7 Real World Tips to Get More Sleep

7 Real World Tips to Get More Sleep

A while back, I decided to take back my night. It had been three years since my divorce, a hellish experience that had completely robbed me of my ability to sleep. 3 hours was an average night. 5 hours was a miracle.

Much like a good yoga workout, time heals all wounds, so eventually my pity party ended—but the sleep thing didn’t correct itself, so while life was okay, it was by no means awesome. My performance suffered athletically, mentally, and (most horrifically) in terms of that other thing people do in bed.

It’s by no means surprising. From an athletic perspective, a study from Stanford University shows that athletes who slept 10 hours a night showed a marked increase in performance. Another study out from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that healthy sleep habits help to “reboot” your brain, making room for new knowledge. As for the sex thing, just take my word for it.

The first step I took in addressing my sleep issue was to take all the tired, old advice you’ve read a thousand times. Some of it actually worked quite well.

  1. I instituted a regular bedtime of 10 PM to give my body’s natural rhythms a cue.
  2. I stopped drinking coffee after noon, giving myself substantially more time than the 6 hours caffeine typically takes to get through your system.
  3. I took natural sleep aids. Melatonin didn’t do squat for me. Some experts theorize this is because supplementing this hormone only works on people who are naturally low on it. Valerian root, however, worked like a charm—despite the stink. Finding the right natural sleep aid might take you a few tries, but don’t give up until you’ve tried all the different (safe) sleep supplements out there. One of them is bound to knock you on your keister.

While these tricks certainly helped, my sleep was still less than perfect. I wanted to try the other tips out there, but they just didn’t make sense to me. For example, “Turn your bedroom into calming place.” The walls of my room are covered in neon rock show posters and garish Hindu tapestries. Awesome? Yes. Calming? Not so much—but I’m not about to take them down. But one day, on a whim, I strung some blue holiday lights across my window. They bathed my sleep space in a soothing, cool light, despite the wall hangings. That’s when it hit me.

Generic advice is just that: generic. That doesn’t mean it’s bad; it just means you shouldn’t be afraid to adapt it for your own needs. It’s a question of trying variations on the theme until something clicks. From there, I started to have some serious fun with my sleep project. Here are a few more tweaks that worked:

 

What they told me to do: “Make your bedroom an electronics-free zone.” The basic notion is that all those magnetic waves and glowing screens mess with your circadian rhythms and distract you from sleeping.

What I did: Like most Americans, not only do my iThings entertain and delight me during the daylight hours, but I use them as an alarm clock, a white noise machine, and a place to jot down things that occur to me in the middle of night—all crucial to a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t willing to give all that up.

However, I was willing to pare down. I use both my iPad and my iPhone for all of the above. However, I also use my iPhone for receiving phone calls and texts. Even if I disable the alerts for these features, it’s just so tempting to check texts manually at 2 AM because, you know, Commissioner Gordon might need me to go fight the Riddler or something. My simple solution was to sequester my iPhone to the kitchen each night and keep the iPad in my bedroom for more relaxing tasks. Bye-bye late night texting. Batman will need to save Gotham without me.

What you can do: Look around your bedroom. What do you really need in there? Even if you don’t believe in the whole magnetic waves thing, there are probably a bunch of buzzing, blinking lights you could do without. Ditch some, hide others in drawers, and put blankets over the rest.

 

What they told me to do: “Work out at night.” Why? Because the post-exercise cool-down process helps make you sleepy.

What I did: If I work out before bed, I’m amped. My brain’s on an adrenaline groove and I’m ready to take over the planet. What I need is something to wind down. Enter yoga. Yoga has a host of benefits, but it helps me around bedtime on two fronts. First, it acts as a mellow series of stretches that relax my muscles for slumber. Second, matching your breath to your movements—ujjayi breathing, they call it—takes focus. That, in turn, takes my mind off the baggage I accumulate every day. When I’ve mentally distanced myself from that pending 10,000-word deadline, it’s easier to hit the sack.

What you can do: Start noting how you feel after your various workouts. What pumps you up? What mellows you out? Maybe even track this in a journal. When you see relaxation patterns, start doing those workouts at night.

 

What they told me to do: “If you’re not asleep in ten minutes, get up.” This one comes from the idea that you’re probably not ready to sleep and lying there will only stress you out.

What I did: I have a Tempur-Pedic mattress and a down comforter. They’re really comfortable, so if insomnia hits me on a cold winter’s night, the last thing I want to do is press my feet on the cold, hardwood floor and go mosey. Instead of changing locations, I changed mind-sets. When I can’t sleep, I resign myself to the fact. I say, “I can’t sleep. Bummer. Oh well, I’ll just lie here and be comfortable.” For some reason, relieving myself of the burden of slumber works like a charm and I typically drift off in ten minutes.

What you can do: Some of us struggle with sleep. It stinks, but sometimes we just need to embrace it. A long-term sleeping issue can cause health issues, but if you have one lousy night of sleep, it’s not that big of a deal. So when you have a bad case of “the awakes,” think of it as an isolated case. Shrug your shoulders and accept that, worst case, you might be a little sleepy tomorrow.

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

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17 Comments

  1. GoPete said:

    The best way I’ve ever found to fall asleep is to recite Bible verses. Out loud seems to work best. A cup of warm tea about 1/2 hour before bed helps, too.

