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12 Tips for Better Sleep

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

How to Sleep – 12 Remedies to Choose From

by Deirdre Eberhart, LCSW


In many ways sleep habits impact the way that we interact with the world, and the way we interact with the world impacts our sleep habits. There are many factors to consider and one thing is for sure; Always get checked out by your doctor if the sleep you are getting is insufficient. There may be an underlying medical issue causing your sleep disturbance and a sleep study may uncover medical issues such as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Sleep Apnea.1 There are also some less obvious physical conditions that could be negatively impacting your sleep including reflux (and other GI problems), allergies, endocrine (hormonal) problems, arthritis, asthma, neurological problems, and chronic pain.1 You always want to rule out

something medical before you start taking matters into your own hands and looking for remedies.


In addition to the aforementioned physical ailments which negatively affect sleep; stress can be a huge culprit to healthy sleep hygiene. It seems like as soon as the light goes off – our thoughts turn on. The never-ending to-do list starts, the worries of the future, the regrets of the past all play on repeat. For a restless mind there are many remedies – you may need to try several of them before you find one that works best for you.


Sleep Remedies to Try:

1) Make a list and check it tomorrow. If you are tossing and turning due to the

immense amount of to-do’s in your mind then get them out of your mind

and onto a piece of paper. Leave a small notebook next to your bed and,

when you wake up (or when you cannot go to sleep) make an exhaustive list

of the things you need to do – however trivial they may seem. People replay

lists in their minds so they won’t forget them. If you write the list down then

you will remove the reason for replaying those items over and over again.


2) Write it out. Sometimes when we stay awake planning out conversations and

arguments in our heads we can rev ourselves up – making it hard to sleep.

This can be due to stressful life circumstances, depression, anxiety, or a

racing bipolar mind. In these cases seeking out a professional would be the

best way to go. In addition, when you have incessant thoughts (similar to #1)

write them down in the aforementioned notebook next to your bed. You

may be surprised by how effective it is in reducing your anxiety so you can

catch those z’s. I promise you can pick all your worries back up tomorrow.


3) Turn down your lights hours before you go to bed. This includes the light we

receive from our phones and computers. When our eyes detect light it acts

as a zeitgeber. A zeitgeber is any signal our body receives that resets our

circadian rhythm or “internal clock.”3 In plain words, when we see light our

bodies wake up. In fact, light inhibits the production of melatonin which, as

you may know, induces sleep.4 If it is simply impossible to avoid light right

before bed then perhaps invest in some blue blocking glasses which can

block the effects of light on internal clock.


4) Keep it cool. Temperature is another kind of zeitgeber. Have you ever

noticed that it is harder to sleep when it is warmer? Do you take more naps

when it is colder out? Our bodies are wired to respond to the environment

this way due to how our internal clocks interact with our exterior world. If

you do not have much control over your environment’s temperature then

take care to wear light and comfortable clothing. For those who have hot

flashes it can be helpful to keep a water mist bottle next to the bed to keep

your body moist so it can release some heat. Body lotion can also have a

cooling effect for the same reason.


5) Count your breath to 200 and try to stay awake. This meditative technique

is best utilized when you can make the room you are sleeping in as dark as

possible (see #3 above). Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

Breathe in and breathe out – and count that as one breath. Count your

breath to 200 (or any other number that you see as attainable – but not too

easy or hard). If you lose count, don’t worry and pick up from the last

number your remember – or start over.


The most important part of this method is that you genuinely try to stay

awake while doing this. Part of the reason some of us stay awake at night is

because of the worry that we are not asleep yet. This method addresses

those negative cycle of worrying.


In addition, even if you did this exercise all night and did not get to sleep you

could still reap some sleep benefits. According to a study published by

Behavioral and Brain Functions, researchers findings suggest that

mindfulness meditation can have similar affects to sleep.


6) Listen to a guided meditation. When we shift the focus onto something else

it can help us forget about our day’s worries and to-do’s. Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be particularly helpful in relaxing both the body and the mind. This meditation consists of doing a mental scan from head to toe and locating the tension in your body. You then systematically tighten those muscles and release them. This relaxes the muscles in addition to helping your mind focus on the present moment (where there are no worries about the past or the future). This is a great way to fall asleep.


7) Get enough exercise during the day. Sometimes it is hard to sleep when we

haven’t had enough movement during the day. Our muscles need to be

exercised and they may express that need at night when we are trying to

sleep, when it is least appreciated. This can cause restlessness leading to bad

sleep.


8) Listen to a book. Listening to a book will shift your focus to something else

(similar to #6) and can also get you out of your own head. Find a book that is

calming – perhaps choose one with a narrator who has a calming voice. This

is a simple remedy and does not require much mental or physical effort on

your part.


9) Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol may be a depressant and allow you to fall

asleep but it will not keep you asleep. In addition, the sleep quality that you

get will be subpar. During a good night’s sleep our brains enter what is called

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which revitalizes the body. When alcohol is

consumed REM sleep is blocked, thus blocking the ability to rejuvenate and

feel alert and refreshed upon awakening the next morning. In addition,

getting up to pee in the middle of the night does not promote good sleep

either. (5) If you depend on alcohol for sleep you may be chemically dependent.

If this is the case please consider seeking medical help to address this

problem.


10) Social sleep cues. When we are surrounded by others with bad sleep habits

we can adapt them – and it can be hard to break the cycle. If possible, setting

boundaries with others is a good first step to re-establishing your sleep/wake

cycles. Tell your friends or roommates your plans and stick to them. They will

not take you seriously if you do not follow through -so follow through.



11) Hold yourself accountable. This can be particularly hard when part of your

nighttime unwinding process includes reaching out to friends or playing

games on your phone. Decide a bedtime and stick to it. Set yourself up for

success by asking a friend to hold you accountable. Once again, follow

through. If you do not respect your own authority then you are telling

yourself you are unimportant – and that is way uncool. Be cool to yourself.


12) Avoid caffeine and nicotine intake before bed. This one may be obvious but

watch out for seemingly harmless beverages such as soda and tea. Both of

these contain caffeine yet not all people associate them with bad sleep.

Nicotine is also a stimulant and may negatively affect sleep.


*A special note to those people who do not have a choice in the matter of sleep hygiene, particularly new parents and those with nightshift hours. Please seek the help and support of friends and family to help you attain the best possible sleep solutions for your situations: For nightshift workers blocking out light during the day to attain optimal sleep may be your best bet. Social sleep cues, particularly on your days off will make it harder for you to keep a regular schedule. Shorter naps during those days off may be vital to keeping yourself well in your body and mind.


For new parents it can be very difficult, especially in the first few months, to get adequate sleep. This can develop into post-partum depression and/or anxiety. Napping can be a vital part of good sleep hygiene. Please reach out for help from your friends, family, or a professional if you become overwhelmed with symptoms of sleep deprivation. Your physical and mental wellbeing may depend on it.


As a mental health therapist I often see the negative effects of bad sleep hygiene. I believe that both physical and mental wellness can depend on adequate sleep. Preventing unnecessary stress due to lack of sleep may be of the utmost importance to your mental wellness. Making sleep a priority can be difficult for many reasons. That being said, your short-term and long- term health may depend on adequate sleep. Think of it as an investment – you could be saving yourself on medical bills in the future.



1 https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-causes-insomnia

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919439

3 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zeitgeber

4 https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

5 https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/how-alcohol-affects-sleep