You toss and turn, trying to get back to sleep, but to no avail. Another anxious glance at your alarm clock shows the agonizing hours slipping by. It feels like you’re the only person in the world not sleeping.
Frustration and desperation set in as your 7:00 wake-up call looms ever nearer. The next day, you’re plagued with fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and moodiness.
Now imagine this happening every night for weeks, even months.
For an increasing number of people, sleeping pills are not a desirable option. So what can you do to prevent unwanted night-time wakefulness, and increase your chances of sleeping through the night uninterrupted?
According to sleep expert Wendy Troxel, Ph.D., these five simple strategies can help:
1. Keep a Consistent Wake-Up Time
Waking up at the same time each morning, regardless of when you went to bed or how well you’ve slept, is key to preventing unwanted night-time awakenings. As Wendy explains:
“The time you wake up is the single most important factor that sets your brain’s internal biological clock, so the brain knows when to be alert and awake (during the day) and when it should be asleep (at night).”
Setting these signals and sticking firmly to them ensures that you train your brain to distinguish between night and day, and keeps your internal biological clock ticking smoothly.
Using technology such as iPhones, tablets, and TVs before bed can interfere with a good night’s sleep by emitting light (particularly blue spectrum) that throws off your circadian rhythms. Their content – be it social media, work, or entertainment – is also largely stimulating, which can similarly keep you from falling or staying asleep.
Troxel recommends unplugging at least one hour before bedtime. If you should find yourself awake in the middle of the night, resist the temptation to reach for your phone or turn on the television; in fact, Wendy strongly advises keeping all technology out of the bedroom entirely. This may mean investing in an old-school alarm clock, preferably one without a disruptive light display.
3. Reduce Stress
By now most of us are award of just how damaging chronic stress is to our bodies and minds, and getting a handle on it is vital for a good night’s sleep. According to Troxel, stress, worry and negative emotions can all contribute to interrupted sleep patterns. She recommends trying yoga, meditation, and physical activity in general, rather than coping techniques such as a glass of wine before bed, which can disrupt sleep.
4. The Golden Rule: Maintain Bed Boundaries
Troxel’s golden rule for getting a good night’s sleep is using the bed for sleep and sex only. That means no working, checking emails or social media, watching television or even eating.
Our brains learn patterns by association, and these other activities send it confusing signals of being ‘at work’ or ‘at play’ instead of ‘ready to sleep’.
5. Get Out! (of Bed)
As anyone who has struggled with waking up throughout the night can attest, being awake, exhausted and unable to sleep can be incredibly frustrating. But lying there angry, or reaching for your smart phone, sends more of those confusing signals to your brain. As Troxel puts it “… you want your brain to have a strong learned association between the bed and sleep.”
So what should you do if you wake in the middle of the night? If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, Troxel recommends getting out of bed and doing something low key and relaxing, such as reading a book or magazine. She goes on to say:
“The key is to distract yourself from the fact that you are not sleeping (so you don’t ‘practice’ worrying in bed), and once your brain is distracted by some other activity, you might actually get sleepy again. At that point, you can return to bed.”
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