How I Eliminated My Insomnia and Finally Learned to Sleep Better
Not that many years ago, I found it very challenging to get a good night's rest. Falling asleep was difficult, and when I did sleep, it wasn't great. When I awoke the following morning, I felt tired, and my body craved more time in bed. At the time, I was too focused on my career to think about ways to improve my sleep. Poor sleep quality was just a part of life, or so I thought.
This pattern continued until one day, I had a real awakening and decided it was time to evaluate my situation and make a permanent change for the better. I wanted to sleep well and wake up feeling refreshed. This was in spite of the fact that many outside factors meant that I probably wouldn't be able to consistently get 8 hours of uninterrupted, high-quality sleep every night. However, I realized that things could certainly be better than they were. If I could just figure out how to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and wake up after 6 to 7 hours, I was sure that I would feel 1,000 times better than I did in my current situation.
After doing plenty of research on the subject of sleep and consulting my doctor, I learned the following seven useful tips. I began to employ these tips slowly, and within a matter of time, my sleep quality improved, as did my performance at work. In addition, my moods, as well as my physical well-being, improved as well. I realized that with these seven simple tips, my life would never be the same.
Clear Your Mind Before Going to Bed
Back when I could never seem to fall asleep, I found that my mind was always racing. Even though my body was physically tired, my mind did not seem to want to stop or slow down. My brain would just not shut up! My thoughts were all over the map, and I often found myself reflecting on my day, worrying about the future, or thinking about all of the things that I needed to do the next day. These continuous thoughts prevented me from falling asleep quickly.
I realized that if I was ever going to get any amount of sleep, I would need to figure out how to clear my mind and shut down my brain at the end of the day. The solution to my problem was so simple that I feel like a dummy even mentioning it because I hadn't thought about it earlier. Every night, about 30 to 45 minutes before bed, I sit down and write out all of the thoughts that are going through my mind. In particular, I focus on the things that I need to do the next day. A simple pad of paper and a pen helped to cure an ailment that I had dealt with for a very long time.
In addition to writing things down, I learned to stop worrying about them as well. If something was out of my control or I couldn't impact it in any way, there was no sense in worrying about it. Taking a step away from worrisome thinking helped to create a relaxing environment resulting in improved sleep quality.
Speaking from personal experience, learning to clear my mind probably had the most significant long-term impact on my ability to fall asleep quickly. Now, when I walk into the bedroom at night I lay down and fall asleep almost instantly.
Sleep in a Cool, Dark Room
Turning the temperature down at night mimics the temperature changes that occur outdoors when the sun goes down. This helps the body cool down and sleep better. At the time I was having sleep troubles, I should have realized the importance of the room's temperature and how it impacted my sleep quality. I have very fond memories of going camping up in the mountains in the winter as a child and teenager. Even though the ground was hard, the frosty temperatures always made for a good night's sleep. I am sure that being out in nature in a dark and quiet area also positively impacted my sleep patterns.
Another thing that I realized is that the bedroom needed to be very dark to induce a good sleep cycle. Even the light of a night-light or the cool blue and green LED clock that I had on my nightstand was affecting my ability to sleep well. In order to make the room darker, I switched out the fancy clock for a small, plain red LED one. In addition, I removed the night lights, closed the doors, and put up heavy curtains over the window. This helped my sleep immensely!
Bring on the Background Noise
Probably the second most important thing that I did to improve my sleep quality was to bring a fan into the bedroom. Not only does a fan circulate the air helping to keep you cool, it also brings in a soft background noise that can help you relax and gently transition into a sleeping state.
In my case, the sound of a fan helped to drown out any minor noises that came from the nearby street or from the neighbor's property. In this way, I was not awoken as easily if a zealous dog finds his voice or a midnight 911 call sends the ambulance down the street. I've gotten so used to using a fan at night that I even take one with me on vacation to use in the hotel room.
If you don't have or don't want to use a fan you can find another device to help with the background sound levels. Many people use radios that play soft nature sounds like rainfall or a breeze in the trees to help them sleep. Even an old TV set on an unused channel or the soft hum of an appliance can generate a steady stream of white noise helping you to fall asleep.
Curtail or Modify the Consumption of Caffeine and Vitamins
Like most Americans, I am big consumer of caffeinated beverages. Aside from water, I drink mostly unsweet tea which can often contain a lot of caffeine. I've also been known to down Red Bulls and other energy drinks on occasion when I need a boost after working a late night or getting up extra early. When I started to limit my consumption of caffeine to no later than noon each day, I noticed a marked improvement in my ability to fall asleep quickly and maintain a higher quality of sleep. In addition to adjusting my caffeine use, I also made sure to never take any vitamins or supplements past noon. This is because many of them contain ingredients that affect sleep.
Get Plenty of Exercise, But not Necessarily Right Before Bed
It's probably common knowledge that getting enough exercise each day is both good for your health as well as your sleep. However, I had the particularly terrible habit of exercising right before going to bed. This was at a time in my life when I was really into weightlifting. I would sometimes lift for up to two hours a night, between 3 and 6 days a week.
For the sake of convenience, exercising late at night just worked with my schedule better than any other time. I tried taking long cold showers to help unwind and bring my core body temperature down, however, this did not help that much. It may seem obvious, but it took me a while to realize that working out right before bed just simply was not the right choice. I read several articles that all state exercising within 3 hours of bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Nowadays, when I do exercise, I usually do it in the afternoon or early evening.
Have a Good Quality Bed/Mattress
The importance of a good mattress cannot be understated. If you're like me, you don't want to wake up many times at night with back pain, sore shoulders, or a stiff neck. A good mattress is important. I read somewhere that the average mattress only lasts 8 to 10 years before it needs to be replaced. At this time in my life, I still had my old bed from college. I figured it was time to trade it in and get something better. I tried out many mattresses but finally settled on one that seemed to offer the best support for my body. I also invested in high-quality pillows to help support my head and neck better. Once I made the switch, I saw an immediate improvement in my sleep quality. My back pain also went away instantly!
Work Hard During the Day
Another thing that I noticed when I started thinking critically about my sleep habits, was that I tended to sleep better when I worked hard during the day as compared to days where I did more "relaxing." An improvement in sleep quality occurred when I labored throughout the day on tasks that were physically and/or mentally demanding. The harder I worked during the day the better my sleep generally was (but only to a certain point). If you go to bed tired with a feeling of accomplishment about what you've done during the day, you will sleep better.
I already consider myself a hard worker so I didn't make many substantial changes in this realm. However, this realization did reinforce the idea that hard work does pay off. I don't believe that humans were designed to relax in front of TV all day. Improving sleep was (and still is) just another reason that I can mentally justify pushing myself to work harder at everything I do.
Other Tips to Improve Sleep
The above seven tips are what I personally used to completely change my sleep life for the better. However, in addition to these things I have read about other techniques that people have used to help them sleep better as well. These include things like adopting a "No Phone Zone" in the bedroom, being consistent with the time you go to bed and wake up, creating a bedtime routine. In addition, maintaining a healthy body weight and eliminating stress will go a long way to sleeping better.
If you've tried everything and it just isn't helping, you may have an undiagnosed medical condition. Make an appointment to see your doctor and get a sleep study done. A healthcare professional can figure out what's wrong and help you get better sleep. For instance, you may have sleep apnea and not even know it! I hope these tips help you get a better night's rest like they did for me.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker