Why can't I just sleep? Why am I awake? Why is sleeping so darn hard?
Have you asked yourself any of these questions lately? Well, you're far from alone. Sleep is elusive to many people, and even more so right now without usual routines.
Fortunately, for most people, the solution is actually quite simple. The hardest part is being honest with yourself and asking:
"How bad do I want to improve my sleep?" and
"How committed am I to improving my sleep?" and
"How willing am I to change?"
The answer to most sleep perils is (drum roll please.....) - SLEEP HYGIENE. Essentially, sleep is a habit and, like any other habit, without a repetitive routine that creates a solid sleep habit, you will find yourself having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. You have to train your brain that it is time for sleep.
Here is a list of practices to consider when trying to develop a good sleep routine:
1) BED IS FOR SLEEPING. Only use your bed for sleeping. Do not do homework or go on your phone in bed. Train your brain that your bed means sleep.
2) ROUTINE. ROUTINE. ROUTINE. Get up and go to sleep at approximately the same time whenever possible. Train your brain when to wake and when to sleep.
3) LIGHT & LOUD VS. DARK & QUIET. Expose yourself to natural light and noise in the daytime as much as possible. Open curtains as soon as you awake. Get outside and be around sound. And then make it as dark and as quiet as possible for sleep time. No nightlights. Blackout curtains and white noise can be helpful. Train your brain that light and noise means awake time, and that dark and quiet means sleep time.
4) AVOID SCREENS. It is pretty well known that the light from devices negatively interferes with one's ability to fall asleep. Avoid screen time one hour before going to sleep. And, even better, place devices away from the bed or even out of the bedroom on silent with the screen down. Train your brain to follow its natural rhythm to sleep without interference.
5) AVOID STIMULANTS. Do not have stimulants, such as caffeine or dark chocolate, after dinner time, and avoid long-term energy and caffeine pills and drinks whenever possible. If you're having a hard time sleeping, you need to help your brain to find a natural sleep pattern without artificial interference. Train your brain to naturally be tired.
6) GET ACTIVE. There's no easier way to fall asleep than due to physical exhaustion. Be sure to do something physically active every day. If you can combine your physical activity with being outside, you're already completing two sleep hygiene practices. Train your brain that exhaustion leads to sleep.
7) BEDTIME ROUTINE. Create your own bedtime routine made of actions and activities that will cue your brain that sleep time is coming. Perhaps you have a hot shower and a short meditation or you go for a walk outside, have a chamomile tea, and listen to the sound of ocean waves before settling into your bed. Maybe it's just sitting outside for a while, taking a few long held stretches and then completing a body scan in bed. Train your brain that your chosen routine means it's time to go to sleep.
8) NO CLOCK WATCHING. If you do wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep, get up. Yes, get up and go and do a calm activity that doesn't include screens. Read for a bit or listen to music. Something that doesn't stimulate the brain too much but that will make you feel sleepy. When you do start to feel tired, do some or all of your usual bedtime routine and try to go to sleep again.
The reality is that sleep hygiene takes time. You have to stick with it in order to eventually experience change and the positive benefits that good sleep will have on your entire life. But, the commitment is so worth it.
There are many more sleep hygiene practices. If you'd like to read more, here are a few useful articles:
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep
from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
What is Sleep Hygiene? from the National Sleep Foundation:
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene Getting a Good Night's Sleep from Anxiety Canada, including a sleep diary
A great option for your sleep routine is including some gentle yoga. Here are a few online classes that specifically cater to sleep:
Yoga for Sleep - Yoga with Kassandra
A 5 minute class stretch for deep sleep
Yoga for Sleep - Yoga with Adrienne
A gentle 10 minute wind down yoga
Yoga for Sleep - Yoga with Adrienne
A gentle 20 minute practice
Yoga for Sleep - Ashton August from YogiApproved.com
A 30 minute bedtime yoga sequence for better sleep