I have a confession to make: I am not a morning person. On top of that, I have been a graduate student for a very long time (grey hairs are increasing), so I am not so accustomed to the whole Monday to Friday nine to five life. I know, I know, I’ve had it easy. All of that is now changing (I expect zero sympathy from any of you).
More than ever, I am appreciating getting a good night’s sleep. I feel better the next day, revived, and ready to work. On the other hand, it is difficult sometimes for me to organize the day in such a way so that I can get the appropriate number of hours of sleep that I need. I know I am not alone in this struggle so I thought I would share some useful tips I have incorporated to sleep better.
Why sleep is important?
Research indicates that the average adult needs between 4 and 10 hours of sleep per night. Contrary to popular belief, an individual can function effectively with less than 8 hours. Factors that lead to differences in amount of sleep required include the amount of physical activity an individual does or type of lifestyle they have. For example, your job may be physical taxing or you may exercise daily which leads to increased levels of fatigue. Sleep deprivation has been linked to mental health difficulties. In many individuals who suffer depression, trouble sleeping is a key symptom. For most of us, sleep deprivation leads to irritability, loss of productivity, agitation, and overall fatigue. Though it is obvious to all of us that we need a good night’s sleep, it is incredible how often we engage in behaviours that prevent us from achieving this.
What can you do to sleep better?
Here are my top ten tips on how to sleep better. They are in no particular order, and some of these tips may work better than others for you. This list is adapted from Bamber (2011):
Being physically fit and active has many psychological and physical benefits. Engaging in physical exercise during the day helps you sleep better at night.
2. Wind down before bed
Do not work on anything stressful or consuming before you sleep. Slow down and relax your mind. Read a book or listen to music.
3. Do not eat two hours before you sleep
Eating heavy before you sleep leads to your body starting to digest your food which can make it harder to fall asleep. If you need to eat, have a light snack.
4. Avoid working where you sleep
Many individuals have difficulties separating work from leisure. Some even have a work desk in their bedrooms. Psychologically, it is important for us to be able to associate relaxation with our bedroom. That means, do all your work in your office at home whether it is checking emails, reading/writing reports, or even other tasks like paying bills, etc.
5. No Starbucks or Second Cup or Tim Hortons or…
Limit your intake of caffeine starting early in the evening. I’ve made the mistake far too often of having an evening cup of coffee and being wired until 1AM.
6. Dealing with worries
Set up worry time well in advance of your bedtime. Make a “to-do” list that you can attend to in the morning and tell yourself that you will get to it tomorrow.
7. Stick to your sleep routine
Get up at your normal time even if you are tired. This will keep your sleep cycle intact.
8. Paradoxical Intention
Do not “try” to fall asleep if you are having trouble. Soon after you let go of the urge to fall asleep you usually end up sleeping. This is what is known as paradoxical intention. The more we try for something to happen, it is often the case that the opposite occurs. When we surrender and accept things, we are more likely to achieve our desired goal. If you cannot sleep, tell yourself, “it’s okay I am still resting and eventually I will fall asleep.” Before you know it you will be sleeping.
9. Do something else if you cannot sleep
If you cannot fall asleep, get up after 20 minutes and do something relaxing until you feel tired and then return to your bed.
10. Say no to naps
Do not take naps during the late afternoon/evening even if you are extremely tired. This will only serve to disrupt your sleep cycle and perpetuate your sleeping difficulties the next day.
Hopefully, this list provides you with some tools to overcome your sleeping difficulties. Again, this article is written from the perspective that much of your sleep difficulties are related to lifestyle and behavioural considerations. If your difficulties persist, it may be useful to speak to your family doctor and/or consult with a mental health professional that specializes in sleep disorders.