Getting a good night of sleep can seem like the most effortless and natural thing in the world, but when we can’t fall asleep it can quickly feel elusive and frustrating.
There are a few techniques we can use to help us fall asleep, and some things we should always practise before we go to bed to give ourselves the best chance of being able to drop off easily.
Before you hit the sheets
Many major causes of not being able to drop off to sleep actually happen before bedtime. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and food can all stimulate our brains and keep us awake at night, so be sure to limit these activities to earlier in the day.
While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it’s also associated with more awakenings during the night which can leave you feeling more tired the next day.
Bright lights and screens just before bed can also keep us awake. And not just because the scary movie or heartbreaking drama arouse our emotions. What many don’t realise is the light these devices emit (particularly blue wavelengths) suppress melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleep, making it harder to fall asleep.
Never take these screens to bed. Bed should be for two activities: sleep and intimacy. This encourages your brain to think of your bed as a place of rest. You should also create a wind down routine and a calm environment. This might involve dimming the lights and taking a bath.
Your circadian rhythms, or “body clock”, sync many of your bodily functions, including hormone release. Keep a routine to keep your rhythms regular. Big shifts in your sleep timing are like being in a constant state of jetlag. If you have problems falling asleep, go to bed when you’re tired and make sure to get up at about the same time every day. Try to keep this routine on the weekend and even after a night of poor sleep.
Another good idea is to turn your clock away. Watching the minutes pass can contribute to worries.
LISTEN: Robin Bailey shares a trick for getting more sleep, on The Well. Post continues after audio.
What if I can’t fall asleep?
Sometimes thoughts or worries can keep us awake at night, contributing to a feeling of being “wired”, even though we’re tired. To make matters worse, poor sleep is linked with poor mood, which means you may feel more anxious and easily frustrated the next day.
Increases in the stress hormone cortisol make it harder to fall asleep. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help release tension and decrease stress that has built up during the day.