Earlier in my life, I didn’t have difficulties with falling asleep. However, with age, I’ve noticed that it’s harder to go straight to bed when you still, for instance, have so much on your mind. After I got married, together with my husband, we noticed that there are things we do each and every day, […]
The Guardian is planning a new video project about sleep.
According to a study by health insurers, two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep, and around 16 million say they have insomnia.
We’re hoping to understand more about how people are affected by sleep problems and would like readers to tell us how they navigate sleepless nights.
How to take part:
We want to include first-person video testimony from our readers. If you’re interested in getting involved, or would like to find out more about the project, please fill in your details below – and let us know a little bit about how sleep disruption affects you. We’ll contact you with instructions about how to submit your video contribution.
*author article has sign up page!
You long for sleep. You may even feel tired before going to bed. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, it happens again. You’re wide awake. You can’t stop thinking. It’s the worst.
I regularly speak to groups about the necessity of sleep for the prevention of burnout, management of stress, improvement of mood, and a host of other benefits. Almost every time I do, someone comes up to me and says:
“I know I need more sleep. But what do I do if I can’t fall asleep? I get into bed early enough to get eight hours, but then I just lie there with my mind racing.”
I also frequently hear this from coaching clients and patients. When I do, I start asking questions. And usually find the answer.
Here are the questions, for you to ask yourself:
1. Do you take your phone to bed?
First of all, the light from the phone is stimulating to the brain and can suppress melatonin release (melatonin helps you sleep). The best solution is to not look at your phone after 9 p.m. (or an hour or two before bed), but lots of people aren’t ready to give up that habit. If that’s you, use a blue light-blocking mode, like “Night Shift” on iPhones, and turn your screen brightness down as far as it can go.
2. What are you reading, or doing in bed, before you go to sleep?
This is my second point about the phone. I once heard a sleep expert at Harvard say that texting at bedtime is a bad idea. The thought processes that you use are too stimulating to your brain. Obviously, checking work emails (or any email) at bedtime is a really bad idea, especially if you come across something stressful. You may not even want to read the news, in case there’s a headline that stimulates thoughts or concerns.
If you like to read to wind down, choose a book (the printed kind). Ideally, that book should not be too thought-provoking or stimulating. It shouldn’t be disturbing. It also probably shouldn’t be so incredibly captivating that you can’t put it down…
3. What do you do with your evenings?
If you have trouble winding down to sleep, take care not to wind yourself up over the course of the evening. Good rules of thumb:
- Avoid challenging conversations with your spouse in the evenings if possible. Definitely avoid starting a difficult conversation close to bedtime.
- If you must work in the evening (i.e., answering emails), try to do so earlier versus later, so you have time to wind down your mind before bed.
- Working out in the evening makes it harder to wind down and fall asleep. Do it earlier in the day.
- If you go out on a work night, plan to get home at a reasonable hour so that you have time to wind down and still get into bed on time.
Notice what “winds you up” in the evenings. Either avoid it, or schedule it much earlier.
4. What lighting do you use at night?
This is another key to winding down. People used to sleep an average of nine hours a night before the advent of widespread electricity. The lights we have on at night in our homes are stimulating and can also suppress melatonin secretion.
Feel the difference between two late evening scenarios:
A) All the lights are on. The TV is blaring. You’re sitting at a table catching up on emails, while simultaneously conducting a logistical discussion with your spouse. You feel stressed and don’t even want to go to bed. You’ll need at least an hour of Netflix to wind down from this (not a good idea, because of the screen involved, and also if it’s a really well-written show, it will be hard to turn off in time for bed).
B) All the lights are off, except a warm yellow lamp in the corner of the room. Soft music is playing. You and your spouse are quietly reading. As you read, the inevitable happens. Your eyelids start to droop. Your head bobs as you fall asleep for a split second. Even though it’s earlier than you’d planned, you get up and head over to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed.
5. Is there something specific you’re worried about?
Perhaps there’s a stressful situation you can’t stop worrying about that’s keeping you awake. In this case, I’d recommend a variety of approaches:
- If it’s serious, get professional counseling support to help you problem-solve the situation and/or your response to it.
- Journal before going to bed to get your worries out of your head and onto the page.
- Learn a relaxation practice, such as a simple relaxation breathing meditation, to quiet your mind and body before bed. If I can’t fall asleep, I focus on a three-line scripture about peace as I breathe slowly in and out; it almost always works. One of my coaching clients, a former figure skater, skates in her mind until she falls asleep.
6. How are you using your bed?
Leverage the strategy of “stimulus control.” If you do lots of different things in bed (e.g., watch movies, answer emails, take phone calls, etc.), your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, it’s best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed, and go do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy, and then head back to bed.
7. How much caffeine are you drinking?
The sleep expert I mentioned earlier also said that if you struggle with insomnia, you should eliminate caffeine (and any other stimulants) completely and see if that helps. If that feels impossible, start by eliminating caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Sources of caffeine include coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate, and some supplements.
Note: Some people who can’t sleep have a bigger issue, such as Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesn’t respond to simple interventions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.
