For those that struggle with insomnia (or even with milder forms of “I just can’t sleep”), the list of solutions is slim and even dangerous. The most popular treatments are sleeping pills, but the negative impacts of sleeping pills don’t seem to have been widely publicized.
Currently, sleeping pills do not have the ability to naturally imitate sleep. Instead, they more closely resemble a sedative rather than mimicking natural sleep patterns. Put more simply: when people use sleeping pills, they aren’t getting any of the necessary restorative benefits of sleep. And to go one step further: sleeping pills are tied with earlier death across the board.
So where does that leave a bleary-eyed sleeper in the middle of the night, lying awake, tossing and turning?
This is where cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) comes into the picture.* Right now, it’s being used in medical communities around the country as the front-line treatment plan for insomnia. The best part? No pills necessary.
How does CBT-I work? Well, it’s a collection of behavioral principles for better sleep health, and it’s also built on your body’s remarkable ability to form associations. You want to make your bed a place that you (and your body) associates calm, rest, and sleep rather than middle-of-the-night mind racing. Here’s the short list:
1. Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time.
Your circadian rhythm loves consistency. The more you can get your body into a wake/sleep consistent habit (within an hour, even on weekends), the easier it will be to feel tired when it’s bedtime and alert when it’s morning.
2. Go to bed only when sleepy.
Many insomniacs have trouble falling asleep, which becomes a downward spiral of sleepiness. Although the principle of delaying bedtime until sleepy seems counterintuitive at first, the reason behind this one is simple and goes back to association. If your body isn’t tired when you go to bed, you’re missing out on that clear signal that tired equals bedtime. This principle also uses sleep pressure to its advantage, so the longer you stay awake the stronger your urge for tiredness. We need that sleep pressure to build a bit so you’re body is actually tired when you go to bed and sometimes that might take sleeping a little less than recommended to start.
3. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
If you are lying in bed and your mind starts racing, it’s best to get out of bed. Again: you don’t want to associate your bed with stress. Go to a different room (dim lights, no screens) and do something relaxing like read a book, meditate, or listen to music until you find yourself getting sleepy (at which point, return to bed).
4. “Mentally decelerate” before bed.
Give yourself 30-60 minutes to wind down at the end of the day. Take up a bedtime routine and do everything in the same order each day. The best mental deceleration doesn’t involve TV, reading the news, or scrolling through social media (as these are all very brain-stimulating activities). Do try listening to calming music, journaling, reading books, or even just catching up on the day with your partner.
5. Remove visible clock faces from bedroom.
This one might seem a little odd, but the idea behind it is that you want to avoid the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and looking at the clock, which just adds stress to the fact that you can’t sleep.
Next time you find yourself in a period of stress and have a few nights of angsty wakeups, try a few of these principles as an all-natural return to better sleep.
*We are not attempting to diagnose or treat insomnia. If you feel you or a family member is struggling with insomnia, visit your health care provider.
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep, let alone an entire month celebrating it? That's why we're publishing a month's worth of tips to help you sleep better with only minor changes to your daily life. Here's to Better Sleep Month, and to sleeping your best year-round. You deserve it.
Better Sleep Month Tips
Sleep Tip #1:
When sleeping on your back or side, a medium height and slightly firm pillow works best to support your neck and head. On your stomach, a soft, flat pillow is best. Quality pillows are designed to keep your spine aligned while you sleep, which can mean more comfort and more sleep.
Sleep Tip #2:
By mid-afternoon, you feel the crash coming, and you reach for another cup of coffee. Caffeine is a proven stimulant, and that afternoon pick-me-up may be keeping you up longer than you’d like. Limiting your caffeine intake to before 2 pm gives your body time to calm down before bedtime.
Sleep Tip #3:
Falling asleep with the TV on or using your phone while in bed don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong, actually. The blue light from electronics suppresses your body’s natural production of melatonin. By cutting off all electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime, your body naturally knows it's bedtime.
Sleep Tip #4:
Set a bedtime routine. Repeating it every night will put your body on a consistent schedule, making it easier to get up and go to sleep.
Sleep Tip #5:
Outside light can shine into your bedroom, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Too much light makes your body think it’s time to wake up by interfering with your circadian rhythms. Investing in blinds or curtains that are designed to block out those lights puts you in charge of your sleep schedule again.
Sleep Tip #6:
Our body temperatures naturally decrease at night and produce melatonin, telling us it’s time to sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool helps that process happen faster, which can help you fall asleep faster. Recommended temperature is between 60° and 68°F.
Sleep Tip #7:
Working out during the day gives you the boost of energy to make it through the rest of your day. Doing so in the evening helps tire you out, so long as you complete your workout a couple of hours before turning in. By bedtime, your body is ready for rest. Working out a few times a week may even negate the need for an afternoon nap. But, hey, if you want to take a short nap, obviously, we approve.
Sleep Tip #8:
A small snack before bed isn’t a bad thing if you choose the right one. Greasy foods make you sluggish in the morning. Sugary foods, particularly processed ones, raise your blood sugar and energy levels. Foods like cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, olives, barley, strawberries, and milk contain melatonin, which can help you fall asleep.
Sleep Tip #9:
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a place for you to relax and reconnect with your partner. Having distractions in your bedroom (cute as they may be), makes it less peaceful because your focus is not on resting anymore. Cuddling and storytime are great. Working, gaming, jumping on the bed, dog tricks ... not so much. Give yourself the space to retreat, unwind and rest.
Sleep Tip #10:
That middle-of-the- night wakeup call that cannot be ignored, getting you out of your warm bed and then making it hard to fall back asleep. Just like kids are limited on consuming beverages close to bedtime, you should do the same. Uninterrupted sleep is the goal year-round, not just during Better Sleep Month.
