RODALE NEWS, LENNOX, MA—It may seem strange to think that anyone needs to be told how to fall asleep. But we've all had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night, and then having trouble drifting off again. When this becomes an almost nightly occurrence, figuring out how to fall asleep quickly instead of tossing and turning till dawn could becomes critical for your quality of life and your health. Unfortunately, that desperate need to fall asleep can become one of the things that keeps you awake.
Previously, we discussed the importance of sleep for your health, and some ways to make sure you get as much as you need. For people who have difficulty sleeping, the basic practices that can help you to sleep soundly are relatively simple:
1. Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule.
2. Exercise aerobically most days of the week.
3. Avoid eating, drinking alcohol, and exercising two to three hours before bedtime.
4. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. If you are very sensitive to caffeine, avoid it completely.
5. Make sure you're not taking medication that affects your sleep.
6. Enjoy a relaxing evening routine before bed; that might include a hot bath or shower, a cup of herbal tea, time listening to relaxing music, and reading.
7. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, quiet, and uncluttered, and use your bed only for sleep and for sex.
But supposed you've done all that, and you still wake up during the night. What then? The good news is that you can learn how to fall asleep again when that happens, and get the rest you need.
THE DETAILS: A good next step is to arrange a consultation with your doctor to rule out any physical causes of your sleep difficulty. If your difficulty getting back to sleep is not the result of a physical condition, there are some strategies that can help.
First, be aware that everyone wakes up during the night. Light sleepers wake up more often than sound sleepers, and they tend to have more trouble getting back to sleep. Sound sleepers wake up for a few seconds and get right back to sleep.
One reason light sleepers have trouble getting back to sleep is that their minds become active when they wake up. They start thinking about daytime concerns, and their bodies react to their thoughts with increased energy and alertness. In addition, when people with sleep difficulties wake up during the night, they often start worrying about whether they will get back to sleep. And then…catch-22…their anxiety about getting back to sleep prevents them from sleeping.