Falling Asleep

Learning Objectives

  • Identify ways to ensure good sleep habits and high-quality sleep, especially during periods of stress
Man asleep with a cat on his faceMany people, especially those who feel stressed, anxious, or overworked, have a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and this can shorten the amount of time and the quality of sleep when it actually comes. The following tips can help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested:
  • Set a schedule: Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Disrupting this schedule may lead to insomnia. “Sleeping in” on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it resets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.
  • Exercise: Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep, although a workout soon before bedtime may interfere with sleep. For maximum benefit, try to get your exercise about 5 to 6 hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed: Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and keeps people awake. Sources of caffeine include coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Smokers tend to sleep very lightly and often wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol robs people of deep sleep and REM sleep and keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep.
  • Relax before bed: A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall sleep. It’s also a good idea to put away books, homework, and screens (computer and phone) at least 30 minutes before bed. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
  • Sleep until sunlight: If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake: If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. (Avoid digital screens, though: watching TV, and being on the computer or a smartphone are too stimulating and will actually make you more wakeful.) The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.
  • Control your room temperature: Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom. Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Screen out noise and light: Sleep with earplugs and use an eye pillow to drown out any bright lights and noise of loud roommates, etc.
  • See a doctor if your sleeping problem continues: If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired the next day, then you may have a sleep disorder and should see a physician. Your primary care physician may be able to help you; if not, you can probably find a sleep specialist at a major hospital near you. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively, so you can finally get that good night’s sleep you need.

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