7 unusual strategies to help you sleep at night
Most of us can say with certainty that we have fought our battles when it comes to sleep. Whether it’s trouble falling asleep, waking multiple times in the middle of the night or an inability to fall back to sleep early in the morning, sleep problems are something most have experienced at one time or another.
And while you’ve likely heard different advice from friends, family and experts, it can be hard to know what’s the best method for a good night’s sleep.
“In general, I tell most of my patients to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, even on mornings that you do not have to work,” says local sleep specialist and pulmonologist Dr. David Koh of the Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. In addition he recommends avoiding caffeine within 10 hours of bedtime and not eating within three hours of hitting the hay.
But while you may have heard this advice before, some people’s sleep problems are so severe that they recommend some more unorthodox treatments.
A recent article in TIME looked at seven of the less common sleep strategies worth exploring.
- Sleep restriction. This doctor-supervised therapy involves a person limiting the amount of time they spend in bed not sleeping. It is based on the principle that when going to bed at night, many do not fall asleep right away. Instead of getting a full eight hours of sleep, they may only get about five hours. Sometimes a sleep specialist may suggest getting up instead of spending those extra three hours in bed. “Start a sleep diary to figure out what your sleep patterns are and how many hours of sleep you average in a 24-hour period,” says Dr. Koh. After determining how many hours you sleep at night, only spend that much time in bed. Reducing the amount of time spent in bed may help a person feel more tired the next night, allowing them to get more sleep. “You start building up sleep debt and will feel sleepier while in bed the next night,” Dr. Koh adds.
- Stimulus control. People tend to do things that stimulate the brain at night like watching TV, reading or checking their phones. “It is always a good idea to shut off all electronics at least an hour before going to bed,” says Dr. Koh. Stimulus control trains the brain and body that bed is for sleep, and all other activity can be done outside of the bed.
- Paradoxical intention. This theory is used for people who are very worried about not sleeping. Instead of obsessing about falling asleep, experts recommend focusing on staying awake. Shifting your focus may help get rid of sleep frustration, help you relax and even fall asleep.
- Biofeedback. For this therapy, a person is hooked up to a device by a sleep specialist and is able to watch their own biological signals, such as heart rate, brain waves or breathing patterns. People can then train themselves to slow those measurements down when they are trying to sleep.
- Polyphasic sleep. For this type of sleep pattern, instead of sleeping once at night, people take naps throughout the day or night. These people may go to sleep, wake up and be productive, and then go back to sleep, and so on. This strategy may be difficult to maintain and keep up with, though, and doctors warn that napping is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
- Meditation. “Patients should try to work on doing relaxation exercises in bed if they are not falling asleep,” says Dr. Koh. Relaxing through meditation or breathing can help the body prepare for rest. Mindfulness meditation focuses on breathing, and the mind and has been known to improve health. Sleep doctors believe that it can work for insomnia symptoms, too.
- Thought-challenging. Some people struggle to sleep at night because they convince themselves that if they don’t fall asleep, something horrible will happen to them the next day, such as a car crash. To challenge this, experts recommend patients ask themselves how often these horrible things have happened. By realizing that these possibilities are highly unlikely, these people may be able to let go of the unhealthy thoughts.
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