In this article I’ll take you through the top 5 reasons why people can’t sleep, taking a look at each problem, before giving a series of quick fire solutions to help provide a starting point for getting better sleep.
Reason 1: Having a Racing Mind
As soon as your head hits the pillow, your mind fills with thoughts. Everything from what happened during the day, all the things you have to do tomorrow, and the dreaded fear that you might have missed something. You begin to feel your heart beat a little faster as the stressful thoughts roll in one after the other. Worry starts to creep in, and after an hour of not being able to sleep, looking over at the time on the clock gives you a jolt of anxiety.
- Listen to the sounds around you – Instead of focusing on your inner turmoil, focus your attention outward towards your immediate environment instead. Listening to sounds around you is a great way to distract your mind from any nagging thoughts and ease yourself to sleep. The best sounds to listen to are white noise or some relaxing music (binaural beats in particular).
- Journaling – Around 30 minutes before you go to bed, sit down with a pen and paper and write down your most pressing thoughts. For example, what you have achieved today, what needs to be done tomorrow, and what needs to be done in the near future. Doing this sends a clear message to your subconscious that the thought has been acknowledge, and as a result, it won’t vie for your attention again. You may want to keep a pen and paper next to your bed just in case you think of anything else to write down.
- Self hypnosis – This is perfect for altering your metal habits, including changing your ways of thinking, to reduce stressful thoughts and change your attitude towards sleep, from something you dread to something that you can look forward to. Hypnosis requires you to enter a state of deep relaxation, so it is perfect to help you relax before falling asleep, in addition to the positive psychological results it will provide for you in the future.
- Visualization – By learning how to effectively visualize, you learn how to place your attention away from your inner chatter box, onto something much more relaxing and appropriate before bed. With a bit of practice, visualization is simple and easy to do. Pick one from this list of visualizations to try out tonight.
- Use your bed only for sleeping – Keep a stress free association with your bed and bedroom, so that by going to bed your mind and body knows it is going to go to sleep, rather than go and watch the TV or something else unrelated to sleep. Remove any unnecessary items from your bedroom to keep it as simple, relaxed and as stress free as possible.
- Exercise – It’s one of the most dreaded words but exercise is fantastic at washing away the stress toxins out of your body, helping you relax and fall asleep at night. Something as simple as a 20 minute brisk walk is all it takes to receive the benefits of exercise.
Reason 2: Can’t Fall Asleep
It takes over an hour to fall asleep at night. Sleeping on Sunday nights is especially difficult.
- Avoid bright light before bed – This means no TV, smartphones or tablets at least 30 minutes before bed. Light from these devices prevents the production of a hormone called melatonin which is used to regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle. If you work a night shift or want to fall asleep when the sun’s still up, grab a pair of special blue blocking sunglasses and wear them 30 minutes to an hour before bed.
- Sleep in a comfortable bed – There’s no way you can relax and fall asleep if all you do for the first 30 minutes in bed is toss and turn to try and find a comfortable position to sleep in. A new mattress can cost under $200 from websites such as US Beds. The time saved and the better sleep you’ll receive from being able to fall asleep quickly is well worth the money.
- Avoid evening and late afternoon stimulants – This includes sugar and caffeine, which can come from coffee, tea, soft drinks, and particularly energy drinks. Try to avoid these after late afternoon. Caffeine stays in your system for around six hours, so the later in the day you take caffeine, the greater the risk of it affecting your sleep at night.
- Avoid daytime napping – Unplanned naps greater than 30 minutes reduces your need for sleep and messes up your sleep pattern. You’ll still need to sleep obviously, but you’ll only be able to sleep much later in the night, and not when you want to.
- Wake up at the same time each morning – This is the cornerstone to a good sleep pattern, always wake up at the same time each morning. If you’re having problems getting to sleep, get up at the same time even on weekends until your sleep improves. Get up even if you’re still sleepy, because this sleepiness will help you fall asleep at night and help reset your body clock.
- Stay up later – Don’t try and fall asleep too early. Going to bed when you’re not sleepy will not help you fall asleep, and can make the problem worse if you begin to associate your bed with staying awake. Only go to bed when you feel like you can fall asleep. You’ll probably feel sleepier during the day at first, but it will help you sleep better in the long term.
