How to Sleep Better – Tips from a Former Insomniac

A good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy mind and body – but it’s easier said than done! Try these natural, proven methods for a better bedtime.

Sleep doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Some people resort to pills or alcohol as a quick fix, which is dangerous, since these don’t address the core issues at hand. The goal is to train you mind to think long-term and more sustainably; to rewire your mind through a series of lifestyle commitments. It’s these habits practiced over time that condition your body to sleep better.

Remember: Your physical health is always worth investing your time and money in.

I struggled with insomnia for over 5 years. Continued exposure to short/disturbed sleep created lasting psychological and physical effects, so I understand the importance and difficulty many of us face. These are the methods that worked for me.

Create an evening routine

Do not underestimate the power of a nightly routine, an easy and essential practice to adjusting your sleep progression. This can last about 2 hours before bedtime, and will position your mind/body for a restful night.

Turn off the screen

Screens emit blue light that our bodies associate with daytime activity. It stimulates our mind and confuses the transition to bedtime. Shut down about 2 hours before sleep.

If you must connect, use apps to remove blue light from your display. This warms the screen and is better associated with indoor/nighttime activity. Dimmers can also be used to decrease your screens’ brightness and make for healthier viewing in low light.

Recommended apps:

  • Blue light removal: f.lux automatically adjusts your displays at sunset/sunrise (iOS, Android, PC). You can also try Twilight (for Android).
  • Screen dimmer: Enable night mode on your mobile device to reduce brightness at bedtime.
  • Phone use: Moment (iOS) and Quality Time (Android) are fantastic apps for realizing your phone use. View detailed metrics on how often you open your phone, on what apps and when. It’s a huge motivator to gain control of your screen time.

Schedule dinnertime and stick to it

Plan to eat dinner 2-3 hours before bed. This provides sufficient digestion time, which slows during sleep and would otherwise result in bloating, discomfort, and possible weight gain. Finish with a cup of decaffeinated tea 30 minutes before bed. I recommend valerian root, chamomile, lavender, or other remedies that are conducive to a good night’s rest.

Breathe in, breathe out

Breath work is one of the most important tools to meditation and a peaceful mind. It overtakes mental distractions and refocuses attention to your body. I find the best method is to sync your breathing to something nearby – another person, a pet, white noise. There are also apps that provide meditative breath rhythms; Calm is a great example (iOS, Android) which provide this among other features.

Utilize audio triggers

Thanks to Pavlov, we can condition ourselves to associate sound with physical reaction. In this case, we can use audio triggers to trick our bodies to think, “sleep”.

  • Music: A genre we don’t normally hear (but I highly recommend) is rhythmic chants. Not only do these help with breath work, but they blur our mind with repetition until drifting off. I suggest Deva Premal: Mantras for Precarious Times, or something similar.
  • Guided Meditations: Before you can achieve peace, you must learn the techniques. Like clearing the mind and drawing your attention to your physical self. Check out Calm, a collection of meditations and workshops, as well as the Meditation Oasis podcast.
  • Bedtime Stories: Aren’t only for kids! Bedtime stories are especially helpful when you mind is a bit more active. Check out Calm’s Sleep Stories or Sleep With Me podcast. I’ve also found movies to be helpful; something I know well, won’t be engrossed by, and can visualize with my eyes closed. Turn on the audio and off the screen, and follow the story with your mind alone.

Create a morning routine

Your morning routine is just as important as your evening routine. Your first interaction with the day has a tremendous impact on how you perceive it. Compare it to waking up to grey clouds vs. blue skies and sunshine each morning. You psyche will benefit (or suffer) based on what you choose.

Get a better alarm clock

Apps like Sleep Cycle (iOS, Android) monitor your sleep and wake you at your lightest, or when you’re most likely to do so naturally. Simply input a window (say, 30 minutes) and let the app decide the rest.

No screens until after breakfast

This is an important one! There’s a transition between “woken” and “awake” where your mind should activate gradually. Bombarding yourself with alerts and social stimuli creates an expedited, unnatural wakening that can leave you feeling restless.

Enjoy some “you” time

This is your time to prepare for the day. Organize your thoughts and decide what you want to accomplish. Over time, you’ll gain control of your schedule, hold yourself accountable and celebrate reaching your goals.

Write things down (you know, with a pencil)

There’s a big difference in noting things on a notepad vs. digitally. You phone is clean, tucked away, and tasks are easily forgotten about. But with a notepad, you have something physical cluttering the table to draw your attention.

Keep the notepad with you during the day and by your bedside at night. Write down your task lists, frustrations or thought processes – giving them a place to live rather than your head. Eventually, you’ll train yourself to deal with things more proactively throughout the day so you have less to worry about at night.

Create your perfect sleep space

In the same way we can condition ourselves audibly, we can also condition ourselves visually. Our bedroom, for example, should only be associated with sleep. Don’t work there; don’t eat there; don’t be awake there.

You want to create an atmosphere that welcomes relaxation. Remove distractions (like electronics), keep the room cool and dark, and crawl into a freshly made bed each evening. You could also try adding white noise or aromatics to further transform your space to a peaceful oasis.

If all else fails, get up

Sometimes, it’s just not the night for us. Despite our efforts, we wake up at 3am with our minds racing. Follow these steps if this happens to you:

  • Step 1: Stay in position! Tossing and turning wakes our mind further. Instead, focus your attention on dream recollection. Replay the imagery, and put yourself back into your dream. With any luck, you’ll fall back into it without noticing.
  • Step 2: Go back to breath work. Focus your mind on your body and rhythmic inhales/exhales.
  • Step 3: If you mind is full, grab your notepad. Remove your worries until you can review them in the morning.
  • Step 4: If you’re still awake after 30 minutes, get up. You’ll do more damage by obsessing over thoughts in bed, which again, should only be associated with positive sleep activities. So get out of bed, read a boring book or focus on other bedtime techniques. Try again a little later.
  • Step 5: Don’t give up! One night won’t ruin you. It takes time to develop sleeping skills. Take a moment to recognize what kept you awake, and use that knowledge toward tomorrow.

2 Replies to “How to Sleep Better – Tips from a Former Insomniac”

Leave a Reply