  2. GypsyWitch32 said:

    Stop use of electronics an hour or so before bed. It’s not so much that they are distracting, it’s because they emit a blue light that is stimulating to the brain. Your room should be dark, quiet and cool. Your body temp naturally lowers when it’s time to sleep…too warm and sleep becomes fitful .

  3. Cåtârìnä Bèné said:

    I downloaded the app CALM and it is amazing!!!! I have ALWAYS had trouble falling asleep and NEVER have when I do Calm. there is a free version. the extra subscription is $49.99 a year but if you already have the app you got an email saying sorry for the price jump, enjoy it for $9.99 this year. last year $9.99 a year seemed too much but when it went to $50, $10 seemed like a deal (marketing tactics), so I downloaded it and it is worth every penny and even well worth $50 a year. i can actively meditate now and focus on my breathing and certain things when i need to because i practice so much. before, i could not focus. bonus – this also helps you meditate and focus on targeted muscle groups when you need to and mind control and tuning out the ‘i cant’s’. im always asleep before the calm session ends, and if im not so tired i do the 30 min one and i fall asleep well before that. enjoy your zzzzzzz’s…

  4. Sierra said:

    Sierra- I agree bible verses help a lot. When my husband reads to me I just start dozing! My sleep dramatically improved when I started taking Now’s magnesium citrate every night. Also the amino acid glycine. These supplements have improved my sleep by probably 70%. Best of all they arenatual and healthy.

  5. Jenny78 said:

    Thank you! My husband calls the princess with the pea, lol. I`m going to try valerian root as melatonin has done squat for me as well. I had a sleep study done, as I`ve had sleep issues my whole life and they found I don`t go into REM. An hour and half straight is blissful for me….going to try a few other of your suggestions as well and see if they improve anything.

  6. Ruthie said:

    I have trouble staying awake, not sleeping. I have to get into my usual sleep position as soon as I get into bed, or I will end up waking with a stiff neck, or cranky back from not being well aligned. Wish I could bottle the ability to slip into zzzzzs like flipping a lightswitch to help those with sleep issues! I would love to share!

  7. Twinsfan1 said:

    I will watch an old movie I’ve seen a zillion times. I know everything that’s going to happen, and I can just relax and enjoy. Most of the time I won’t make it through the first half of the movie before I’m dozing off. Yes, it’s that “screen” thing they say to stay away from. But shutting off my brain this way really helps. I’ll also read novels I’ve read a zillion times. Same concept: enjoy without having to engage the brain. Sometimes I’ll drink some chamomile or sleepy-time tea (valerian root, I think) while I’m watching or reading. It’s a great way to tell my brain and body that I’m preparing to SLEEP now, so you can disengage and relax.

    I struggled with sleep for YEARS, so I’ve tried lots of things, and these are what work best for me.

  8. Lisa12 said:

    i work multiple jobs including 3rd shift. i don’t sleep well during the day, i can fall asleep quickly but can’t stay asleep to get quality sleep…any suggestions from night people?

    • Jen A said:

      I have found that a sleeping mask is my cure. Get a good one that allows you to open your eyes with it on. I think mine is called “Blinks”. When I see the daylight… my body struggles with staying asleep. Good Luck!

  9. rawr said:

    solid article and good tips. hoenstly the natural sleep aids are huge. i looked into melatonin and i take my 3mg pill and quarter it, apparently like less than one mg is found to be an effective dose? not sure do your own research and see what works for you. more melatonin isn’t the solution. i try not to eat after 8/9 pm. exercise regularly, and really the routine is a big thing. and worst case scenario, i take my melatonin + natural sleep aid about an hour to two before iwant to sleep and then if i’ve really been having trouble, twenty minutes before i want to sleep (ten before i’m going to lay down) i take the real sleep aids, the diphenhydramine ones (benadryl) and that makes me drowsy enough to knock out. if you are using sleep aids, when you feel tired from them, lay down and go to sleep. if you miss that window i find myself up for a lot longer than i’d are to be.

    also see, insomnia is a sign of depression/stress, so check those things too.

  10. Samantha Braun said:

    Thanks Denis! I have a challenger that’s going through sleep – hell right now and always helps to have someone other than me throwing suggestions out there. Awesome timing!!! Thank you oh hilarious guru <3

  11. Lois said:

    I have found 2 super methods. One, instead of counting sheep, I count my blessings…and talk to the Shepherd, mentally, not out loud. Prayer, thanking God for all my blessing, or asking Hm to bless people I know, one by one, sends me to sleep peacefully. I have also discovered that Lavender Essential oil helps me sleep all. night. long. Some people even put a diffuser with Lavender Oil in it, beside the bed. But I put some lavender oil drops in my hands, rub it on the back of my neck and top of my spine, and my lower spine, if I still have some on my hand I rub it on my temples, and when I get in bed I cup my hands up to my nose and breathe deeeplllllyyyzzzzzzzzzzz.

  12. Trish Buzan said:

    I try to recall every scene from a favorite movie in chronological order. I rarely make it very far before I am asleep. It relaxes me and gets my brain to turn off of work and life stress.

  13. Sabrina B said:

    I usually don’t have problems sleeping, however thee are times where sleep is hard to come by. I normally get into my comfy spot and start breathing deeply so I can hear it, I start counting my breaths. They key is to keep them deep and calm. Eventually my brain gets tired of counting and my breathing starts to silence and it puts me right to bed. Occasionally, I enjoy a hot lavender bath with candle light and soothing music, allows me to calm and relax and then crawl into bed smelling of lavender.

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