As a child, you could probably fall asleep within minutes of going to bed. Has this changed for you? Do you have trouble falling asleep, even when you’re exhausted? Or maybe you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall asleep again?
Some reasons for poor sleep are out of your control — chronic pain, a crying baby, or a noisy neighbour, for example. But many times, you may just be struggling to switch-off.
By becoming more aware of your habits and thought patterns that prevent you from relaxing fully, you can start taking steps to change them.
Check your sleep hygiene
First, make sure you’ve eliminated any environmental factors that could be disrupting your sleep.
Free your sleeping space from distractions, and do your best to keep it dark, quiet, and set to a comfortable temperature. Align your circadian rhythms by going to bed and waking up at a consistent time every day, and limiting your intake of caffeine.
If you still struggle to rest after addressing external causes of sleep disruption, then your wakefulness may be caused by your internal state. It could be that racing thoughts and big emotions are making it hard to unwind.
Are you someone who can’t stop replaying the day’s mistakes in your head, or adding on to tomorrow’s to-do list? Do you fixate on some unresolved conflict at work or at home? Or maybe you list “what ifs” about things that are entirely out of your control?
Think about the predominant emotions driving the thoughts that prevent you from relaxing. Are they rooted in fear, jealousy, anger, or something else? How might your bedtime rituals be amplifying these emotions?
Check In with yourself
Take a minute to reflect on your sleep routine. Could your bedtime habits be feeding the worrisome thoughts and feelings that make it harder to wind-down? The more honest you can be with yourself, the more empowered you will be to create change. Consider the following:
Does checking social media before bed increase feelings of jealousy or make you feel inadequate?
Does overeating, drinking alcohol, or smoking before bed cause you to view yourself in a negative way?
Does replaying a difficult experience or conversation in your head make you feel sad or angry?
Does reading the news or checking work emails make you feel stressed about all of the things that could possibly go wrong tomorrow?
If yes, then changing your habits may help change your mindset; making it easier to wind down and sleep.
Establish habits for calm
Imagine some new bedtime rituals you’d like to develop. What activities would put you in a calmer, more joyful space at night? Activities you might consider doing before bed include:
Reading a book
Drawing or painting
Doing a puzzle or another quiet hobby
Spending quality time with your pet
Listening to relaxing music
Taking a hot bath
Yoga, stretching, or progressive muscle relaxation
You might also set a time to meditate or journal about any stressful thoughts earlier in the day, so you aren’t waiting until bedtime to process them.
Steps for a better bedtime
By creating better habits, you’ll avoid feeding the negative thought patterns that steal your joy and keep you awake. The following four steps can help:
1. Recognise your unhelpful bedtime habits
Write them down and reflect on how they may be working against you — both at bedtime, and in general. Be honest with yourself about what emotions these habits could be amplifying.
2. Make a plan to decrease unhelpful habits
Can you use an alarm clock so that your phone and laptop stay out of your bedroom? Can you keep a pen and paper by your bed to write down any important thoughts instead of thinking about them all night? Prepare ahead of time so you can stick to your plan (even when you’re tired).
3. Schedule time to de-stress
Plan some screen-free time for unwinding at least 30 minutes before you want to go to bed. Choose an activity that relaxes you and makes you feel happier.
4. Communicate your needs
Talk to others about your sleep needs. This could mean letting your family or housemates know that you can’t watch TV with them all evening. It could mean letting your boss know that you don’t check work emails past 7 PM.
Maybe it even means sleeping in a separate room from your spouse on occasion. Communicating your reasons for your habit changes will help prevent hard feelings, and may even get you some extra support.
Today’s action steps
Eliminate sleep disruptors from your environment. Remove phones, screens, or any other stressors from your bedroom.
Decide on a bedtime and wake time that allows for seven to nine hours of sleep. Set reminders and your alarm clock accordingly.
Thirty minutes before bedtime, do an activity that calms and relaxes you.
Communicate your new bedtime habits and needs to anyone you live with so they can support you in sticking to them.
As you start to become more aware of any bedtime habits that increase internal stressors, you can continue to replace unhelpful bedtime habits with more calming ones.
Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you develop healthy habits for clearing your mind and getting a good night’s sleep.
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