen if you don’t get enough sleep? You will be a bit more tired than usual the next day – nothing more.
- Get out of bed. Lying awake in bed worrying about not sleeping perpetuates an anxious cycle, associating your safe place for sleep with anxiety. If after 30 minutes you haven’t drifted off, get up, do a light activity such as reading a chapter in a book (paper, with low light), do some calming yoga poses, or listen to some soft relaxing music.
- Nix the nightcap. Yep. Wine may make you feel a bit sleepy, but studies show alcohol actually interferes with REM sleep – which is crucial to healthy emotional functioning. Try and eliminate alcohol three hours before bedtime.
- Develop and rehearse you own unique relaxation scenes. Reading light and fluffy stories can invoke pleasurable memories of your past. Put yourself mentally in safe, warm, and loving places.
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney
Note: If you are experiencing pain or sleep apnea events while sleeping, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.