Copyright 2019 Dr. Susan Biali Haas
The best recipe for a good night’s sleep? A delicious meal (say, this cacio e pepe pasta) served alongside a glass of pinot or two. You know, nothing crazy, but just enough booze to make us feel pleasantly drowsy. And we’re not the only ones. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20 percent of Americans use alcohol to help them fall asleep. But is our nighttime vino habit helping or hurting our sleep?
So, here’s the thing—while alcohol might make it easier to fall asleep, it can actually mess with your sleep cycle, thereby decreasing the quality of your snooze. Here’s how: Alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is the stage of sleep where you dream and it’s thought to be the most restorative phase. Mess with this part of the cycle, and you’ll likely feel groggy and unfocused the next day.
Another way too much booze messes with your shut-eye? It could cause you to wake up in the middle of the night—either due to those extra bathroom trips or by affecting chemicals in your body. Per the Sleep Foundation, “after drinking, production of adenosine (a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain) is increased, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. But it subsides as quickly as it came, making you more likely to wake up before you’re truly rested.”
It’s not all bad news, though. One or two drinks appears to have minimal effects on sleep, according to research (especially if it’s with dinner, which gives your body enough time to metabolize it well before you turn in for the night). Just don’t polish the entire bottle off by yourself, OK?
Poor sleep can have negative effects on your physical, emotional, and mental health. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re susceptible to weight gain, reduced brain function, and increased disease risk. On the other hand, getting enough sleep can boost cognitive function, help you feel more alert, and give you more energy throughout the day. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, here are five tips to promote better sleep.
1. Limit blue light exposure
While exposure to light during the day can have positive effects on your health, nighttime light exposure can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, reducing melatonin production and delaying sleep. When exposed to blue light—the light that’s emitted from your smartphone and computer—your sleep can dramatically be affected. Either stop using screens at least two hours before bed or install a blue light blocker on your phone that can shield you from this type of light.
2. Regulate caffeine and alcohol intake
When consumed late in the day, caffeine can stimulate your nervous system and prevent you from naturally relaxing at night. Since caffeine can stay in your blood for six to eight hours, it’s probably not a good idea to sip on some coffee after mid-afternoon. If you’re really craving a cup of coffee, go for a decaffeinated option. Similar to caffeine, alcohol can increase symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring and disrupt sleep patterns. Because of this, try to avoid consuming alcohol before bed.
3. Get enough exercise during the day
Finding 20–30 minutes every day to work out has the potential to help you fall asleep faster. Working out helps the body produce endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and improve the ability to sleep at night. Even if you have a jam-packed schedule, go for a short walk after work or try out a yoga class with a friend.
4. Remove distractions from the bedroom
To create the most optimal sleep environment, address factors such as noise, temperature, and other external stimuli. External noise, like traffic or yelling, can cause poor sleep. Buy a white noise machine to cancel out these disruptive sounds. In addition to external noise, you’ll also want to regulate any indoor noise pollution. Repair appliances that create rattling sounds, opt for a sunrise clock instead of an alarm clock, and buy a sound-absorbing rug for your room. Regarding temperature, try to keep your room at 60–67 degrees—this is the optimal temperature for a good night’s sleep.
5. Follow a consistent sleep routine
Whether you like to curl up with a good book before dozing off or would rather take a warm bath and practice meditation, keep your bedtime routine consistent. Relaxation techniques before bed have shown to improve sleep quality and treat insomnia. Try a few different methods over the course of a week and find a routine that works best for you.
People with breathing difficulties, chronic pain, urinary and gastrointestinal problems, and high blood pressure, have higher levels of sleeplessness, than those without these conditions.2
Therefore, it is a good idea to consult the appropriate health professionals to address potential causes and complications of your sleeplessness, especially if you have chronic insomnia.
Today’s article, however, is about things you can do yourself to help improve your sleep.
I begin with perhaps the most obvious one, good sleep habits.
Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors and habits that promote good sleep. These can include:
- Exercising regularly (not close to sleep time).
- Following a healthy diet and not consuming large meals in the evening.
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
- Establishing a soothing routine prior to sleep (e.g., reading a spiritualbook).
- Keeping the environment conducive to sleep (e.g, keeping the lights low).
Stimulus control includes techniques intended to re-associate bed with sleep:
- Going to bed only when sleepy.
- Leaving the bedroom if unable to fall sleep in 20-30 minutes.
- Not napping during the day.
- Waking up the same time each day no matter what.
- Not studying, working, watching TV, or using the computer, while in bed.
Relaxation helps reduce physiological arousal. Try these shortly before going to bed:
- Stretching or yoga.
- Visualization (e.g, visualize sleeping peacefully and waking up refreshed).
- Meditation (do so only if you already have some experience with meditation).
- Breathing exercises (e.g., abdominal breathing).
- Progressive muscle relaxation.
If these methods do not give you all the help you need, you may also consider these three practices: Challenging your thoughts, paradoxical intention, and sleep restriction.
Sleep restriction is a practice that may help you sleep better, by initially limiting the time you spend in bed. To practice sleep restriction, you need to limit the hours in bed to the hours you have actually spent sleeping (though it is recommended to not go below five hours).
