A number of things can contribute to the quality of our sleep, but I think we can all agree that we function and feel much better when we sleep well. At the same time, if you’re having trouble sleeping, then you have to change something you’re doing for that to change as well. So lets discuss first what can be interfering.
There can be a medical condition interfering with sleep. Medications you’re taking for other conditions can affect your sleep, and certain conditions like Bipolar disorder wreck havoc on sleep. The problem with difficulty sleeping is that it can create a vicious cycle of frustration, where you accidently contribute to your problem by stressing about whether you will sleep or not. When it becomes a chronic problem, it can negatively affect your health in a number of ways.
So you have to start by understanding your quality of sleep is important and is worthy of your attention, and of making some changes. Start by figuring out how many hours of sleep you need to feel well. Usually that is from 6 – 9 hours a night. How many hours do you sleep when you don’t have to wake up? And the next day? That first night is catch up, your body tries to catch up on what it’s missed all week. The second night after is the usual amount your body needs. On a usual day, what time do you need to go to bed to get that much rest? If you can figure out a schedule that will work for you most days, then actually plan for that. Set yourself a time to turn everything off and go to sleep! Do you remember your parents making you go to sleep at a certain time? You never wanted to go to bed then, but somehow that worked for you? Now you have to decide first what your adult schedule will be and then make it a priority to be as consistent as possible. We get so used to ignoring our body’s signals that we have to make a conscious effort to correct this for optimal health and mental and physical functioning.
Create the bedroom space to be a place to relax and let go. If reading helps you fall asleep, then reading can be ok before bedtime, but if reading stimulates you and it’s hard to put the book down, then that’s not a book to read at bedtime! Similarly, what are you watching on TV? You can’t watch the news or an exciting or action show and expect it will be easy to fall asleep. Since TV, laptops, pads, and phones create a lot of light and mental stimulation, it’s best to turn everything off at least 30 minutes before trying to fall asleep. It’s best not to do work in the bedroom, but it’s ok to have a pad of paper and pen near the bed, because if you remember something you had forgotten to take care of, you can easily write it down. Then tell yourself, “It’s written down, that’s all I can do about this today” and “I’m letting it go”. Blackout curtains can be very helpful, but are a necessity if you do shiftwork making it necessary to sleep during light hours outside. An aromatherapy mister can be a great addition to the bedroom, with trickling brook sounds and your favorite relaxing oil. Lavender or Sandalwood can help your body relax and the smell helps trigger the brain that it’s time to let go. You might not be able to afford the best mattress, but you probably can afford a really good pillow that will conform the way you need it to. Cover that will an allergy protective cover to protect against the growth of dust mites so you’ll breathe better. Pick a pillow case that feels nice to your skin.
You might try using over the counter supplements to help you fall asleep. Most people know about Mellatonin but it comes in different strengths and comes in time release. Doses are available from 1 mg to 9 mg, but it is a hormone so it’s not right for everyone to use. L- tryptophan is another supplement (the amino acid found in proteins like milk and turkey but can be purchased as a vegan supplement), which can be good for helping you fall asleep. Some people, especially those with ADHD, benefit from Vetiver oil applied to the foot at night. Straight vetiver is pricier than most essential oils and is harder to find because the smell is unpleasant. Buy a second oil you like the smell of, apply the Vetiver to your foot and let it dry, and put something calming and pleasant on your wrists so that you smell the one you like. It can also be very calming to use this prior to bedtime. A glass of wine can be helpful, but excessive alcohol actually inhibits sleep quality so quantity must be limited.
Practicing Mindfulness before bed can be very helpful. There are many wonderful apps that can be downloaded and played to help you focus and slow your breathing, or help you through a full body relaxation exercise before bed. Practicing Mindfulness (go to youtube and search “Mindfulness”) on a regular basis will help your brain calm when you need it to, as well as contribute to your daytime happiness, physical and mental health. Jeff Bridges can talk you to sleep on Squarespace.com. White noice machines and soothing music can also be helpful for some.
Sometimes prescriptions medications are needed, and for that you’ll have to consult with your physician or medical practitioner. There is a new medication available called Silenor which can be helpful for staying asleep. It’s actually a new form of an old drug, but this is non-addicting and your practitioner may be less adverse to ordering this for long term use than other sleep medications.
Like anything else, to get good at something, you have to make it a priority and practice. Change is a process that takes practice. The goal is a big one, because sleeping well affects so much of our health and functioning. Make it the priority and be patient.