Sleep Tip #11:
A hot bath or shower is a good feeling after a long day’s work. The hot water helps relax your muscles and puts your mind in bedtime mode. Doing so about two hours before bed gives your body temperature time to cool down. Adding some aromatherapy can enhance your relaxation.
Sleep Tip #12:
The walls make the room. Bright colors may look nice and energizing, but they don't create the best ambience for sleeping. Your bedroom should be inviting and peaceful. Painting in neutral, calming colors can promote sleep.
Sleep Tip #13:
Sleeping with your socks on may not sound alluring, but it could help you fall asleep faster. Warming your limbs increases dilation of the blood vessels, telling your body it's time for bed. Wearing socks that aren't too thick and are made from natural fabrics works best.
Sleep Tip #14:
Chamomile has many health benefits, but the most common is for sleep. It is a relaxing, non-caffeinated herb. Drinking a small cup of chamomile tea before bed can help ease pain and get your body ready to sleep.
Sleep Tip #15:
That cocktail or glass of wine before bed may help you get to sleep, but it may also be the reason you can't sleep through the night. Alcohol can disrupt your REM cycles. Avoid drinking any alcohol 3-4 hours before bed and drink more water instead. Don't drink any beverages right before bed, though, as noted in Sleep Tip #10 above.
Sleep Tip #16:
Aromatherapy uses the healing powers of scents to balance your mind, body and spirit. Pure essential oils are diffused into the air or rubbed on pressure points to help you relax, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. Some popular scents with calming effects include lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and jasmine.
Sleep Tip #17:
In with peace. Out with drama. Meditation sounds easy enough, right? Thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or worrying about a problem can keep you awake night after night. Being able to completely clear your mind can help you sleep better. Find a quiet place where you can spend time meditating before you go to bed.
Sleep Tip #18:
Smoking has quite a few health risks, and your sleep is one of them. Because nicotine is a stimulant, smoking throughout the day keeps nicotine in your system, making it harder to wind down and stay asleep through the night. The only good news on this subject? From the moment you stop smoking, your body goes into healing mode.
Sleep Tip #19:
Living in a city can be nice and convenient. And loud. Or maybe you have an air conditioner blasting outside your window or a snoring spouse. Noise interferes with sleep. Listening to the sounds of nature can be relaxing and helps to block outside noise without disturbing your sleep. You can also try soft music or white noise.
Sleep Tip #20:
“Five more minutes,” she says as she hits the snooze button. Those five extra minutes can be doing more harm than help. If you fall back asleep, when the alarm goes off in five minutes, you will be groggier than you were before. And if you set it repeatedly, you're robbing yourself of extra sleep for those minutes. Set one alarm and get into the habit of getting up as soon as it goes off.
Sleep Tip #21:
Scary, suspenseful or emotional movies or books should be avoided at bedtime. Leave the thrillers and murder mysteries for earlier in the day or a weekend afternoon. Not to mention, lighted screens are bad for sleep, as noted in Tip #3. Instead, find a book that is a lighter read (or a book you’ve already read), so it's a little easier to put down at bedtime.
Sleep Tip #22:
Naps. Just the word brings joy. But most of us struggle with knowing how long is too long. If the nap is too short, you wake more tired than before. If it's too long, you may be too awake for bedtime. 30 is the magic number. A 30-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and get you through the rest of your day.
Sleep Tip #23:
The arrangement of furniture and objects in your bedroom can affect your quality of sleep as well as your energy when you wake. Following the principles of feng shui can help you relax and also change your perception of your bedroom into one of a peaceful retreat.
Sleep Tip #24:
As you sleep, your body works to regulate your body temperature. All- natural sheets allow better circulation. Organic sheets are also all-natural but made to higher, healthier standards. There are many fakers trying to imply they're organic, so look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) seal. Sheets made with synthetic fabrics tend to trap heat and sweat, which can breed bacteria and lead to sleeping hot.
Sleep Tip #25:
Wearing a sleep tracker to bed can tell you how many times you tossed and turned, plus how long you were awake throughout the night. Tracking your sleep is easy, with many trackers on the market to choose from, and can help you make the necessary changes to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep Tip #26:
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but less invasive. It involves applying pressure on the body or massaging certain points to help with various ailments. Practitioners believe it balances energy and health, helps with circulation, and relieves pain. Using essential oils during acupressure can enhance its effects and the experience, too.
Sleep Tip #27:
It's not fair when your partner is fast asleep and you're wide awake because of his or her snoring. We have a solution that is better than kicking them out of the bedroom. Sleeping at an angle of 7°-8° or higher helps with snoring. Elevate with pillows or an adjustable power base. This position is also good if you have acid reflux.
Sleep Tip #28:
Going to bed with tomorrow’s to-do list and other things that are stressing you out can keep you up at night. Writing things down can help you let them go or remember what needs to get done tomorrow. Keep a journal near your bed so you can write everything off your mind and sleep peacefully.
Sleep Tip #29:
There are many natural remedies that are thought to improve sleep, though more study is needed to conclusively prove cause and effect. Other than chamomile, herbs that may help you get some shuteye include valerian root, lavender, lemon balm, hops, passion flower and St. John's Wort.
Sleep Tip #30:
A messy bedroom is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning. Cleaning your bedroom can be therapeutic. Having a space that is clear of clutter helps you avoid the stress caused by visual overload, helps you to feel like your room is under control and puts your mind at ease.
Sleep Tip #31:
Better Sleep Month has been all about giving you a month's worth of useful tips to help you sleep better. Sometimes, though, poor sleep can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Speaking with your doctor can help diagnose the problem. The sooner you find out what is wrong, the sooner you can be on your way to getting the great sleep you deserve.