Get Better Sleep

Poor sleep is awful. Problems falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night, and waking earlier than we want or need can be torturous. Poor sleep can make everything else just that much harder. Certain mental health problems can cause poor sleep, like the nightmares and jumpiness of trauma disorders or the early-morning waking of depression. Our habits can also contribute to poor sleep and many of us will sleep significantly better by changing a few small things.

Sleep hygiene, the recommended behavioral practices that set us up for a blissful night sleep, is an art and requires intention. Here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction:

  • Create a cool, dark, quiet sanctuary. Turning down the heat, using heavy curtains, and even a white-noise machine can help snuff out little noises in the night and let you stay asleep longer.

  • Get cardiovascular exercise every day, ideally in the morning. Humans do best when we move our bodies. Exercise helps us sleep, reduces stress, and improves mood. We recommend 30 minutes every day (or 45 minutes every other day) of moderate cardiovascular activity like jogging, basketball, a bike ride, weight lifting, or a fast walk. All exercise is great - but for sleep, get your heart rate up!

  • A bed is not a sofa. Keep your bed for just sleeping. Remove any television or screens from your bedroom. Watch television, work, text, and read in other areas to help your body associate only sleep with your comfy bed.

  • Skip the nap. Hold out until evening and plan to go to bed early if needed.

  • Televisions, computers, and gadgets. Electronics with backlit screens emit a type of light that mimics daylight. This type of light stops our brain from releasing the chemical melatonin, the hormone that promotes health and a regular sleep cycle. I recommend turning off the TV and putting down your phone one hour before you would like to be asleep.

  • Gotta go? If you wake in the night to use the restroom, push hydration (water) in the day and limit drinking beverages in the evening.

  • Caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours. That means that half of the 154 mg of the caffeine in your 3pm latte will be in your system at 9pm. If you’e having a hard time sleeping, I recommend a cut-off time of noon.

  • Be consistent. Set a pattern of going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.

  • Unwind before bedtime. An hour before you would like to be asleep, do a relaxing activity like reading, meditating, journaling, or taking a bath.

  • Medications. Ask about the recommended time to take prescription medications as some can help you sleep or may keep you awake. Over the counter sleep aids include: melatonin, 0.5-5 mg at bedtime or benadryl, 25 mg one to two tablets at bedtime. We recommend that you start with melatonin side effects from benadryl include dry mouth, constipation, and feeling groggy the next day.

Additional resources:

  • the National Sleep Foundation has a lot of good information including a sleep journal that we can use to help better understand what is getting in the way of blissful sleep.

  • Shawn Stevenson’s Sleep Smart

  • The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department created the CBT-I Coach app that is a simple and uses evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep (CBT-I)