Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Create a sleep schedule where you wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends or days off. Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but on average, you should be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep to function at your best during your waking hours.
Some people think getting just one less hour of sleep won't affect their daily functioning or that they can make up for lack of sleep on the weekend or a day off. But any changes or shifts to your regular sleep schedule will only have a negative effect on your sleeping habits and lead to lots of yawning when you are awake.
It's a myth that your body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedule. While most people can reset their biological clock, this can only be done by timed cues, and even then, only by one to two hours per day at best. It can take more than a week for your body's internal clock to adjust to traveling across several time zones or to switching to the night shift.
Extra sleep at night cannot cure you of your daytime fatigue. The quantity of sleep you get every night is important, but the quality of your sleep is more important. You may get eight or nine hours of sleep a night but won't feel well rested if the quality of your sleep was poor.
Turn off all electronics and distractions a few hours before bed. Shut off your television, smartphone, iPad, and computer or keep all electronics out of your bedroom completely. The type of light these screens emit can stimulate your brain, suppress the production of melatonin (which helps you sleep), and interfere with your body's internal clock.
Another option is to shut down your computer on a schedule. This will automatically sleep your machine and prevent you from working on your computer too late or too close to your bedtime. There are sleep features on both PCs and Macs that you can activate. As well, if you want your computer to be ready to go in the morning, once you wake up, you can schedule a startup time too.
Set an alarm to remind you it's time for bed. If you tend to get wrapped up in evening activities or conversations and forget to stick to your sleep schedule, you can set an alarm on your phone or computer to alert you 1 hour or 30 minutes before bedtime.
If you prefer to shut down all electronics a few hours before bed, you can use an alarm on your watch or ask someone you live with to remind you of bedtime 1 hour before it's time.
Do a relaxing activity before bed. This could be a warm bath, reading a good book, or having a quiet conversation with your partner. Doing a restful activity will help to trigger your brain to start relaxing and shutting down.
If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed in the dark, don't lie there and stare up at the ceiling. Instead, do a relaxing activity in bed to calm down and get your mind off your inability to sleep. Doing a restful activity may in fact end up causing you to fall asleep.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Use heavy curtains or shades to block the light from windows. Cover any electronic displays, like televisions or computers so the light does not glow in the room. You can also use a sleep mask to cover your eyes and create a dark space that will help you sleep.
If you have difficulty sleeping due to loud noises outside your window or a loud sleep partner, consider investing in good earplugs, or a noise machine.
Try to wake up with the sun. You can also set a timer so bright lights come on in your room in the morning at the same time every day. Sunlight helps your body's internal clock to reset itself each day.
Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people who have trouble falling asleep.
Avoid napping after 3 pm. The best time for a nap is usually mid afternoon, before 3 pm. This is the time of day you will likely experience post-lunch sleepiness or a lower level of alertness. Naps taken before 3 pm should not interfere with your nighttime sleep.
Keep your naps short, between 10 to 20 minutes. This will prevent sleep inertia, which is when you feel groggy and disoriented after a nap that goes on for longer than 30 minutes.
Keep a sleep journal. A sleep journal or diary can be a useful tool to help you identify any habits that may be keeping you awake. You may be able to also pinpoint if you are displaying symptoms of a sleep disorder. Update your sleep journal with notes on:
What time you went to bed and woke up.
The total sleep hours and quality of your sleep.
The amount of time you spent awake and what you did. For example: “stayed in bed with eyes closed” “counted sheep” “read a book”.
The types of food and liquids you consumed before bed and the amount of food and liquids you consumed.
Your feelings and moods before bed, such as “happy” “stressed” “anxious”.
Any drugs or medication you took, such as sleeping pills, including the dose and time of consumption.
Notice any triggers that start to repeat themselves in your sleep journal and see if there are ways you can prevent or limit these triggers. For example, maybe you often get a bad night's sleep on a Friday after drinking two martinis. Try not to drink at all the following Friday and see if this improves your sleep.
Take sleeping pills only when necessary. When you take sleeping pills for a brief period of time, and based on your doctor's recommendations, they can help you fall asleep. But they are just a temporary solution. In fact, sleeping pills can often make insomnia and other sleep issues worse in the long term.
Use sleeping pills and medications sparingly for short term situations, like traveling across several time zones or when recovering from a medical procedure.
Using sleeping pills only when necessary, rather than on a daily basis, will also prevent you from being dependent on them to help you sleep every night.
Be wary of over-the-counter medications that can lead to insomnia and sleep issues. Many of the side effects of these drugs can have adverse effects on your sleep patterns and daytime alertness. Common medications that can disturb your sleep include:
Aspirin and other headache medications.
Pain relievers that contain caffeine.
Cold and allergy medications containing an antihistamine.
If you are taking any of these medications, try to reduce your dosage. Or research alternative methods to treat these issues so you can stop taking these over-the-counter medications.
Avoid eating foods that contain tryptophan during the day. Tryptophan is a natural amino acid that your brain converts to serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that promotes sleep. So avoiding foods that contain tryptophan can help you stay awake during the day. Foods that contain tryptophan include:
Don't consume caffeine four to six hours before your bedtime. About half the caffeine you consume at 7 pm is still in your body at 11 pm. A known stimulant, caffeine can be found in coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Limit how many cups of coffee you have several hours before bed, or try to eliminate caffeine in your diet all together.
