Are you one of the more than 60 million Americans who struggles to get a good night sleep? Regardless of whether your trouble is falling asleep, staying asleep or both, the medical term for your struggle and frustration is insomnia.
Insomnia is one of the most common complaints that my patients report. The underlying cause can be anything from stress and anxiety to depression, medical conditions, pain, prescription medications, supplements, caffeine, nicotine or poor sleeping habits. Your doctor is the best person to help you determine the specific cause(s) of your difficulty sleeping. However, you may be surprised to find out that your pre-bedtime and sleeping habits may actually be causing or making your insomnia worse.
Here are five simple and effective steps you can take to get better sleep tonight:
1. Establish a comfortable sleep environment.
Goldilocks had it right... You do not want the bedroom too hot or too cold.
2. Only stay in bed for sleep.
Avoid lying in bed, while awake, for extended periods of time. You can do this by getting into bed when you are ready to sleep, thereby, avoiding watching TV or reading in bed. Try to awaken at the same time every morning and do not linger in bed. Long periods of bed rest, inactivity, and excessive napping can disrupt your circadian rhythm and aggravate insomnia. In the morning, set an alarm and get out of bed!
3. Establish a daily activity routine.
The more active you are during the day, the more your body will be ready to rest and recharge at night. However, you should avoid activating behaviors up to three hours before bedtime. This will help your body wind down prior to bed.
4. Increase exposure to bright light in the morning and during the day.
Conversely, you should also decrease your exposure to bright light in the hours before bedtime and during nighttime awakenings. This will help your body establish a normal circadian rhythm, which is essential for getting a restful night sleep. (This means no bright TV, computer, tablet, iPad or cell-phone screen use prior to bed). Also avoid loud noises prior to bed and during sleep.
5. Stop napping.
If you nap during the day, your nighttime sleep requirement will be correspondingly shortened. Only nap during the day if you have good reason to believe that doing so improves your quality of life. Instead, use the time you used to spend napping for mindfulness and relaxation. Naptime becomes the time you set aside for worry, so that you can do something relaxing before and after your head hits the pillow.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to get a better night sleep tonight. These suggestions for a better night sleep come from the larger concept of "Sleep Hygiene." If you have already tried these, or want to read more about sleep hygiene, good sleeping habits and ways to avoid insomnia, you can learn more here.
Dr. Goldenberg is an Addiction Psychiatry Fellow in Los Angeles and has written numerous articles about mental health and addiction topics. You can follow Dr. Goldenberg at docgoldenberg.com and on Twitter: @docgoldenberg