There’s a lot you can do to regain control over your sleep. Minor lifestyle and environment changes — such as preparing for sleep, following a sleep schedule, and making your bedroom conducive to sleep — can have a major impact. And if you do shift work, there are ways to meet the unique challenges you face.
Prepare for sleep
Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep can help you get your mind and body into “sleep mode.”
Relax your body. To reduce muscular tension, try techniques such as meditation, progressive relaxation (see glossary), or even taking a warm bath.
Unwind mentally. About a half hour before going to bed, enjoy a low-key activity such as reading or listening to music.
Once in bed, try to stop worrying. Avoid solving your problems from your bed. Before going to bed, make a list of problems and “next steps” for the following day.
Try a high-carb snack. A light snack that is high in carbohydrates, such as a plain bagel, might help you relax. Avoid heavy, spicy, or high-sugar foods.
Follow a schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even on weekends. Creating this routine can help condition your mind and body to expect sleep at a regular time.
Do a bedroom check
Your bedroom may not be as conducive to sleep as it could be. The following strategies can make your bedroom more sleep-friendly:
Block out noise. Or better yet, eliminate it. Even if you fall back to sleep after noise wakes you, the quality of your sleep can be compromised. Turn off radios, televisions, or stereos in the bedroom (and other rooms as well). If you can’t control the noise, try earplugs.
Reduce light. The issue isn’t merely how light affects your eyes. Light also affects the way your brain produces hormones that regulate your sleep cycle. Even a minimal amount of light can disrupt your sleep. Possible solutions: Ask your sleep partner to read in another room; wear a “sleep mask”; use heavy shades or other window treatments that keep the room very dark.
Adjust the room temperature. If you are too warm or too cold, you are less likely to sleep soundly. Adjust the thermostat, your sleep clothes, or your bedding; open or close a window.
Move the clock. If you have insomnia (see glossary), looking at the clock can make you anxious. Therefore, it’s best to keep it out of view.
Have your pet sleep somewhere else. If your dog or cat sleeps in your bed, your chances for sound sleep are jeopardized. Have your pet sleep on the floor, or get your pet its own cushion and place it in another room.
Address your partner’s sleep problems. A bed partner who snores, tosses and turns a lot, talks while sleeping, or gets up often can affect your own sleep. In some cases, using earplugs or adding “white noise” (from a fan or similar humming appliance) can help. If your partner gets up a lot, make sure he or she sleeps closest to the door. If your partner tosses and turns, consider a larger bed, or even separate beds.
Perhaps the best solution for you and your partner is to get to the source of the problem by consulting a healthcare provider.
Tips for shift workers
If you need to get a good night's sleep during the day, one of your biggest challenges may be dealing with the sunlight. Here are some suggestions:
If possible, work in brightly lit areas during your shift.
When you drive home in the morning, wear sunglasses. Limiting light to your eyes tricks the brain into thinking it’s getting close to nighttime.
Make sure your bedroom is absolutely dark. If any daylight is creeping in through the curtains or shades, drape a thick towel or blanket over the window. You might also consider wearing a “sleep mask.”
October 9, 2007