Ten Tips for Better Sleep

The Importance of Sleep
Many people experience trouble sleeping from time to time. Some people have trouble falling asleep, while others cannot stay asleep. Some people wake up in the early morning. Sleep problems may vary from restless or disturbed sleep, to a reduction in the usual time spent sleeping, or, in the extreme, complete wakefulness. Requirements for sleep vary widely from person to person. Most adults need the traditional seven or eight hours of sleep a night, but some adults do well on much less. Many people overestimate the amount of sleep they need. In addition, people who have trouble sleeping often actually get more sleep during a restless night than they realize. Because episodes of sleep disturbance are so common, generally there is no need for concern. However, when it becomes an ingrained pattern or it impairs your ability to function well during the day, improving your sleep may be quite important for your overall quality of life.

Sleep can become disturbed for a variety of reasons. Some people are kept awake by painful physical conditions such as arthritis or chronic pain. In addition, some medical factors such as menopause or hyperthyroidism, as well as some medications, can also disrupt sleep. Other common causes of sleep disruption include lifestyle choices, such as caffeine consumption, a heavy meal before bed, alcohol use, drug use, or taking naps—all of which interfere with sleep quality. In the majority of cases, however, the core problem interfering with sleep is emotional. Many people are kept awake by anxiety, worries, depression, or anger. For some people, situational life stressors may be interfering with their ability to relax and get rest; family problems, work stress, lifestyle changes, or unresolved conflicts can all disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Treatment of any underlying emotional problem, or adapting your lifestyle to promote healthy sleep, are both necessary if they are contributing to your sleep troubles. Take a few minutes to review what may possibly be related to the difficulty that you are experiencing with your sleep.

Whatever the reason may be, for many people, sleep is one of the first things to become disrupted when they are facing challenges in life. Many times, it is our body’s way of raising a red flag and telling us that something in our life needs attention or improvement. For many people, when they handle the stressor that they are faced with, their sleep patterns naturally improve. This is often the first step toward sleep improvement. However, there are also other strategies that can help assist with the process of getting back to quality sleep. And, as anyone who has suffered from poor sleep knows, when we don’t get a good night of sleep, it can be very challenging to have a good day. A poor night of sleep can cause irritability, fatigue, poor coping abilities, sadness, and feeling overwhelmed by daily tasks. But, the good news is that the opposite is also true: Improving your sleep can cause a drastic positive impact on your quality of mood, concentration, patience, energy level, and ability to manage stress. Further, daily improvements in these areas can have a larger impact on your overall quality of life by helping support healthier relationships, job functioning, and improved self-esteem. We can see why sleep is so important!


  1. Establish a regular time for going to bed and getting up in the morning. This helps tocue your brain that it is time for sleep. Going to sleep at the same time and awakening at the same time daily helps stabilize your internal clock. Having a different sleep-wake schedule on the weekends can throw you off. For the best results be consistent.

  1. Do not go to bed too early. Try not be tempted to go to bed earlier than you would normally need to. When people go to bed too early it may contribute to the problem of fragmented sleep. Your body normally lets you sleep only the number of hours it need. If you go to bed too early, you might also awaken too early. Only go to bed when you are feeling tired and sleepy.
  1. Determine how many hours of sleep you need for optimal functioning and feeling rested. Consider the following to determine the natural length of your sleep cycle.
·         Before you began to experience sleep difficulty how many hours of sleep per night did you sleep on the average?
·         How many hours of sleep do you need in order to not feel sleepy or tired during the day?

  1. Develop rituals that signal the end of the day. Rituals that signal closure for the day are targeted for shifting your thinking from the daily life and stressors to the idea that the day is over and it is time for rest. The rituals may include tucking in your kids, taking the dog out, closing up the house for the night, watching the news, or reading a book. Or, you may try to do something relaxing before going to bed, such as having a cup of calming herbal tea, taking a warm bath, meditating, or doing deep breathing exercises.

  1. Keep the bed for sleeping and sex only. If you use your bed as a workspace for other activities, your mind will associate the bed with those activities, which is not conducive to sleep. Do not eat in bed, watch TV in bed, work in bed, read in bed, worry in bed, or study in bed, etc.

  1. Avoid physical and mental stimulation just before sleep time. Exercising, working on projects, house cleaning, or watching something exciting on television just prior to going to bed can energize you instead of helping you to have closure at the end of the day.

  1. Be careful of naps. Some people are able to take naps and feel rejuvenated by them without interfering with their sleep-wake cycle. However, for many people, naps sabotage nighttime sleep.

  1. Get regular exercise. Regular aerobic exercise like walking can decrease body tension, alleviate stress, alleviate depressive symptoms, and contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Less stress equals better sleep.

  1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and large meals in the evening. Your daily lifestyle choices can greatly impact your sleep quality. Are you living in a way that promotes good sleep?
  1. Release your worries. Keep a journal by your bedside to write down your to-do list for the next day, make an action plan for a problem that you are faced with, or document anything that is bothering you so that it is out of your mind before falling asleep. Harbored worries or frustrations can awaken us during the night.
On a final note, be careful not to obsess about sleep. When someone is experiencing sleep disturbance, they can become so focused on the issue of sleep, or trying to fall asleep, that they increase their anxiety at the end of the day, which induces stress, negativity, and tension instead of the relaxation that is necessary for the natural sleep rhythms to be initiated. Instead, try to relax and think about something soothing or pleasant. If after 15 minutes you have not yet fallen asleep, get out of bed! Lying in bed not sleeping can create more negative sleep associations. So, if you cannot sleep, get up and go to another room to meditate or engage in some other ritual that you find helpful to inducing feelings of drowsiness so that you can sleep.
If your sleep problems persist, a doctor should be consulted.

Wishing you a wonderful night of sleep!

All the best,
Dr. Sarah Ray

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