Can’t sleep? Focus on these 5 things
Whether you lie in bed staring at the ceiling at night or wake up at 3 am and can’t seem to get back to bed, sleep problems are nothing to laugh about.
We’ve all heard the saying “try counting sheep,” but when you are five hours away from your work day or a screaming child, there’s little comfort in knowing you could count to 100 and still be up.
So what’s keeping you awake?
“Generally speaking, if you are having trouble getting to sleep, you should look at your daytime habits and bedtime routines,” says Matt Balog, a pediatric clinical sleep educator at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Balog says he generally focuses on five things when patients come in complaining of having problems. They include:
- Caffeine consumption. Drinking coffee or consuming any stimulant in the afternoon can delay your sleep. An easy rule to follow is do not have stimulants past noon, says Balog.
- Pre-bedtime environment. “Many of us are bombarded with bright light until we get into bed, whether on computers, cellphones, TV, overhead lights even,” he explains. “Light and the absence thereof is a major cue for our circadian rhythm. We can help our body decelerate and get ready for bed by decreasing the amount of blue spectrum light we’re exposed to at night.”
- Pre-bedtime relaxation. It’s important to make time to relax and reflect before getting into bed. Many insomniacs complain of not being able to turn off their mind, but like your body, your mind needs time to wind down, too. Particularly anxious? Try writing down a list of things you want to do the next day or talking about topics that are concerning. It’s important to get into bed with a clear mind for the best sleep.
- Sleeping environment. Does your bedroom put you at ease? Are your pajamas comfortable? “Your bedroom should be a place where not a whole lot other than sleep and sex occurs. The more time you spend in your bed doing non-sleep activities, the more you associate the bed with not sleeping,” says Balog. So make sure you are comfortable and adjust the temperature if necessary. “For optimal sleeping conditions, the bedrooms should be slightly cool.”
- Bedtime routine. You should have a consistent nighttime “ritual” that you go through each night. This can include personal hygiene or other activities like a light snack or a short massage. The key is to keep it consistent and calming.
But what if your problem isn’t falling asleep, it’s staying asleep?
Balog says in these situations, there are two main culprits.
- Bedtime associations. “At the end of every sleep cycle, we wake up, briefly,” he says. “These brief awakenings occur about every two hours, but most of the time, we don’t notice or remember them because we fall right back to sleep. But for some, falling back to sleep is harder.” If this is you, Balog says you need to ask yourself, ‘what did I do initially to fall asleep?’ In other words, consider some of the items from the first list. In some cases, you may need to go through the same bedtime ritual in the middle of the night, whether it’s meditating for a short period, having a snack, reading a book. The idea is that something in your environment is different from when you first went to sleep, and that’s why you are having trouble falling back to sleep. Particularly when you’ve developed a consistent nighttime routine, the associations you create can be powerful.
- Underlying sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are common, and it is likely at some point in your life, you’ve encountered at least one. Many have heard of snoring and the connection with sleep apnea, but did you know mouth breathing, dry mouth, using the bathroom and even twitching can be a sign you have some sort of organic cause to your awakenings? If you experience these symptoms consistently, you should consult a physician.
About the Author
Jacqueline Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.