Clients often ask me how they can improve their sleep, aside from taking medication. Here are some general sleep hygiene guidelines for improving the quality of your sleep. The more you unlearn your bad sleep habits and practice good sleep hygiene, the better your sleep will slowly become, but don’t expect immediate results. If insomnia is part of an emotional disorder such as, depression, anxiety or a medical disorder, make certain you are getting treatment for that problem.
REGULAR SLEEP TIMES: Make a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same times everyday, regardless of how tired you are or are not. If not a regular bedtime, then at least try to wake up the same time everyday.
THE BED IS FOR SLEEPING: Use your bed only for sleeping and sex. Don’t read, watch TV, talk on the phone, etc. in bed. As much as possible, getting in bed should be associated with going to sleep. Make a habit of doing everything else in a nice comfortable chair.
AVOID NAPS: While a very short nap during the day (no more than 15 minutes to half an hour) is probably OK, try to avoid sleeping during the day.
NUTRITION: Avoid all caffeine products after 3 PM (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate), use herbal teas instead. Avoid alcoholic drinks, they may help you to fall asleep, but will disturb your sleep later in the sleep cycle. If you are often awakened by the need to urinate, get into the habit of drinking earlier in the evening, but avoid liquids for at least an hour before bedtime. If you must drink then, drink less or just wet your mouth.
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION (PMR): Learn how to focus your mind on deeply relaxing your muscles, one muscle group at a time. Ask a therapist to teach you PMR and use PMR audio tapes while falling asleep.
GIVE UP ON TRYING TO FALL ASLEEP: Relaxation exercises also help because they give you something else to focus on besides worrying about not sleeping. Sometimes trying too hard to get to sleep backfires and you start to worry about not getting to sleep, which then keeps you awake. Instead make your goal getting as relaxed as possible. Give up on trying to sleep, the goal is getting relaxed, it’s almost as good as being asleep and won’t backfire. Other distractions such as sound machines, soft music, etc., may also help.
DON’T LAY AWAKE IN BED: If you are laying awake in bed for more than approximately 45 minutes, get out of bed, into your most comfortable chair or couch and do something drowsy (read something boring, watch some boring TV, etc.). When you start to get drowsy again, get back into bed.
PHYSICAL EXERCISE: Do get some exercise on a regular basis (walking, running, biking, etc.). Don’t exercise too soon before going to bed though (leave approximately 3 hours).
**If the above suggestions seem overwhelming, I suggest starting with the easiest ones first. Also, if after reading these suggestions you notice that your problems seem to lie in one area and not others (e.g., you sleep a lot during the day or drink several cups of coffee) focus your energy on those problem areas.
Please use the message board to share any additional tips/strategies you have found helpful!