It happens to all of us. You’re lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, hoping for sleep to come. Maybe you’ve been in bed for a while. Maybe it’s even been a couple of hours. Maybe you grab your phone to pass the time. And time does pass. But you? You’re still wide awake.
We all have those nights. No matter how much we need to fall asleep, sometimes it feels like our minds just don’t want to. The longer we stay up, the more frustrating it is that we can’t fall asleep, and the more anxious it makes us.
Create a better sleep routine so you can break the tired-anxious cycle, fall asleep faster, and wake up easier. Here’s how:
1. Don’t snooze
We all love a snooze button—there’s something so satisfying about gifting yourself extra time to doze. But those extra three or seven or however many minutes you’re getting are poorer quality and make you more tired. Try keeping your alarm across the room from your bed so you’re forced to get up to turn it off.
2. No screens
Speaking of alarms, if you use your phone’s alarm, even more reason to keep it plugged in on the other side of the room. Even with the new technology of built-in dimming and warmer light, our screens are damaging our sleep and it’s hard to ignore the ever-present lure of information and entertainment. Turn off the screens one hour prior to sleep. Bright lights from screens cause more cortisol to be released and inhibit melatonin, which is the hormone that promotes sleep. If you’re craving entertainment to help you nod off, try listening to a podcast or reading a book (not on your screen, obviously.)
3. Beds are not for work
Your bed should just be a bed. No doing work in your bed or hanging out in bed at irregular hours; the bed is just for sleeping. This can be tough in tight-living quarters, but finding a way to make this work will help you sleep by creating a strong association between your bed and shuteye—not just another piece of comfy furniture.
4. Make a better bedroom
Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool for sleeping hours. Maybe this requires a blackout curtain, an eye-mask, ear plugs, or a fan. Do what you need to do optimize your sleep.
5. Easy on the caffeine, alcohol, and extra stressors
Both caffeine and alcohol can wreak havoc on your sleep. Limit your drinking of both. For a treat before bed, try drinking tea or even adding a splash of vanilla to warm milk.
When there are other avoidable stressors that cause you extra anxiety, like the news about COVID-19 or comparing yourself to others on social media platforms, try limiting your intake to see how it affects your sleeping. Sometimes decreasing our stress and anxiety during the day can help us fall asleep at night. If you find your mind preoccupied by these stressors in bed, try a meditation focused on lulling you to sleep. The Falling Asleep meditation in the Tools section of your Sanvello app is a great place to start.
6. Make a bedtime schedule
It’s important to have a regular schedule of when you wake up and when you go to sleep. This helps your body learn when you’re meant to be sleeping. If you want to go to bed at 10 p.m., set a reminder for yourself to begin a bedtime routine at 9 p.m. That’s when you should go through your wind-down routine so your body is ready for sleep when you finally get into bed.
7. Create a wind-down routine
In order to have a bedtime routine, you need to create one. This should be a screens-off transition to rest. It can include stretching, tea, a warm bath, deep breathing exercises, journaling… whatever helps to relax your mind and your body.
If you’ve tried everything on the list, and you’re still struggling to fall asleep, there are two exercises you can in bed to set your mind at ease. One of those methods is Progressive Muscle Relaxation: this technique has you squeeze tightly your muscle groups, and then completely relax them. Start with the feet, then the calves, the thighs, and so on all the way to the face. Your muscles should feel heavier and more relaxed, helping you drift off.
If nothing seems to help, talk to your doctor about getting a medical evaluation because some chronic conditions and illnesses can cause insomnia. Sometimes a little support can make all the difference.
There will always be things that disrupt out sleep, from late nights at work and in the library, to good parties and young kids. The more can stick to our own healthy sleep routine, the more those disruptions will just be blips in a lifetime of quality Zzzs.
By Monika Roots
Chief Medical Officer, Sanvello
Dr. Roots practiced as a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. She was also a Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was most recently the Vice President of Health Services and Behavioral Health for Teladoc Health. In 2016, Teladoc Health acquired her business, CogCubed, a behavioral health analytics company. Dr. Roots earned her MD from University of Sint Eustatius School of Medicine and completed psychiatry residency and fellowship in child/adolescent psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.