Having Trouble Sleeping? 

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A lot (and I mean ALOT) of people have found it hard over the past year.  With the pandemic, and all of the stress and the uncertainty that came along with it…we have had much on our minds and our sleep is paying the price.  I’ve put together some tips to help you to get a better night’s sleep and also one of my favorite techniques for getting to sleep.  I hope you find them helpful.

If you have trouble sleeping (either getting to sleep or waking up in the night) try this easy and effective technique called the Cognitive Shuffle.  It’s a modern version of counting sheep.  It helps the brain to focus on the task at hand and therefore limits or eliminates racing thoughts.  Here’s how you do it.

Choose any 4-letter word.

Begin with the first letter of the word…and in your mind…come up with a list of as many words as you can think of that begin with that letter.

For example…Bird
B – baby, beautiful, blue, bride, bread, baking, break, blissful, beverage, etc. 

Once you have exhausted the list, move on to the 2nd letter and so on.

Here are some other things you can try to improve your sleep include:

  1. When it comes to bedtime…be consistent

It’s really helpful if you can keep the time you go to sleep the same every night.  Having consistency helps to train your internal clock.  The brain loves a good routine, and with a consistent bedtime, both the brain and the body get very clear and consistent cues telling them it’s time to shut down for the day, which then makes it easier for you to get to sleep.  Getting up at the same time each morning (even on weekends if possible) can be a benefit, as well.
For ultimate wellness, we all need 7 – 9 hours of good sleep every night so set your bedtime accordingly.

  1. Treat yourself to a relaxing and pleasurable bedtime ritual.  

As I mentioned, keeping your bedtime the same every night creates a routine for the brain and body.  You can strengthen that routine by creating a bedtime ritual that is both relaxing and pleasurable…something that you look forward to before bed.  The key is consistency…doing it every night.  Think of it as giving your brain and your body a long runway to relax, unwind and settle down.  If you are able to do the same ritual each night…the brain and the body easily recognize the cues and start preparing for relaxation and sleep.

Give yourself 30 to 60 minutes before your set bedtime.

To begin with, turn off your phone. 
Iphones and other Smartphones emit bright blue light to make the screen easily visible, even at the sunniest times of day.   If you’re on your phone right before bed, the brightness of the blue light confuses the brain because it mimics daytime.  As a result of the confusion, the brain stops producing melatonin, a hormone necessary for sleep.  The release of melatonin tells your body that it’s time to sleep and without it, the body stays on awake mode.

If you use your phone for your alarm clock, turn it on Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode for the night, and place it on your night table face down.

Your bedtime ritual can include anything that makes you feel relaxed.  Avoid anything stressful or overly stimulating.  Here are some ideas:

  • A warm bath or shower before bed helps to relax your muscles.  Water is soothing to brain as well.  When you get out of the bath or shower, your body starts to cool down which may help you to feel sleepy.
  • Read for pleasure…(not for work).  Don’t use a Kindle or other electronic reading devices as they also emit blue light.
  • Do deep breathing exercises
  • Listen to some calming music.
  • Light a candle to create a warm, soothing environment in your bedroom.
  • Do some gentle stretching to release muscle tension.
  • Try Progressive Relaxation which involves tensing and releasing muscles in a sequence beginning at your feet and working your way up to the crown of your head.
  • Meditate to calm your mind.
  • Write out a Gratitude list.

3.  Exercise

Even as little as 20 minutes of exercise every day can improve the quality of your sleep and your health.  Exercising outdoors, even a short walk around the block, gives you the added benefit of fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun, but exercising indoors is equally effective.

Try not to exercise within an hour or two of your bedtime as it can increase your energy level and your body temperature…both of which make it harder to fall asleep.  Light stretches or gentle yoga are fine to do before bed.

4.  Watch your Caffeine.
Try to limit your caffeine intake to the morning.  Caffeine can stay in our systems for 3 – 7 hours so having a late afternoon coffee has the potential to keep you awake at night.  Experts recommend no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day for adults.  If you are a coffee drinker, be aware that the amount of caffeine varies depending on the type or brand of coffee you’re drinking…for example a Grande Latte at Starbucks has 300 mg. of caffeine.

5. Prep your bedroom

Keeping your bedroom, cool, dark and quiet will help you to fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep longer, both of which increase the quality of sleep.

A room temperature between 15 & 19 Celcius (or 60 – 67 F) is recommended.

Consider black out curtains or a sleeping mask if you find too much light is getting in the room.

A quality mattress, comfortable pillows and bed linens are important.  The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to fall asleep and stay asleep.

If you sleep with someone who snores, get yourself some good quality ear plugs so your sleep isn’t interrupted.

6.  A room with a purpose (or two)

Strengthen your brain’s association between your bedroom and sleep by using your bed for sleeping and sex only.

Keep your TV in a different room.  Don’t work in your bedroom.  Take or make phone calls in another area of your home.

7.  Get up if you can’t sleep

If you find that you can’t sleep…get out of bed rather than lying there tossing, turning and getting frustrated.  Go into another room and do something relaxing until you start to feel tired and then head back to bed.  Try reading on the couch, putting headphones on and listening to relaxing and soothing music, or do some deep breathing exercises.

Here’s a link to a recent article on Sleep in the New York Times for your reference as well. 

Cheers to a good night’s sleep and actually feeling rested,


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