A lot of my clients come to me with complaints of difficulty sleeping, and it’s no surprise given the number of distractions available to take our attention away from that all-important task of shutting our minds down and resting properly every night. Whenever I ask “What’s keeping you up at night?” the answers I hear are always similar: the computer, social media, TV, and in some cases, sleep-altering substances such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Why has it become so hard to engage in precisely the behavior that is easiest for humans during our infancy? Babies love to go to sleep, and do it frequently. Why, oh why, does this become so difficult once we become adults?
For most adults, the optimal number of hours of sleep varies between 7 and 9 hours per night. For those that are able to enjoy a 20-minute to 40-minute nap in the afternoon, the evening hours can be shortened slightly. But don’t think that a nap will reduce your chances of getting a good night’s sleep in the evening: a brief 20-40 minute nap will actually activate your body’s sleep receptors and make you even more likely to relax and fall asleep again at night!
Most of what keeps us awake at night is anxiety; be it conscious or subconscious. Anxiety is calmed by rituals, routines, and organization. Long before going to bed, set yourself up to be free of the usual distractions that keep you from relaxing and freeing your mind at bedtime. Prepare a pot of relaxing herbal tea, play some soothing music, and turn off the TV. Clear away the tasks that you know will keep your mind from resting, such as setting out your clothes for work tomorrow. Take a hot bath or shower, turn your phone on silent, and pick a good book or magazine. Light stretching is a great idea, but strenuous exercise is best done during the day!
Lack of proper hydration is a growing concern that affects our daily well-being and many of us aren’t aware of. Don’t wait until you feel the symptoms of thirst to think about maintaining proper hydration. Try to have a glass of water at least once every hour during waking hours, but don’t try to make up for missed hydration just before bedtime, since a full bladder can keep you from sleeping comfortably and cause you to spend your night in the bathroom instead. Try to pace yourself throughout the day and reduce the amount of water you drink as you get closer to bedtime.
It has been shown that humans get the best quality Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep in a room that is dark and quiet. For this reason, one of the best investments you can make is to purchase a set of light-blocking and noise-blocking curtains or shades or your bedroom window. It is also an excellent idea to remove all electronic devices from the bedroom in order to minimize the influence of electronic waves during sleep.
Self-Hypnosis, Meditation and Online Sleep Aids
If you do decide to keep your phone in the bedroom, you might consider putting it to good use and try one of the many online Self-Hypnosis recordings to assist you in achieving a state of profound relaxation and meditation prior to going to sleep. Another innovative tool that has come out recently and seems to be helping some is the use of Binaural Beat recordings, which utilize sound technology that delivers complementary stimuli to each side of the brain in such a way as to balance the two sides and produce a state of extremely profound relaxation and/or meditation. These recordings can induce states of deep relaxation while also altering the subconscious issues and behavioral patterns that keep you battling insomnia.
Cervical & Support Pillows
Is it best to sleep with or without a pillow? If you are among the lucky few who can sleep comfortably without a pillow under your head, that’s awesome. But if you prefer support for neck and head, consider using an orthopoedic cervical pillow that helps to maintain the C curve in the back of your neck, dramatically reducing the chances of a neck injury caused by sleeping with your neck extended in the wrong position.
Depending on your regular sleeping position, an extra pillow can also enhance your comfort level and maintain your spine aligned optimally while you sleep. If you are a back sleeper, a cervical pillow supporting the C-curve of your neck is optimal, and you might try also adding a pillow under the knees to support your legs. For side sleepers, a pillow slipped between the knees can take pressure off the lower back and hips. Stomach sleepers can benefit from using a support pillow placed under the abdomen to relieve pressure on the lower back and pelvis.
Count Your Blessings
Once you’ve covered all the aforementioned tips and you’re ready to tuck yourself in quietly under the covers, consider the old time-tested technique of counting sheep to help keep your mind off troubles and allow you to go to sleep. But in this new version of counting sheep, every sheep represents something you’re grateful for in your life, a blessing that you wish to appreciate daily. This exercise will not only help you to fall asleep faster, but it will also help you to wake up refreshed, grateful and optimistic in the morning!