When we’re feeling drained, sometimes the best thing that we can do for ourselves is to get a good night of sleep. As tempting as it can be to stay up late binging the latest Netflix show, turning in early can do wonders for both our bodies and emotions. A hard time can feel more manageable when we’ve let ourselves reset. Sometimes, though, we end up laying awake for hours, tossing and turning throughout the night and into an exhausted and defeated morning. After a full night in bed, it can feel incredibly frustrating to begin the day feeling unrested.
You may be trying to prioritize self-care, yet feel stuck and like it’s not working. The good news is: you are not alone. Difficulty sleeping happens to many of us at some point, and there are some effective techniques which can help you improve your sleep and feel ready for the day ahead.
Create (and Stick with) a Bedtime Routine
Make a habit of bedtime. If you get your body used to a routine, it can be easier to fall asleep. Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, or eating a heavy meal near bedtime. Practice winding down the last 30-60 minutes before bed with a relaxing activity and turn off electronics. Activities like taking a bath, reading, and journaling can help us wind down and prepare our minds and bodies for rest. As part of your sleep routine, try training yourself to go to bed and to wake up at the same time everyday—yes, even on weekends and days off! Your body clock doesn’t know the difference, and sleep’ll come easier if you stick to a consistent schedule.
Say No to Naps
Naps can be tempting, but try to be strict and avoid napping when possible. When that doesn't seem like an option, limit them to 10 minutes or less. A two hours snooze during the day might sound like an attractive idea, but longer naps are enough to through off your sleep cycle and leave you feeling groggy.
Establish a Sleep (Only) Zone
Keep your bed a sleep (only) zone—scrolling through our phones when we’re getting ready for a bed is a common habit. After a long day, zoning out on social media from the comfort of a duvet and pillows can feel like luxury. The problem is, it can make it harder for our our brains to turn off in bed when we’re lying next to our book, phone, or TV. These activities keep our minds whirling—instead, try keeping non-sleep habits like social media, movies, and snacking to another room and save your bed for sleep.
Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Set yourself up for success! If you can, keep the room quiet, turn off all the lights, and set the temperature at a comfortable spot. Don’t worry, though, if these things are out of your control: sleep masks, noise machines, an extra blanket, or a fan can help you create a better space for a full night of sleep.
Take a Break from Trying to Sleep
If you find yourself continuing to struggle to fall asleep 30 to 60 minutes after laying down, get out of bed and move into another room for a quiet activity. Remember, your bed is going to become a place for you to sleep, not a place you stay up trying to sleep for hours. Find a quiet space outside your bedroom and start a quiet activity. This might be coloring or reading, but make sure to stay away from electronics which encourage your mind to be awake and active. Eventually, when you begin to feel drowsy, return to your bed to sleep.
Help Yourself Relax
Of course, all that might be well and good, but when you’re feeling anxious or worried, a sleep mask might not feel like it’s any help. When this happens, focus on relaxing your body: take a few deep breaths while concentrating on contracting the different muscle groups, then relaxing each muscle. If none of the above techniques seem to help and those worries are still pressing, it can often help to remind yourself that the night makes more than just the dark seem scary. Often times, what we’re anxious about in bed will feel more manageable in the morning.
Sleepless nights can be so frustrating, especially when our days are so busy. The good thing is: this cycle can be broken. By getting back to a good night of sleep, you can again begin to feel more ready to take on your day.
Torie Cueto, LMFT is a licensed therapist in San Diego, California. Torie provides in-person therapy in San Diego and online video therapy throughout California.