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  • Writer's pictureMicah Heath

Why Can’t I Sleep? 10 Tips for Better Sleep.

Sleep comes easy when you’re younger.

When my kids were babies, they seemed to be falling asleep in the oddest places and for a while my wife and I kept a photo album of the interesting places they fell asleep. It’s ironic that children need much more rest than adults do and yet they are always raging against being forced to take a nap or settle down for some quiet time in the afternoon. Relatives of mine called this FOMO (the fear of missing out). To them, it seems unjust to have to back away from all the excitement of life to get the sleep they need for a growing body. Oh, how the tables turn when you become an adult.

Everyone needs sleep.

I remember the tide turning sometime in college when all I wanted to do was sleep.

I no longer have the same “fear of missing out” that I did when I was a kid. If anything, I would love to leave my life behind for a few hours and hopefully wake up a little more rested. Fatigue haunts most Americans, who for the most part don’t get enough sleep.

Our break speed culture values time and productivity and this makes it tempting to burn the candle at both ends.

Adults want sleep.

After a long day, it’s tempting to extend the freedom we feel. After clocking out for the day, finally putting the kids to bed, putting away dinner and the dishes, episode after episode of the latest binge-worthy show streams freely to our screens and offers us one more moment of freedom in 20-50min segments.

When we finally admit that it’s time for bed, getting to sleep can be a challenge.

The activities of a busy life and the mind catching distractions of our devices can keep our anxieties at bay while we still have energy, but when our heads hit the pillow, those anxieties can come roaring back.

Do's and Dont's for the best sleep.

Here are some ways that you can better prepare for sleep and address sleep problems that you might be experiencing:

  1. Get your room dark. Keep nightlights and TVs out of your room and close curtains and blinds on the windows. As the evening gets later, try turning off lights around the house to create lower light. Even if it’s subtle, it’s a way of signaling to your body that it’s time to wind down.

  2. Try going to bed early and establish a bedtime routine. Put on your pajamas, take out your contact lenses, take off your make-up, and brush your teeth. Getting ready for bed can take longer than you think. Starting these activities earlier, will make it easier for you to be in bed and falling asleep at a reasonable hour. If you’re not quite ready to get to bed when you’re done, you’ll be more relaxed. Take advantage of that relaxation time and do something else that might be relaxing and restful.

  3. Stay off your electronics. Our screens emit blue light that our brains can easily misinterpret as daylight. Even with “night modes” on our devices, the content that we consume is often stimulating and can make it hard for our minds to relax. Instead of watching a movie or scrolling social media, try reading a book (you know, the printed kind), even if you don’t typically enjoy reading, this activity can be just the wind down that you need and might help your body remember how tired it is.

  4. Tidy up the areas around your bed. Your room should be a peaceful and distraction free place. If the clutter in your bedroom is a cause of stress for you, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time there and you won’t be able to relax when it’s time for bed.

  5. Talk to your doctor about sleep issues. Many sleep issues have a biological component.

  6. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for hours and depending on the caffeine content of your favorite beverages, you might have caffeine in your system from earlier in the afternoon. Alcohol may have a relaxing affect, but it also has a significant impact on your neuroactivity. Alcohol may help you to the first level of sleep (losing consciousness) but your “sleep” will likely not be restful.

  7. Be consistent about going to bed and waking up at the same time. Staying up late and sleeping in until noon can affect your body’s circadian rhythms and make it difficult to go to bed when it would be best for you to get a good night’s sleep.

  8. Try exercise. Give your body a chance to get nice and tired. Generally, it is a good idea to avoid intense exercise in the hours leading up to your normal bedtime as this can have the opposite effect.

  9. Avoid heavy meals. Snacking too much to too soon before bed can wake you up. Think about it, once you’ve eaten something, your body thinks it’s time to get to work digesting this stuff. If you find yourself hungry before bed, have a light snack. Some foods are helpful in helping your body relax before bed. Try eating a banana or drinking a glass of milk or (non-caffeinated) herbal tea.

  10. If your mind is racing, try writing down things that come to mind on a note pad before going to sleep. Then you won’t have to worry about forgetting something important.

If you find yourself struggling with the inability to “turn off your brain” when trying to go to sleep, counseling may be helpful.

Sleeplessness is commonly connected to issues with anxiety and depression. A goal in sleep therapy, is to better understand the thoughts and feelings and how they are connected to the anxiety and depression preventing sleep. We might be able to ignore our thoughts and feelings throughout the day, but they won’t disappear and may return to affect us in more destructive ways. When anxiety prevents us from getting the amount of quality sleep we need, it can start to affect our physical health as well as our work performance and our intimate relationships with family and friends.

Sleep well.

In sleep therapy we spend time trying to understand the stresses in your life and how your brain is responding to them.

Seeking better sleep is going to affect your life in a lot of positive ways. Try the different tips and see what helps you the best, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for life on a daily basis!

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