How Not to Sleep

As a follow-up to my challenge to you to get more sleep, I thought you might like a reminder of what we currently know about having the night of your life – sleeping, that is.

We all do things all the time that mess with our sleep, and we just put up with the consequences. Many of them just lead to vicious cycles that are tough to break, like:

  • caffeine – keeps you from getting to sleep or staying asleep, then you need more of it to function the next day, and you build up a tolerance so you need more and more of it over time just to function – and to avoid horrendous headaches
  • overwork or working late – keeps you wired, makes it difficult to get to bed because your mind is racing, you are tired the next day, and wind up working longer hours due to lack of focus, clarity and efficiency, repeat crappy night, inefficient day after…
  • alcohol – helps you wind down to get to sleep, then wakes you up after 4 hours and robs you of the rest of your REM sleep. Add caffeine the next morning, have  stressful day that makes you want a drink after work,  and repeat…
  • overeating, or eating junk at night – keeps you up or wakes you up hot and sweaty at 4am, unable to fall asleep until you drift off sometime just before the alarm rings. Add caffeine, and more sugar or some other junk in the morning and throughout the day, then repeat…
  • surfing the web, watching tube or playing games – passive escape and instant gratification keep us up when we get sucked in rather than turning it off at 1o. Most of the electronics we use emit enough blue light to turn off the melatonin production in our brains, preventing us from feeling tired enough to fall asleep. Add a drink or some junk food, and you get a double whammy that has you up late and reaching for a double espresso the next day. Then you try to come down from the caffeine wiredness by distracting yourself with electronic entertainment but inadvertently stay up too late again…
  • shorting yourself on sleep all week, then making it up on the weekends by sleeping in but still going to bed late. You feel lethargic, don’t get much or enough done on the weekend, and dread Monday morning because you sleep like crap Sunday night. Repeat week of madness.

I am familiar with all of these sleep wreckers. Are you? So, on a more positive note, here’s the list of things that can help you sleep better, and get to sleep earlier. I’m sure you’ve heard all of these before, so we’ll just call it a review:

  • get regular exercise, but not within 6 hours of bedtime
  • go to bed at 10pm and get up at a time that seems right (7-9 hours later)
  • no sugar or caffeine after 4 – even better, quit them both entirely
  • alcohol, if you must, only 1 drink for girls, or 2 for boys. Try to make it more than 3 hours before bed, preferably with food
  • turn off all electronics and dim the lights an hour before you plan to be in bed
  • stop working at least one hour before bed, or better yet, don’t work for more than one hour after dinner
  • don’t read scary, complex or highly involved material before bed
  • reschedule intense discussions or arguments for another time if they occur in the hour before bed
  • use the hour before bed to read something soothing, go for an easy walk, take a bath or shower, clean up the kitchen, pack your lunch, sit outside, set out your clothes, or write down things you might worry about forgetting that could keep you awake
  • avoid drinking too much water that will wake you up to pee in the night
  • avoid eating too much or being too hungry before you go to bed
  • don’t take certain medications or vitamins at night – B vitamins, and some others, can rev you up – pay attention to how they work for or against your sleep and adjust accordingly
  • make the bedroom a totally dark room or use a sleep mask
  • make the bedroom as cool as you can make it
  • make the bedroom as quiet as you can make it
  • get checked for sleep apnea if you are doing everything you can think of but still feel tired in the morning
  • sometimes sleeplessness can be a symptom of gall bladder issues – ask your doctor
  • menopausal symptoms preventing sleep can be reduced by avoiding sugar, exercising, managing stress, and possible addition of natural hormones, if needed – find an expert who can help with bioidentical hormone replacement
  • sleep naked or wear the most comfortable clothing you can
  • lock out the animals and make kids sleep in their own beds
  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day, staying within a 1 hour range whenever possible

This may sound like a lot to do, but truly, once these are habits you won’t even think about them. Some of these things will matter to your own sleep more than others. Make an educated guess at what’s keeping you up, make some tweaks, and see what works. It’s your life, and you get to decide. I do think if you actually find out what it’s like to get some regular, high quality sleep, you’ll be more motivated to stick to it. And, if you need even more motivation, this isn’t just about how you feel, it truly is your health we’re talking about here. Some of the stubborn problems the doc keeps bringing up at your annual physical (weight, blood pressure, hypertension, etc.) just might be helped by something as simple as restorative rest.


Sweet dreams!


About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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1 Response to How Not to Sleep

  1. Pingback: Sleep Matters, But Your Bedtime Probably Matters More | Mind|Body|Spirit Academy

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