Alcohol also prevents deep sleep and REM sleep. It will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, causing you to possibly wake up easily and have a harder time falling back asleep. Avoid consuming alcohol 1-2 hours before bed to ensure you get a good night's sleep.
Have a light snack a few hours before your normal bedtime. A large meal before bed can cause indigestion, which will interfere with your sleep schedule. Stick to a light snack, like a piece of fruit, to keep your stomach from grumbling at night.
Avoid drinking liquids 90 minutes before your bedtime. Drinking too many fluids before bed can cause you to wake up to urinate. It takes about 90 minutes for your body to process the fluids you drink, so skip the big glass of water right before bed to prevent your bladder from waking you up.
Commit to exercising at least 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise is proven to help people sleep. But a workout too close to bedtime might interfere with your sleep schedule. Try to get daily exercise about 5 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Think about any environmental problems that could be keeping you awake. Changes in your living situation or even your sleep environment could lead to sleep problems. Did you just move into a new home? Are you sleeping in a new room, or with a new partner? Are you sleeping on a new mattress or pillow? These types of shifts, even if they are small, can affect your level of anxiety or stress. This will then impact your ability to get a good night's sleep.
If you think environmental problems are keeping you awake, think about adjusting your mattress with a mattress pad to make it more comfortable. Or keep an item from your old room in your new room. Create a sense of calm and security in your sleep environment to help you go to sleep.
Adjust your sleep schedule if you are doing shift work. Working a different work shift or a rotating shift can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule, especially if you rotate shifts on a regular basis.
Counteract shift work by adding 30-minute naps to your sleep schedule and lengthening the amount of time you allot for sleep. You should also use caffeine only during the first part of your shift to promote alertness at night and restfulness during the day. Try to minimize the number of shift changes you do to give your body's internal clock more time to adjust to a new work schedule.
You may want to also talk to your doctor about a prescription for short-acting sleeping pills to help you sleep during the day.
Follow the rise and fall of the sun if you're dealing with jet lag. Adjusting to a new time zone can take several days or even a week. Eastward travel generally causes more severe jet lag than westward travel, as traveling east requires you to shorten the day and your internal clock can better adjust to a longer day than a shorter day.
Decrease your exposure to light at bedtime and increase your exposure to light at wake time once you arrive. Spend a lot of time outdoors so your body gets used to the light cues in the new time zone.
Adjust your internal clock by getting a good amount of sleep 2-3 days prior to the trip. If you are traveling west, make minor changes to your sleep schedule by delaying your normal bedtime and wake time progressively by 20- to 30-minute intervals. If you are traveling east, advance your normal wake time by 10 to 15 minutes a day 2-3 days prior to the trip and try to advance your normal bedtime by 10 to 15 minutes.
Talk to your doctor about melatonin supplements to counteract jet lag. Melatonin is considered safe to use over a period of days or weeks, but its effectiveness on jet lag is controversial. Some studies find melatonin supplements before bed several days prior to arriving in a new time zone can help you fall asleep at the proper time. But other studies find that melatonin does not help relieve jet lag.
Check your current medications with your doctor. Many medications have side effects that can keep you awake at night or lead to problems sleeping.
Talk to your doctor if you take medication for asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Many drugs used to treat these issues contain steroids and a compound called “theophylline”, which is a stimulant that can keep you up at night.
If you are taking heart medication or medication for arthritis, you may experience insomnia and nightmares because of these drugs.
You may also have a hard time sleeping if you are taking antidepressants. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you may also experience insomnia or sleep problems.
Get tested for sleep disorders. Speak to your doctor about specific symptoms or patterns in your sleep issues. If you feel irritable or sleepy during the day, have difficulty staying awake while sitting still, fall asleep while driving, and require caffeine every day to stay awake, you may have a sleep disorder. There are four main types of sleep disorders:
Insomnia: The most common sleep complaint. Insomnia is often a symptom of another issue, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or another health condition. It can also be caused by lifestyle choices, like medication you take, a lack of exercise, jet lag, or your caffeine intake.
Sleep apnea: Occurs when your breathing temporarily stops during sleep due to a blockage in your upper airways. These pauses in breathing interrupt your sleep, leading to many awakenings throughout the night. Sleep apnea is a serious, and potentially life-threatening sleep disorder. If you suffer from this disorder, it's important to talk to a doctor and get a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This device delivers a stream of air to your airways while you sleep and can successfully treat the disorder.
Restless leg syndrome: (RLS) is a sleep disorder caused by an irresistible urge to move your arms and legs. This urge usually occurs when you're lying down and is due to uncomfortable, tingly sensations in your arms and legs.
Narcolepsy: This sleep disorder involves excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness. It is caused by a dysfunction of the mechanism in your brain that controls sleeping and waking. If you have narcolepsy, you may have “sleep attacks” where you fall asleep in the middle of talking, working, or even driving.
Ask your doctor about a sleep center. If your doctor refers you to a sleep center, a specialist will observe your sleep patterns, brain waves, heart rate, and rapid eye movement with monitoring devices attached to your body. The sleep specialist will analyze the results from your sleep study and design a custom treatment program.
A sleep center can also provide you with equipment to monitor your activities while awake and asleep, at home.