15 Secrets for a Good Night’s Sleep

sleep-deprived-manMy best talent is my ability to sleep. Most nights I lie down, read a few pages in my book, and fall asleep before I know it. I may sleep until the next morning or wake up for a bit, but I fall back asleep quickly. I think my secret is knowing that my sleep/wake cycle is normal. If I can’t sleep, that’s normal. If I can sleep, that’s normal too, so whatever comes my way, I accept it. I am a sleep genius. Unconscious by 11:30, up at 6 or 7. Keeping to the same sleep schedule is one of my tactics that ensures a good night’s sleep.

It wasn’t always that way. I had terrible nightmares from childhood until my thirties. I’d often feel afraid to go to sleep, as I could sense bad dreams on the doorstep of my unconscious. Sometimes I even knew which of my recurrent horrible visions was on my trail. They were stalking me—I could smell them. I even slept, dreamt, woke up in my dream thinking I had evaded the monster, only to find out that I hadn’t really awakened at all, and the monster was still there, ready to get me. And he had friends. And now I didn’t know if I was asleep or if I was awake. And there was nothing I could do except hide under the covers and wait and hope for morning.

The seeds of these dreams were planted in early childhood by my very difficult family; my therapist and I dug them up and out together. I started psychotherapy when I was around 30 years old, not because of my bad dreams but because of my waking life, which I found unacceptable and wanted to change. Of course, I talked about dreams when they came up. After a few years of therapy, my dream life changed to what it is now, mostly peaceful and often memorable, and I became the good sleeper that I am today. I have never taken a sleeping pill, although I think probably they can be helpful in some instances.

So how did I get to be a good sleeper? The emotional difficulties I was experiencing were slowly changing with the help of my therapist, who taught me how to take better care of myself. My daily life was structured, interesting, and calm, even though I had to work very hard. My yoga practice became steadier, and I learned to trust myself. Yoga and therapy together gave me tools to learn who I was deep inside and what I needed to have a good life. I became much less anxious and depressed. I’m lucky to have had fine teachers to help me along the way.

Sometimes I go to sleep and then wake up at 4 a.m. Always around that time. What happens if I wake up? I look at the clock and say to myself, “Oh, it’s 4 a.m., that figures.” Then I relax with deep, regular breaths. I might recite a mantra. I don’t count sheep; I count blessings and feel grateful. Most importantly, I don’t get angry or afraid. Often when people wake up in the middle of the night they get angry or anxious because they aren’t asleep, and then they decide that they can’t sleep and get more upset, and they lie awake feeling worse with every passing minute. If something like this happens to you, it might be helpful to get out of bed and go to another room and wait until you feel sleepy.

Occasionally pain issues cause people to wake up, in which case the pain must be addressed in some way. When this happens to me, I gently massage the painful area—usually my arthritic knee—or I might, very rarely, take an analgesic.

What if you wake up feeling worried and afraid about something and you just can’t get those nasty thoughts out of your mind? Just as you massaged your painful knee, you can massage your aching brain by switching channels to concentrate on more pleasant thoughts, sometimes even the opposite of what’s on your mind. For example, instead of, “I didn’t, I couldn’t, I won’t be able,” you might remind yourself of what you can do and have done, and what more you might be able to do in the future.

Here are 15 things I do (or don’t do) before I go to bed. You can try them, if you like.

  1. No rushing around before bedtime. Gradually reduce your activity.
  2. Do something relaxing, perhaps a few yoga poses such as easy forward bends or legs up against the wall, or some gentle stretching.
  3. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  4. Shut off the computer, phone, etc., an hour before bed.
  5. Try not to eat or even snack right before you go to bed. Give yourself a couple of hours between eating and sleeping.
  6. Finish the chores ahead of time—clean the kitchen, take out the garbage. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  7. Avoid too much stimulation. No murder movies.
  8. No crossword puzzles, chess, or anything that might call up the competitive spirit or get your brain over-activated.
  9. Read something peaceful.
  10. Listen to calming music.
  11. Don’t fight to finish what you’re doing, no matter how enjoyable. If you’re sleepy, turn out the light. There’s always tomorrow.
  12. Make your bed a happy, comfortable place to be.
  13. Use essential oils—maybe lavender, which is calming; spray it on your pillow and sheets and enjoy the beautiful scents.
  14. Relish the feel of soft sheets and quilts.
  15. Make sure your bedroom has enough fresh air and is a comfortable temperature.

Good night!

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • shelly

    shelly

    May 28th, 2014 at 3:09 PM

    I don’t have a hard time sleeping but my husband is all out of whack with his sleep schedule.
    He come sin from work and we all eat dinner then the enst thing I know he is on the couch snoring.
    He could sleep for hours after dinner but then guess what?
    he is awake off and on all night due to the after work nap and he never can get that sleep pattern worked out.
    I don’t know what else to do other than move dinner time later in hopes that we will get to spend some quality time with him in the evening!

  • juniper

    juniper

    May 29th, 2014 at 3:38 AM

    Why not a snack before bedtime?
    If I have the calories to spare and it is somethng small then this always makes me feel a little better right before I go to bed.
    Not something heartburn inducing or anything like that, just a little something to tide me over til morning

  • Madeleine

    Madeleine

    May 29th, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    In today’s tech driven world it must feel impossible for those people who always have to feel plugged in and connected to the cyber world to turn off their phones and computers. I know people who can’t even sleep without their phones beside them or who are posting facebook updates all throughout the night when they should be sleeping! These are the people who should not complain because a lot of their sleep issues could be avoided just by letting go of the phone and deciding to be present instead of always online.

  • jane h

    jane h

    May 30th, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    Have any of you ever read the book about not leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight? It’s kind of like this book that helps you get house cleaning organized but one of her things is to not leave for tomorrow what you could do today, or something like that, and her big thing is that she could never sleep if she knew that there were dirty dishes in the sink. Anyway, I am kind of like this. I can never sleep if things for the day feel unfinished so I know that when my feet hit the floor there are certain things every day that need to be done in the house and I am telling you that for me, knowing that those things are done just makes me have a much better day and I swear that it helps me sleep better at night too!

  • AKH

    AKH

    May 31st, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    So where is the proverbial glass of warm milk>? My mom always did this for me if I had a hard time sleeping and it worked like a charm every single time.

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    May 31st, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    Hi AKH- warm milk is a great idea!

  • hyderabad

    hyderabad

    August 17th, 2017 at 3:20 AM

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