Desperately Seeking Slumber: Ten Tips for the Tired

A puppy sprawls out on a couch, sleeping.Is “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” your morning mantra? Do you find yourself feeling tired, even after a night’s sleep?

Sleep is a major and often invisible factor in how we feel about ourselves and relate to others. In this fast-paced culture, we try to fit in as much as possible at night, making it hard settle down when bedtime comes around. You might tell yourself that it will be different tonight, that tonight you’ll get to sleep early—but you still find yourself online, texting, reading, or watching television until the wee hours, maybe as an attempt to feel more connected or to relax after your day.

My therapy clients talk about wanting to feel energetic but being stuck in a daily grind of work, errands, or taking care of others. Staying busy has become the enemy of a good night’s sleep. Experts recommend the average adult get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night. For those who are sleep deprived, you may need even more to feel rested.

The following are the tips I share with my clients to help get that precious slumber:

  1. Design a soothing nighttime routine. Watching a violent crime series like Law and Order does not constitute a soothing ritual. A calming routine may include 30 minutes of journaling, restorative yoga poses, meditation, reading for pleasure, self-massage with scented lotion, or a bath. Have a ritual you do every night so that your body can depend on that time to unwind.
  2. Create a calming sleep space. Avoid having a pile of things to do, like work projects, on your bedside table. Those tasks may stimulate you to think or plan, which will make it hard to relax after your day. Remove all clutter from your bedroom whenever possible. Your bedroom and bed should be primarily for sleeping and sex.
  3. Napping is a no-no. Avoid daytime napping if you suffer from insomnia. Even though it seems like a good idea to nap when you are exhausted, it may impact your body’s natural sleep rhythms. You want to be as sleepy as possible at bedtime. Some specialists recommend you eliminate daytime naps altogether.
  4. Schedule worry time. If you have anxious thoughts before sleep, put a notebook by your bedside table where you can make a list of your worries. It is rare that trying to solve problems before sleep results in brilliant ideas. When you return to those worrisome thoughts, gently remind yourself, “It’s on the list, I can worry about it tomorrow.”
  5. Eat a little something. Before bedtime, experiment with having a bit of a carbohydrate and some protein, like an apple and cheese or a small serving of cereal and milk. Look online or talk to your doctor to learn about how foods that contain tryptophan can help bring on drowsiness.
  6. Limit your intake of substances like caffeine and alcohol. Many of my tired-out clients tell me that an after-dinner coffee doesn’t affect them. Even if you can fall asleep, substances like alcohol, sugar, tobacco, and caffeine affect your body and mind’s experience of the five sleep stages. We need each of those stages to feel physically and mentally restored.
  7. Ask your primary care provider about sleep medications that could help or whether you may have a medical condition that impacts your sleep. Sometimes a short course of sleep medications can help to interrupt your cycle of worry-induced insomnia. A Chinese herbalist or acupuncturist can often help fix a sleep problem.
  8. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. For most, doing exercise late at night sabotages your body’s natural desire to sleep. Figure out what amount of exercise at which time of day helps you sleep by keeping track of how many minutes of exercise you did and how many hours of sleep you got that night. Watch for any patterns that emerge.
  9. Get help to figure out what you can and can’t change if you can’t let go of work stress or conflict at home. You might have tried every tip, but still feel keyed up or anxious when night rolls around. In those instances, it can be helpful to talk with a licensed therapist, who can help you get to the root of your problems and create a realistic plan to resolve them.
  10. Don’t give up! Try a few of these tips at a time to find a combination that works. Those precious hours of sleep will ultimately help you become more present in your waking hours with those you love.

© Copyright 2011 by Lisette Lahana, LCSW, therapist in Oakland, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Norma


    May 6th, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    can you say Ambien? I hate to be drug addled but I feel sure that this drug saved my life. I have tried it all and nothing got me a good night’s rest until I introduced this into my life.

  • zorro


    May 6th, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    sleep is the time for our body to rejuvenate. but lately,most of us have tried and minimized sleep time to try and fit in as many other things as possible–things that we consider to be of more importance than sleep. but really, they are not. what is important is that our body gets the rest that it deserves. why, not only body, but sleep is rest time for our brain too!

  • Nan


    May 9th, 2011 at 4:51 AM

    You sugegst eating a little something but for those of us who are watching our weight or those who have acid reflux, eating right before bed is a big no no.

  • Tina


    May 12th, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    Great article, Lisette! I also read recently that you should set your computer monitor to dim down as it gets closer to bedtime, or do it manually, if you’re in the habit of being on it right before bed. Apparently having that constant brightness bright confuses your body and disrupts your circadian rhythms because a bright screen simulates daylight. I found that interesting.

  • Keith


    May 12th, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    Because of the stress of everything I go through at work 6 days a week, 8 hours simply is not enough for me to feel refreshed. I do have a life unlike my employers and would like to enjoy it more again but instead I’m trying to catch up on sleep most of my day off.

  • paulette


    May 12th, 2011 at 9:18 PM

    I’ve tried getting into a routine and it does not work at all. Something always comes up that disrupts my plans for an early night so I’m stuck drinking coffee all day, and I’m in a bad mood because my morning coffee doesn’t cut it the way it used to.

    ““Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” Is this your morning mantra? Do you find yourself feeling tired, even after a night’s sleep?” Yes, yes and yes.

  • Warren


    May 14th, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    @paulette, I think you actually have an addiction to caffeine if you’re constantly in a bad mood and drinking coffee all day. Try giving it up for a month or so and see how that goes for you, or switch to decaf or at least half caf. I bet you get headaches too. It’s also very dehydrating.

  • June


    May 14th, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    I read about a man who practiced polyphasic sleep as an experiment and kept a diary of it all. It’s a very interesting idea. It would be hard to make a convincing case to your boss as to why you can only work 4 hours at a time, but you can get a much better sleep that way.

  • Tony


    May 14th, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    @June: I convince my boss I’m not sleeping at work by looking up from my nap and whispering “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.” Kidding. :)

  • teach


    May 14th, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    Where I’m from, seniors especially think that all “behavior problems” boil down to a bad kid who is incapable of behaving. The blame goes on the boy or girl and on the parents, even if the child has a genuine identified problem. That’s what those involved in ADHD are up against. There’s a wall of disbelief there that’s difficult to scale before you even begin.

  • Samantha


    May 14th, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    If it’s very bad you do need to look into taking sleep medicine. At the same time, you can’t rely on it or else you’ll get addicted, and that will make it far worse. It has to be seen as a temporary crutch rather than a long term solution. Sleeplessness is the pits.

  • Hill


    May 15th, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    @paulette: Addictions in general will ruin your sleep pattern. Coffee is the worst for it because of how it works. You shouldn’t wreck your natural cycle like that. It’s not so easy to get yourself back into one. I don’t think half the people who are sleep deprived even recognize that for what it is.

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