You’re tossing and turning and can’t sleep – even though you’ve closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and done everything else to quiet your mind.
Your problem may be not taking the proper steps to prepare yourself physically for sleep, says Dr. Colleen Carney, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto and author of “Goodnight Mind: Turn off Your Noisy Thoughts and Get a Good Night’s Sleep.”
Here are some sleep tips from Dr. Carney and other experts on how to tune out, relax and drift off to sleep:
Be out of bed and active for a sufficient amount of time during the day. “That builds a drive or pressure for deep sleep the next night,” says Carney.
You should also get up at the same time every day. “If you’re not ready to go to sleep at your regular bedtime, then you shouldn’t. You should wait because you’ll just lay awake, but you should always get up at the same time no matter what,” says Carney.
Lastly, avoid hitting the snooze button, even after a night of sleeplessness. It’s almost impossible to make up for lost sleep in the morning hours, even though lots of people try to, says Carney.
“Any sleep we get in the morning is light, so you’re robbing yourself of the time you could be investing in the subsequent night’s deep sleep, or sleep drive. You’ll just be groggy and try to boost yourself with caffeine and try to make up for it by going to sleep early the next night which could be difficult as you slept in that morning.”
Realize that if you get enough activity and “sleep drive” during the day, you won’t need “whale sounds,” sleep masks and other sleep gadgets to lull you off to sleep at night. If you do need these aids, it might be a sign that you’re preoccupied with sleep and too engaged in what Carney calls “sleep effort” which is linked to insomnia. ”Falling sleep is like falling in love; it’s not an effort enterprise.”
Experiment with yoga, tai chi, meditation and other mind-quieting pursuits, but do it well before your bed time.
Leave your anxieties at the bedroom door. People get panicky about deadlines; they think everything is an emergency and they find it difficult to “disentangle” and thus can’t sleep at night, says Carney.
If you’re prone to unfinished business or problem-solving and list making, then do that but much earlier, when you’re at your problem-solving best, and outside of the bedroom buffer zone, she says.
Instead, do something reasonably pleasant in the evening. This will vary from person to person, says Dr. Diane Boivin, Director, Centre for Study and Treatment of Circadian Rhythms, Douglas Institute, and Professor, Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, “If reading a few lines or pages in a book helps you to relax, and this doesn’t make it harder for you to fall asleep and it doesn’t disturb your sleep schedule, that’s okay as long as it’s not on a tablet or other electronic device.”
If the problem persists:
If you can’t sleep, have trouble getting to sleep, or falling back to sleep within 20 minutes of waking up in the night, get out of bed and do something calming. “If the mind is busy and won’t shut off, sometimes giving the brain a repetitive task to do – like the old stand-by of counting sheep – can help,” says Dr. Maureen Ceresney, a Sleep Specialist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
Secondly, try altering your body’s internal thermostat. “Having a cup of warm milk or herbal tea, taking a hot bath an hour or two before bed, or getting some cardiovascular exercise in the late afternoon or early evening, can facilitate this process,” says Ceresney.
If it helps, you can also darken the bedroom – as light interferes with melatonin production and may cause biological clock related problems.
Consider seeking medical assistance if the above approaches don’t work and you still can’t sleep, says Dr. Atul Khullar, a psychiatrist, and Medical Director, Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic (MedSleep Edmonton). “If lack of sleep is causing interference with daytime function, if the problem is not going away; if it has been consistent, and if it’s really getting in the way of your life, then it’s time to get it reviewed.”
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