How to Get to Sleep
& Train Your Body to Relax
First and foremost, what is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene refers to not only the quantity of sleep, but the quality of sleep you typically get. Good sleep hygiene means you are restfully asleep at night, allowing you to be alert and awake during the day. Good sleep hygiene comes from your night time routine, your sleep environment, and your actions throughout the day.
Create a Routine and Stick to It
As a child, you probably had a bedtime routine. Take a bath, read a book, get a kiss from mom and dad, and say goodnight. These things can become what psychology calls “conditioned stimuli” — basically your body recognizes them as triggers to help you get to sleep. Sleep associations are strong and yet we tend to give them up as we become adults. Set aside time before you want to be asleep (anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour) and start your routine. This could mean lighting a candle, brushing your teeth, washing your face, putting on lotion, brushing your hair, stretching, meditating…. and then going to bed. Whatever you decide, make sure you follow it every night and do not go to bed until your routine is finished.
Get to Sleep With Aromatherapy
- Lavender oil to help you sleep isn’t just an old wive’s tale – it has been studied and shown to help promote drowsiness. Chamomile, especially Roman Chamomile, and Sweet Marjoram are also known to help with sleep.
- Essential oils can be purchased online, at farmers’ markets, or in health food stores. You can put a few drops of the oil in a warm bath as part of your nightly routine, put a few drops in a spray bottle mixed with water and spritz your bedroom before sleep, dab some on your neck, chest, or wrists (bonus points: have your partner mix some into massage oil and have a massage be part of your bedtime routine), or you can purchase an aromatherapy diffuser.
- You can also drink chamomile tea before bed as a part of your calming routine.
Meditation to Calm Your Mind
Set aside some time to meditate in your nightly routine. Even as few as two to five minutes can make a difference, but ideally you would build up to ten minutes each night. As you try meditation, try to avoid thinking of it as a win/lose situation. If your mind drifts, that is perfectly normal. Just bring it back to the object of your focus as gently as possible. Some easy meditations include:
- Counting: Either count up to 100 or down from 100. Don’t worry if you lose your place, just start over. The point is not to get to 100, but to meditate and have your mind focused on one stress-free thing.
- Visualization: This can be anything that feels peaceful to you. Visualize a green field, your childhood pet, your partner, a flower blooming, a color, just stick to one image and let your mind focus on that one thing and nothing else. There are also free guided meditation apps you can download to your mobile device (e.g. Relax and Rest, Headspace, or Calm).
- White noise or calming sounds: This meditation can go hand in hand with your visualization, or be used on it’s own. YouTube has a TON of options. I personally like the sound of rain, this nature/music combo, and celestial white noise. On different nights, different sounds may work better for you. An important note is to ensure that no light is coming from your device while these are playing. Either turn off the screen or hook it up to speakers and keep your device out of the bedroom all together.
- Mantra: Create a mantra for yourself, something that gives you motivation and keeps you going. It does not have to make sense to anyone else; it just needs to have meaning for you. It can be anything from “It’s going to be ok” to “life is beautiful” to a simple “ohm”. Repeat this to yourself and focus on the words and a calm, steady breath.
- Focused Breathing: Breathe deeply and audibly in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in for four seconds (count them), hold the breath for two seconds, exhale for five seconds and hold for two before breathing in again. Do this three to five times and repeat if desired.
- Yoga: Yoga is a great way to both meditate and gently exercise your body into a restful mode. Focus on relaxing your body and mind before bed; take long deep breaths and do simple poses, like child’s pose, upward and downward dog, and lizard pose.
Sunlight & Exercise
Try to exercise at least 30 minutes daily when it is light outside. At least 30 minutes of natural sun exposure can help reset your circadian rhythm, so the earlier the better to send your body the message of when to be awake (making you tired in the dark!). Aim to be done with your exercise at least 2-3 hours before bed. Avoid light pollution (especially electronic blue light) as you go to bed. Wear an eye mask or hang heavy curtains to keep out street lights and other outside lights. You can download extensions that will filter out the blue light from your display as the day goes on. I typically recommend and use f.lux. You enter your time zone and it gradually takes away the blue light in synchrony with the sun.
What to Avoid For Good Sleep Hygiene
- Alcohol: While a nightcap may be tempting, and initially the alcohol might help you fall asleep, it will interfere with your REM sleep. This leaves you without deep sleep and can lead to waking up in the night. In other words, you might fall asleep, but it will be a disrupted sleep.
- Smoking: Smoking affects your natural circadian rhythm. Smokers tend to take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and have a more disrupted sleep.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is used to help you stay awake so it is easy to understand that consuming caffeine will hurt your sleeping abilities. The effects of caffeine are long-lasting, so try to stop consuming caffeine or switch to decaf starting at least six hours before bedtime. Going without your 2 pm caffeine fix may feel like a sacrifice, but ultimately better sleep can help beat that afternoon slump.
- Lying awake: Don’t lay in bed and wonder how to get to sleep or thinking back over every plan you have for hours on end. If you don’t fall asleep within twenty minutes of quiet and soft meditation, get up, get a glass of water, use the restroom, put on calm sounds, whatever you need (just no screens!) for a few minutes. Try again. The goal is to keep your body from associating bed with staying awake!
Your Bed, Your Room, Your Sacred Sleep Space
Dedicate your bed to the three S’s: sex, snuggling, and sleeping. Leave Netflix, cell phones, books, and other devices out of the bed. This is part of sleep training your body to associate your bed with dedicated activities. After a few weeks of this practice, you will notice that your body will naturally start to calm as soon as it comes into contact with your bed. This is a sign that you are succeeding in conditioning yourself to unwind for sleep.
Okay, I guess that is technically a lot more than six ways of how to get to sleep! Hopefully at least a few of these help you slow down and give yourself some better restful habits. Don’t give up after a few nights! It may take a week or two for your body to respond to the way you are training it to respond. If you can get your partner on board for some of these, it may make your sleep time go a bit more smoothly. Let us know what works for you!
Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Erin C. Falvey-Hogue, Ph.D. LMFT#45322)
Information derived from PsychologyToday.com, NIH.gov, and mindbodygreen.com