Sleep is as essential to you as food, air, and water. Yet sometimes in your life you may experience difficulty in sleeping (about one in three adults report some degree of insomnia at any one time).
If you do have trouble sleeping, several changes in lifestyle can help you regain a satisfactory sleep pattern. Experiment with these helpful strategies offered here.
Five Basic Strategies
- Never Oversleep
This is the most crucial rule. Never oversleep because of a poor night's sleep. Get up at about the same time every day, especially on the morning after you've lost sleep.
Sleeping late for just a couple of days can reset your body clock to a different cycle—you'll be getting sleepy later and waking up later.
- Set Your Body Clock
Light helps restart your body clock to its active daytime phase. So when you get up, go outside and get some sunlight. Or if that's difficult, turn on all the lights in your room.
Then walk around for a few minutes. The calves of your legs act as pumps and get blood circulating, carrying more oxygen to your brain to help get you going.
Keep physically active during the day.This is especially important the day after a bad night's sleep.
When you sleep less, you should be more active during the day. Being less active is one of the worst things an insomniac can do.
Strenuous exercise (brisk walking, swimming, jogging, squash, etc.) in late afternoon seems to promote more restful sleep.
Also, insomniacs tend to be too inactive a couple of hours before bed. Do some gentle exercise. A stretching routine has helped many people.
- Don't Nap
Do not take any naps the day after you've lost sleep.
When you feel sleepy, get up and do something. Walk, make the bed, or do your errands. While studying, get up regularly (every 30 minutes, or more often if necessary) to walk around your room.
Do a gentle stretch. That will increase the flow of oxygen to your brain and help you to be more alert.
- Set a Bedtime Schedule
Using These Two Steps:
First, try to go to bed about the same time every night. Be regular. Most people get hungry at 7 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. because they've eaten at those times for years. Going to bed at about the same time every night can make sleep as regular as hunger.
Second, go to bed later when you are having trouble sleeping. If you're only getting five hours of sleep a night during your insomnia period, don't go to bed until just five hours before your wake-up time.
For instance, if you've been waking up at 7 a.m., don't go to bed until 2 a.m. No good sleep time, move your going-to-bed time back 15 to 30 minutes a night and do that for a week or so. This is the opposite of what we want to do: We want to go to bed earlier to make up the lost sleep.
Learn to do what many sleep laboratories teach—go to bed later the night after losing sleep.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
Stop studying and don't get into any stimulating discussions or activities a half hour or hour before bed. Do something that's relaxing—read "light" material, play your guitar, listen to music that is quiet, catch a mindless TV show.
Some people sleep better in a clean and neat environment, so they like to straighten and clean their room just before going to bed. Find your own sleep-promoting routine.
Warm Bath, Yes; Shower, No.
Take a long, hot bath before going to bed. This helps relax and soothe your muscles. Showers, on the other hand, tend to wake you up. Insomniacs should avoid showers in the evening.
List "Gotta Do's"
Keep a pad and pencil handy. If you think of something you want to remember, jot it down. Then let the thought go. There will be no need to lie awak worrying about remembering it.
Stretch and Relaxation
Some people find that a gentle stretching routine for several minutes just before getting into bed helps induce sleep. Others practice relaxation techniques.
Libraries or bookstores have books on developing stretching or relaxation routines. The University Counseling Center has some material on both: Try
Stressed Out Over Studying? "The Doctor told me that stress caused my..."
To Eat or Not to Eat
Some sleep centers recommend a light breakfast and lunch to help you stay alert during the day. They advise you to make the evening meal the major meal of the day.
Schedule it at least four hours before bedtime so your digestive system will be reasonably quiet by the time you're ready to sleep.
It helps some people to have a glass at bedtime. Milk has an essential amino acid, tryptophan, which stimulates the brain chemical serotonin, believed to play a role in inducing sleep.
A piece of whole wheat bread, or another carbohydrate, enhances the effect. Or try taking tryptophan, beginning with about two grams about an hour before bedtime. A piece of wheat bread will help the tryptophan to be absorbed.
Avoid Caffeine and Tyrosine-rich Foods In The Evening
Caffeine, a checmial in coffee, colas, tea, chocolate, etc., causes hyperactivity and wakefulness. Some sleep laboratories encourage people to avoid such tyrosine-laden foods as fermented cheeses (cheddar is about the worst; cottage cheese and yogurt are OK), ripe avocados, some imported beers, and fermented meats (bologna, pepperoni, salami). Also avoid red wines, especially chianti.
Cut Down on Alcohol
Alcohol might help you get to sleep, but it results in shallow and disturbed sleep, abnormal dream periods, and frequent early morning awakening.
Avoid Taking Sleeping Pills
Reasons to avoid sleeping pills include disturbed sleep patterns, short-term amnesia, and impaired motor skills.
Research shows that benzodiazepine hypnotics, the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills, impair short-term memory, reaction time, thinking, and visual-motor coordination (such as driving).
How to Get a Good Night's Sleep. Created by University Counseling Services. Copyright 1989, 1997 Kansas State University