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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

Having Trouble Sleeping? 9 Quick Fixes to Help You Sleep Tonight

Having Trouble Sleeping? 9 Quick Fixes to Help You Sleep Tonight
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According to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of people living in the United States don’t get enough sleep.[1] Americans are also the least happy they’ve ever been, based on a recent U.N. report — they’ve dropped in happiness rankings for the past three years running.[2] It’s difficult to say whether poor sleeping habits and sleepless nights are causally related to unhappiness, but there is very little doubt that when you have trouble sleeping, it negatively affects your overall health and well-being.

Whether you want to fall asleep faster or get higher-quality rest overall, improving your sleep isn’t necessarily difficult. Here are 9 easy things you can do to get better sleep right away:

1. Write Before Bed

The difficulty in getting to sleep for many people lies in an inability to shut off their thoughts. As you wind down, you’re often not only thinking about events of the day, but also on the next day’s challenges. These thoughts aren’t aimless chatter, either — they represent feelings, observations, or intentions that your subconscious has deemed important, and doesn’t want you to forget during the night.

One solution is to write as many of those thoughts down as you can. Whether it’s a journal, a diary, or just a stack of post-it notes, writing down your thoughts and feelings before bed will move them temporarily out of your mind. You’ll often find this makes it easier for you to relax.

2. Make Your Bed

Making your bed might seem like too simple of a chore to carry with it the power to change your sleep quality. Interestingly, however, there is a correlation between making your bed and your quality of sleep.

That’s right: the National Sleep Foundation compiled data from a “Bedroom Poll” and found that people who said they made their beds in the morning also reported better sleep overall.[3]

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Why this correlation exists is still a mystery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploiting it. After all, it only takes a few minutes to make your bed each morning, and chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re probably lying awake in bed for longer than that every night anyway.

3. Drink More Water

You might think drinking more water would harm your sleep quality by causing you to get up at night and use the bathroom. That can happen, which is why a good hydration practice involves not waiting until bedtime to guzzle water.

If you’re surprised that hydration affects sleep patterns in the first place, you shouldn’t be. Even mild dehydration dries out your mouth and nasal passages, making you more likely to snore or wake up during the night. It can even lead to nocturnal leg cramps.

Whenever possible, drink plenty of fluids (non-caffeinated, if you’re having trouble sleeping) at regular intervals throughout the day. About 90 ounces of fluid a day is appropriate for most women, while most men should be getting closer to 125.[4]

4. Take a Shower Before Bed

During the day, your core body temperature naturally fluctuates in accordance with your circadian rhythm, which, as you may know, controls your sleep-wake cycle.

Body temperature is one of the factors your body relies on to know whether it’s time to sleep or stay awake. A lowered core temperature prompts melatonin release, and the body progressively cools overnight before warming again around “wake-up” time.

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This is called thermoregulation, and you can manipulate it with a warm bath or shower. The warm water heats up your body, and when you get out, your skin dries and cools quickly — triggering melatonin and other “sleep cues” in the brain.

5. Take a Night Drive (In Your Imagination)

This is a visualization technique similar to what many therapists recommend to treat stress and anxiety, and one of many such techniques put forth by the National Sleep Foundation.[5]

Think of a drive or ride you take often (your daily commute to work, for example). Now picture yourself getting in your vehicle, pulling out of your parking space, and commencing the trip. Try your best to focus on the road and imagine each stop, turn, curve, and landmark. Chances are, you’ll be asleep before you reach the second mile marker.

6. Quit Coffee

Of all the ideas on this list, you might be most opposed to trying this one. After all, if you’re already groggy and tired in the mornings from not sleeping well, coffee might be the one thing that seems to help you get going.

Unfortunately (especially for those who drink coffee for the taste), the same caffeine that is your best friend in the morning becomes your enemy at night, disrupting your circadian rhythm and promoting an unhealthy cycle of wakefulness.

You might think, “Sure, but I don’t drink caffeine at night.” What you might not know is that the quarter-life of caffeine is a full 12 hours — meaning if you drink a cup of coffee at noon, a quarter of the caffeine from it is still in your system at midnight.

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Ditching caffeinated stuff for decaf or hot tea might be difficult in the short run, but it will make it easier to relax and wind down later in the day. If you find that you just can’t give it up, try to drink your caffeine as early as possible in the day to help minimize its late-night effects.

7. Try Dinner for Breakfast

While nutritional science is still in its infancy in many ways, its research has already made waves in demonstrating how what we eat affects us. Potassium, for instance, benefits the body in many ways — including acting as a mild muscle relaxant.[6]

Protein, meanwhile, may be billed as the muscle-building nutrient, but did you know it also aids in sleep?[7] Another key to getting quality rest is making sure the body’s blood sugar level stays regulated — something a good source of light carbohydrates can help immensely with.

Put all that together and what do you get? A prescription for breakfast at dinnertime. A banana for the potassium, some eggs for the protein, and some carbs, like a piece of toast or bowl of oats, will prime your body for a relaxing night of high-quality sleep. (Just leave out the coffee.)

8. Try the ARMY’s 2-Minute Technique

If there’s one organization that absolutely can’t afford groggy employees, it’s the military. To guard against mistakes committed by sleep-deprived soldiers, the U.S. Army trains its members in a technique to fall asleep within 2 minutes.[8] Here’s how it works:

  1. After getting ready for sleep (teeth brushed, alarm set, etc.), lie down in a comfortable position (you can also do this in your car, in which case just lean your seat back)
  2. Tighten all the muscles in your face, then let them relax as much as possible
  3. Let your shoulders and arms relax as well
  4. Clear your mind for 10 seconds, trying to think of nothing at all
  5. Picture one of the following: you’re lying in a canoe, in a calm lake with clear blue skies above; or you’re in a velvet hammock, gently swaying in a pitch-black room

If this doesn’t work right away, it may be worth trying again. The best results are reported after several weeks of consistent practice.

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9. Get More Exercise

When it comes to packing everything into your schedule, do you prioritize extra sleep or extra exercise? The truth is you need both to maintain your health. The solution might be to focus on exercises that have been documented to actually benefit your sleep quality.

For example, doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise after waking up in the morning has been shown to improve sleep quality in adults. According to at least one survey, those who exercise are almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report getting good sleep each night.[9]

The Bottom Line

While these tips can be highly effective, it’s important to remember that poor sleep can also be caused by underlying medical conditions. That said, in many cases, lifestyle changes have been shown to be more effective than medication at improving sleep in the long term. Either way, it’s a good idea to discuss these kinds of issues with your physician or healthcare provider.

Whatever you decide, trouble sleeping isn’t something you should ignore. Lack of sleep can contribute to a number of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

You spend up to a third of your life asleep, so if you want to improve your quality of life and overall well-being, it stands to reason that your sleep habits are a good place to start!

More Tips for Better Sleep

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Dr. David Minkoff

Health Expert | CEO BodyHealth | Co-Owner and Medical Director at Lifeworks Wellness Center | Author

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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