A recent New York Times article highlighted the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a non-pharmacological treatment that can vastly improve chronic sleep problems. Many adults do not receive adequate sleep, according to this map from the CDC, though not all have been diagnosed with insomnia.
If you have occasional difficulty falling or staying asleep, a few sleep hygiene tips can help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Think like a bear. If you want to hibernate (at least for the night), make your room dark, cold, quiet, and comfortable, like your own little bear cave. Note: Dark means no light- not from TV, cell phones, or alarm clocks. Even a small amount of light can trigger your brain to be more awake. So, turn off your electronic devices or cover them. Turning a digital alarm clock away from you can cut down on the light, as well as the temptation to engage in clock-watching/feats of mental math to calculate just how many minutes of sleep you can get if you manage to fall asleep right now.
2. Speaking of doing math in bed… don’t! Your bed should be used only for sleep and sex. If you find yourself doing anything else (reading books, watching TV, worrying, tossing and turning), get out of bed and return only when you are ready to fall asleep. You want your bed to be your sacred space.
3. Keep consistent sleep and wake times, within a reasonable window. While you might not want to rise with the sun on the weekends (unless, of course, you’re a morning person), keeping set times to get up and at ‘em every day and to wind down for the night helps your body maintain it’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
4. Set yourself up for sleep, starting during the day. Try to avoid caffeine or long naps late in the afternoon. Make a relaxing evening routine that allows your body to wind down before hitting the sheets.
5. Take care of your body. Managing stress, eating well, and getting regular physical activity are beneficial for physical health and can help promote sleep. (A note on exercise – try not to engage in vigorous physical activity within 2-3 hours before you’ll be going to bed, as your body generally needs some time to cool down.)
Trying out some of these strategies may be what you need for better sleep. If problems persist, you may need to speak with a psychologist or medical professional who can evaluate your concerns and provide specific recommendations for treatment. The American Board of Sleep Medicine maintains a list of certified behavioral sleep medicine specialists. (Please note that this does not indicate my personal endorsement or referral for any of these providers.)