- Avoid large meals before going to bed – Your body can’t sleep when it is busy digesting a meal, so avoid having large meals around at least two hours before going to bed. Try and have your last meal at the same time each day as this will help cement a good sleep pattern.
Reason 3: Can’t Stay Asleep
You wake up after a few hours sleep and can’t get back to sleep again. You may wake up many times in the night and it feels as though you have not slept a wink.
- Avoid late night stimulants – By this I mean sugar and in particular caffeine which can come from tea, coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks. Taking these before going to bed will reduce your quality of sleep and increase your chances of waking up during the night.
- Avoid alcohol – It’s true that alcohol may send you to sleep, but it also reduces the quality of your sleep, which again like caffeine, makes it more likely that you’ll wake up in the night and not be able to fall back to sleep.
- Don’t force yourself to sleep – While you may be able to force yourself to fall asleep initially, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to force yourself to stay asleep. You should be able to drop off to sleep naturally, so if feel you have to force yourself to sleep, try to find out why that is. The easier you fall asleep, the deeper you’ll sleep throughout the night.
- Don’t turn the light on – If you wake up and have to go to the toilet in the night, avoid turning the light on. By turning the light on, you’re sending a message to your body that the sun has come up and that it’s time to wake up. Melatonin production will stop and you’ll begin to feel more alert. Instead, consider a dim torch or even better, a red flashlight, which won’t have this affect on your body.
- Don’t watch the clock – Looking at the time several times during the night only serves to create unnecessary stress which can prevent you from falling asleep. What’s more is that while you think you may have been awake all night wondering where the time must have gone, you were most likely in light sleep. So the perception of being awake all night long is actually inaccurate anyway.
Reason 4: Waking Up Too Early
You wake up in the early hours of the morning and can’t fall back to sleep. You feel worried that you’re not getting enough sleep.
- Avoid the morning sun – Our bodies have been designed so that we wake up when the sun comes up. To prevent this keep you’re bedroom dark during the early hours of the morning with a good pair of blackout curtains.
- Evaluate for depression – Light sleep and early morning awakenings are hallmark signs of depression and high levels of anxiety. If you think you might have depression, you can take a self rated test such as the Zung Self Rating Depression Scale and show your doctor the results if you feel concerned.
- Evaluate your need for sleep – Is it possible that you’re already getting enough sleep? Adults generally need around 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but some people require much less. Even short naps during the day can reduce the amount of sleep you need at night. Evaluate your daytime sleepiness by taking the Epworth Scale and test how alert you feel during the day with the Stanford Scale. If these come back normal, you might already be getting all the sleep you need.
- Fall asleep later – If you’re frustrated at having to wake up early in the morning and would prefer to wake up at a more normal time, you may want to fall asleep later to shift your sleep pattern back. Advanced sleep phase syndrome, where you fall asleep earlier and earlier each day is particularly common in older people. Staying up that little bit later can help combat this.
- Block out the birds – This might sound a little strange, but have you considered that the reason for you waking up during the early hours is that you wake up as soon as the birds start chirping? Next time you wake up, listen out to see if this could be the cause. If it is, see the next section of this article.
Reason 5: Too Much Noise
You can’t sleep because of all that noise finding its way into your bedroom, whether it’s from a snoring partner, noisy neighbors, the traffic on the road outside, or barking dogs. Even if you can fall asleep, one of these sounds is likely to wake you up in the night.
- Mask the noise – Bring a speaker into your bedroom and play some white noise. White noise sounds similar to a fan, but you can change the volume and tone of the noise to help match the one you’re trying to block out. White noise works especially well against noises that startle you by breaking the silence.
- Block the noise – Consider sleeping with a good pair of ear plugs. Not all ear plugs are the same, so if you hate those foam things that poke out of your ear, take a look at my best ear plugs for sleeping article to find a pair that’s both comfortable and effective at blocking out the noise.
- Pay less attention to the noise – Have you been kept awake by a noise where your partner is able to sleep soundly though it, or appears to barely notice it. It’s not that they can’t hear it, but they don’t place the same level of attention on the noise as you do. For some people, just hearing the noise in question makes them boil with rage. If you’re sensitive to certain noises, take a listen this noise sensitivity hypnosis download, to help desensitize those negative emotions you have attached to the noise, so you too can easily sleep though it. They even have one especially for snoring.