A good night’s sleep is one of the best feelings. And not being able to sleep even when you’re tired… well, that’s one of the worst. It’s not great for your mind or body either: sleep is important for your memory, creativity, immune system, and more. So what keeps us from getting the sleep we need, and what can we do about it?
Why can’t I sleep?
Lots of things can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. If this is a new problem for you, it may be that you’re stressed out about something that’s just happened or is about to happen. This can happen even if you don’t consciously know what it is you’re worried about—writing in a journal or talking it through with someone else can help you figure things out.
If it’s been going on for a while, you could be experiencing a sleep disorder. Sometimes sleep disorders happen on their own; other times, they’re a side-effect of another mental illness. Sleep disorders don’t usually go away on their own, so if you think you might have one, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor about it. Getting treatment for a sleep disorder or a mental illness can do wonders for your sleep!
Whether you have a sleep disorder or not, there’s a lot you can do on your own to improve your sleep, too.
When you think of “hygiene”, you probably think of showering, brushing your teeth… Habits that keep you feeling clean and presentable. Your sleep has a lot to do with your habits, too. Sleep hygiene refers to your sleep-related habits: things that either help or harm your sleep. Here are a few sleep hygiene tips to help you get started improving your sleep:
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, or heavy meals for a few hours before bed.
- Keep the lights dim, and electronics to a minimum. Bright lights tell your body it’s daytime. Electronics have a bluish tint that makes it even worse. If you can’t avoid using electronics, try installing blue-light filters on them.
- Get some physical activity. Don’t get too hung up on exercising at the “right” time of day. What time you do it is less important than just doing it.  Do whatever feels best for you.
- Use earplugs or white noise to reduce distractions. You can turn on a fan (point it away from you if you’re cold) or listen to recordings of rain or waves.
- Do something relaxing: go for a walk, take a shower or bath, or play soft music (on a speaker, or on an instrument if you have one!). Or read a book—an actual physical book, or on an e-reader, not on your phone!
- Only use your bed for sleep (and sex). Reading a book before bed can be relaxing, but find somewhere else to do it. That way, your brain learns: being in bed = time to sleep. If you’ve been lying awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, then try again.
The National Sleep Foundation has lots more sleep hygiene tips. Establishing healthy habits can be tough. Pick one or two easy ones to start out with, and go from there.
- Buman et al. (2014). Does nighttime exercise really disturb sleep? Results from the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. Sleep Medicine 15(7), pp. 755-761. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.01.008