Alarm clock in the middle of the night insomnia or dreaming

Trouble sleeping? Try these tips for getting a good night’s rest

Many adults turn to sleep aids, including alcohol, to help them rest, without realizing that their hectic lifestyles may be contributing to their sleeplessness.

Since the pandemic, I’ve heard from many adults: their sleep is awful. They have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting enough sleep. The net effect: They’re tired all the time. The demands of modern life, with work and kids, can make for a crazy busy schedule. Throw in a sick kid, a toddler who wakes up at 2 a.m., or work stress, and you have the perfect storm for disrupted sleep. And once your sleep is disrupted for a few days, it can stay disrupted. Hello, chronic insomnia.

Many adults turn to sleep aids, including alcohol, to help them rest, without realizing that their hectic lifestyles may be contributing to their sleeplessness. We have trouble settling our minds and bodies down at night. We’re just too hyped up to fall asleep, even though we’re exhausted. We’re overstimulated from too much of everything.

The problem with most of these sleep aids: They’re habit-forming. We can quickly become dependent on them to fall asleep. And after a while, they stop working. Alcohol might be the worst. It’s dehydrating and you wake up after falling asleep with a dry mouth. It doesn’t make you feel good in the morning either.

It doesn’t seem right that a good night’s sleep should be such a challenge! High-quality sleep should be a right, not a privilege. As our waistlines have expanded in the United States, many adults and children struggle with sleep disorders that interrupt our sleep, including sleep apnea which can be a serious medical condition.

So how can we get a better night’s sleep?

Be disciplined about your sleep habits. Go to bed at the same time, get out of bed at the same time, turn off screens at least an hour before bed, and make sure your bedroom is cool, comfortable and dark. Get exercise during the day; it helps you relax and be sleepy at night. Limit caffeine. Don’t use alcohol to fall asleep! And don’t take long naps in the daytime to make up for lost sleep.

Don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. If you toss and turn for hours in bed, you will associate being in bed with being awake — we’re easily conditioned. This can become a cause for wakefulness. It helps if your bedroom is just used for sleep, not for watching television, eating, or work. If you can’t fall asleep, get out of your bedroom, read something unstimulating (avoid mystery novels), and get back into bed when you feel really tired.

Use relaxation skills to fall asleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night or have trouble falling asleep, I use conditioning to fall back asleep. Remember counting sheep? Instead, I count my breaths. Breathing normally, when I exhale, I count my out breaths up to 10 and then start over. When I notice that I’m thinking, I go back to counting. This is a form of meditation that will cause you to get sleepy when you’re lying down with your eyes closed. If I’m overstimulated, it may take me 20 minutes to fall asleep. However, I practice this method whenever I want to fall asleep, so I have associated this practice with sleep. It works like a charm.

Talk to your doctor. If you have a sleep problem, talk to your doctor. Your provider can refer you to a sleep specialist who can help you find the right resource for getting a better night’s sleep. Health care professionals have a deep understanding of how to get a good night’s sleep. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. For more information, visit www.everettclinic.com.

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