It’s no secret that sleep is important, from enhancing your mood to improving your overall health. And yet, it seems like so many of us are struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
With the stress of work and family life, the distractions of technology and social media, and the occasional (or more frequent) bout of insomnia, falling asleep can often feel like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this guide, I’m going to share with you the strategies I’ve discovered for getting great sleep without relying on drugs (or even supplements)
Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep
Sleep is an integral part of your health. Not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep can cause a number of problems.
There are many potential causes for not being able to get a good night’s rest, including natural sleep cycles, individual lifestyle factors, and medical conditions.
Here are the most common reasons why you may not be sleeping well:
If you’re having nightmares, they may be keeping you up at night, or waking you up often. Nightmares are more common in children, but adults can have them, too.
The key is to figure out what’s causing them — if it’s due to a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor about changing the medication. If they’re due to stress or trauma, counseling may help.
Sleep in an uncomfortable environment
Sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress or pillow can disrupt your rest at night, especially if you have a medical condition like back pain or arthritis that can make it even more difficult to get comfortable at night.
Being exposed to light and noise at night
Light from electronics such as cell phones, laptops, and TVs suppress melatonin levels and may prevent you from falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.
Noise that interrupts your sleep cycle may also interrupt your sleep cycle by waking you up throughout the night.
Anxiety is another common condition that interferes with sleep. Fearing the consequences of not being well-rested can cause you to stay awake worrying about how tired you’ll be in the morning or how you’ll cope the next day without enough sleep.
The best way to overcome this problem is to practice relaxing techniques like yoga or meditation before bedtime.
Taking alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine are two substances that can interrupt your sleep cycle. Alcohol inhibits certain pathways in your brain that regulate sleep and causes changes in body temperature that disrupt your normal sleeping pattern.
On the other side of the spectrum, caffeine blocks receptors in your brain that promote sleepiness so it’s best to avoid drinking coffee or consuming other caffeinated beverages four to six hours before going to bed.
Eat too much before bedtime
If you go to bed with a full stomach, it could keep you up as your body works overtime digesting the food. Consider eating dinner earlier and have only light snacks in the evening if needed.
How to Get to Sleep When You Can’t
We’ve put together some of the best tips from doctors and other experts on how to get back on track when you’re having trouble sleeping through the night.
Don’t go to bed until you’re tired
You may be tempted to go to bed early, but if you’re not tired, don’t do it. Staying up a little later can help ensure that you’re more tired when you finally call it quits for the day. You can only sleep for so long, so if you go to bed too early, you’ll waste time in bed that could be spent sleeping.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important not to stress over it. The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep is often the hardest part of insomnia; when we worry about something, our minds can get stuck on it. To combat this problem, try meditating before bed or doing breathing exercises while lying down.
Turn off all lights and sounds
Darkness has been shown to help people fall asleep more quickly than dim lighting. And it goes without saying that TVs should be turned off as well — preferably before bedtime. The blue light from screens can make it harder to fall asleep (although there are apps that can make your screen less bright at night).
Adjust the temperature
You’ve probably heard that keeping your room cool can help you get a good night’s sleep. And while it’s true that the ideal temperature is between 15 and 20 degrees Celcius, you may be surprised to learn that it’s actually not critical to have your room at this exact temperature.
Switch up your sleeping position
If you’re tossing and turning all night, it might be because of your sleeping position. If you’re lying on your back, try rolling onto your side — this position decreases snoring and sleeps apnea by opening up airways.
If you’re getting an achy shoulder or neck from side sleeping, consider switching to back sleeping (but keep in mind that if you have sleep apnea, this might not be the best option for you).
Do calming yoga
The word “yoga” might bring to mind pictures of twisting yourself into a pretzel, but even if you’re not ready for that kind of commitment, there are plenty of gentle poses that can help you relax.
Relax your muscles
If you’re having trouble falling asleep because you’re tense or anxious, try doing something that releases the tension in your body — such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) or tensing and relaxing individual muscles one at a time.
Although keeping a regular sleep schedule is probably your best bet for getting to sleep when you can’t, many other methods are also effective. If your sleep deprivation is chronic, you must tackle the underlying cause.
While the above methods will help in the interim, the best way to get to sleep is by addressing and correcting whatever conditions are interfering with your circadian rhythm.