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Chances are you know someone, or are someone yourself, who suffers from insomnia. Prevalence rates vary among research studies, but up to 50 percent of people may have problems with sleep. That can end up having a major impact on other areas of life.
Depending on what the underlying problem might be, some cases of insomnia would benefit from a health professional getting involved, but the first place to start is sleep hygiene, which is a group of strategies that anyone can try to promote better sleep. Some of them may seem pretty self-explanatory, but that doesn't stop us from falling into bad habits.
Naps can be so appealing if you've had a terrible sleep the night before, but it's actually detrimental to your sleep the next night. Powering through that post-lunch crash will leave you feeling sleepier at bedtime. If you must nap, try to limit it to a half hour catnap.
Regular physical activity.
Exercising during the day will help you feel more tired by bedtime. Hint: Exercising intensely in the later part of the evening might end up having the opposite effect.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Alcohol makes us feel sleepy, so it's easy to assume that it's good for sleep. While it can make it easier to get to sleep, it changes your sleep architecture so you're not getting good quality deep sleep. In terms of overall effect, alcohol is bad for sleep.
We all know that caffeine is bad for sleep, but that doesn't necessarily stop us from consuming it. If sleep is a problem for you, you shouldn't be consuming caffeine beyond late afternoon, or perhaps even earlier.
Think you know how much caffeine your drinks contain? You may be surprised. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a list of the amounts of caffeine in various foods and drinks.
Make your bedroom conducive to sleep.
Ideally a bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark. It can take some effort to achieve this. You'll want good blinds for the window. Have a look around the room in the dark with the lights off. Are you seeing standby lights from electronic device? Things like that may seem minor, but they can make a difference.
If there's noise in the environment that you can't control, one option to try is earplugs. Look for ones with a high noise reduction rating (NRR); i.e. around 32. Other options to consider are a white noise machine or playing meditation music.
You also want your bed to be comfortable, including linens, pillows, and mattress. A lavender essential oil-based pillow spray helps to create a more soothing bed environment.
The more things you do in bed other than sleep, the more your brain associates bed with not sleeping. That means your bed isn't a good place to hang out and watch TV.
Create a bedtime routine.
Having a relaxing bedtime routine helps cue your brain that it's time for sleep. Pre-bedtime activities may include a bath, meditation practice, or herbal tea. For me, lying down in bed with a book has become something that sends a strong cue to my mind that the day is done.
The blue light from your various screen devices signals to the brain that it's time to be awake, so you should try to have some screen-free time as you're winding down towards bedtime.
If you're awake in bed, get up.
You're lying awake. The clock says it's one AM. You've been awake for the past hour. You need to get to sleep, because you need to be rested to perform well doing the presentation at work today. So you stay in bed, thinking I need to sleep, I need to sleep, I need to sleep...
It turns out that staying in bed awake is a really bad move. The associated worry will make it even harder to fall asleep, and your brain will start to associate time in bed with time being awake and worried/frustrated.
Give yourself 15 minutes to see if you fall back asleep. If not, get up. Do something boring. Read an uninteresting book. When you start to feel sleepy, go back to bad. Repeat the 15-minute rule. Might this mean you're exhausted for the presentation tomorrow? Sure. But you're not going to be any less exhausted if you lie in bed awake, and that way you're not going to be messing up your sleep for subsequent nights to come.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia is an approach that incorporates sleep hygiene measures and adds in some extra strategies that focus on managing the amount of time in bed and challenging problematic thoughts around sleep.
A fundamental sleep CBT for insomnia practice is to get up at the same time each day. This should happen regardless of how much sleep you've had the night before and whether it's a weekend or not. While setting a consistent bedtime may seem like a better choice intuitively, this tends to promote lying in bed awake, whereas getting up at a scheduled time promotes feelings of tiredness at bedtime for the next night of sleep.
The app linked below can help you guide you through some of the basics of CBT for insomnia.
Are there ways in which you might be inadvertently sabotaging your own sleep? Don't be your own worst nightmare!