For example, if you slept only six hours last night (even if you were in bed for, say, ten hours), then remain in bed for only six hours tonight.
As your sleep improves and you spend more time actually sleeping, then you can increase your hours in bed.
Challenging your thoughts
Certain beliefs can worsen insomnia. For instance, some people assume that the consequences of not getting enough sleep is much more severe than it really is. Such beliefs result in unnecessary anxiety, making it even more difficult to fall asleep.
Not all anxious thoughts are sleep related. They may also be related to health issues, finances, relationship difficulties, etc. One thing that can help is keeping a journal and writing down the anxiety-provoking thoughts and concerns that arise during the night or right before sleep.
After a good night’s rest, it will be easier to return to these thoughts and concerns, to rationally assess them, or if need be, to do something about them (e.g., make a medical appointment, call the bank, etc).
This is one of my favorite mental techniques because it is so simple and yet can be quite effective.
The way it works is that instead of anxiously trying to force yourself to sleep (“I can get at least six hours…five hours…if I sleep now I can get at least four hours”), you try to stay awake as long as you can.
In other words, paradoxical intention does not oppose the anxious intention (of trying to force yourself to sleep), but guides it in the opposite direction (toward forcing yourself to stay awake)
If you are not convinced that this helps, recall the times that your favorite program was on, or when you had a lot of work to do, but sleep overpowered you. You were forcing yourself to stay awake, but eventually allowed sleep to happen.
So next time you can not sleep—and neither can stop trying to force yourself to sleep—simply intend to stay awake. But mean it. You can not fake it or the body will know. Then, if or when you really sense sleep coming over, you can allow yourself to fall asleep.
I hope you found at least some of these suggestions and reminders helpful.
As I once told a friend, good sleep is like a famous writer, a well-known dream weaver, one also happens to be reclusive and shy. Be ready to receive this wonderful guest, but at the same time, keep busy with your own work in the meantime.
Who knows, maybe you’ll get a visit tonight.
Most of us wish we could get more done in a day. Sometimes we sacrifice sleep to cram more during our waking hours, except we often do so at our peril.
We know sleep is essential and sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our bodies, making it harder to concentrate, control our impulses or retain information.
Better sleep translates to better productivity and a healthier well-being. Not only does lack of sleep cost us our health, it’s costing the United States about $411 billion in lost productivity, according to one study.
Sleep impacts every aspect of our life yet it’s often overlooked when it comes to the workplace. A survey of 1,000 Americans across a variety of industries on their sleep and work satisfaction conducted by The Sleep Judge, a company that provides mattress and sleep product reviews, showed nearly four in five employees satisfied with sleep weren’t looking for another job. However, employees dissatisfied with sleep were 50 percent more likely to be looking.
According to the productivity study, researchers found that a person who sleeps on average less than six hours a night has a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours. Performance issues due to lack of enough quality sleep have become such a concern that some companies are trying to mind the nap gap by doing everything from introducing sleep pods in the office where employees can nap, to halting email after a certain time.
Some industries cannot apply these kinds of ideas. Those who work in retail or transportation, for example, usually cannot go sleep in a pod or need to worry about email after hours and yet they’re the ones who suffer from the highest levels of sleep deprivation, according to The Sleep Judge survey.
While companies might not be able to be able to afford to give everyone a raise, the evidence shows helping employees get good sleep can positively impact culture and retention, according to The Sleep Judge survey results.
“We do want to emphasize that ultimately it is the responsibility of the individual to make sure they are getting the sleep they need,” Tyler Burchett, who is working on behalf of the creative team for The Sleep Judge, shared with me via email.
“That said, there are definitely things employers can do to help workers, and not sending texts/emails after hours is a great start. Another common thing that many companies are doing is making later start times. There’s a lot of benefits for starting at 10:00 A.M. rather than 9:00 A.M., from more time to sleep in the morning to avoiding rush hour.”
Employees can also take matters into their own hands. Here are three ways to help yourself be more productive while getting the sleep you need:
1. Figure out your chronotype.
Your sleep chronotype is recognizing when your body most likely wants to sleep and taking advantage of letting it rest when it needs to so you can wake up refreshed. Knowing that detail will help you determine when you’re most productive. If you’re more productive in the early hours, perhaps you can seek out jobs that allow you to go in early so you can wrap up earlier, too.
2. Go to bed at the same time every night.
Even on evenings where you don’t have to work the next morning. Research shows that sleep debt is hard to make up and sleep deprivation not only hurts our productivity, but it’s also harmful to our health.
3. Ask your employer if they’re willing to work with you.
Another common option for employers, according to Burchett, is to transition their workforce to include more remote employees. “When employees don’t have to contend with a morning commute, it can add a lot more time for sleep,” he said. Another idea is to allow employees to start an hour later so they can avoid rush hour traffi
Burchett admitted that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Still, taking the time to consider how sleep affects our minds and bodies, whether it’s us taking charge or employers taking innovative steps to make life better for their workers, is time well-spent.