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Improving Your Sleep

Sleep is really important, as we're sure you already know! Often those who feel sad, anxious, and stressed can feel much better from improved sleep. The quality and amount of sleep we get each night plays a big part in how we feel, and so one of the best things we can do for our health is to make sure we are getting regular, healthy sleep.

Recommendations for healthy sleeping habits:

  • Stick to a regular schedule. It is important to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. This means not changing your sleep schedule very much even on weekends. Sleeping in or staying up late on weekends will change your sleep pattern and then it will be very difficult to get back to a normal schedule Sunday night when trying to get to bed early for school on Monday.
  • Don't take naps. Taking naps for more than 30 minutes during the day will cause your body to feel that it already got enough sleep to stay awake for a longer amount of time, and will make it much more difficult to fall asleep that night. Take only one 30 minute nap (or less) during the day. And if you are tempted to sleep more than that, then don't nap at all!
  • Be careful with lights. Bright lights can be signals for our bodies that it isn't time to go to sleep yet. So 30-60 minutes before bed, try to dim down all lights, including computers, TV, cell phones, and so on. When you are getting ready for bed, try to avoid watching TV and instead consider reading or listening to music. These tend to make us feel more tired.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. It is important to give your body signals that it is time to slow down and get ready for sleep. Try to make sure your evening chores and responsibilities are done about 30 minutes before bedtime, then take this 30 minutes to do something enjoyable and relaxing for you, like reading, a hobby, listening to music, relaxation exercises, drinking caffeine free tea or hot chocolate, and so on. Hurrying around the house, scrambling with duties, and then jumping in to bed and expecting to sleep is difficult because you will still be thinking about all the things you were just doing. Just before bed turn your lights down low, and get a routine where you get ready for bed the same way every night. This routine will help your mind know that it is time for sleep.
  • Don't exercise before bed. This will get your body too activated and excited. Exercise is very important for your health and for healthy sleep, but try to do this in the morning, afternoon or early evening – try not to exercise within about 3 hours of going to sleep. So if you go to sleep at 9 pm, try to be done with exercise by 6 pm.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Reading, watching TV, doing homework or other tasks in bed will trick your brain into thinking that your bed is for doing activities that you need to be awake for, leading to trouble when it comes time to actually try and fall asleep. Do all reading and work at a table or up in a chair or the sofa, not in your bed. It is better NOT to have a TV in your bedroom, and if you do, try to watch it in a chair or on the floor. Let your bed be for sleeping only!
  • Avoid caffeine at least 4-6 hours before sleep. Caffeine is something found in different foods or drinks that interferes with your ability to fall asleep. Coffee, tea, sodas, cocoa, chocolate, and some medications contain caffeine. If you eat or drink any caffeine within 4-6 hours before bed, then it can make it impossible to fall asleep. So if you really want to drink coffee, then be sure you are done drinking it by the afternoon or early evening, unless you are drinking decaf.
  • Don't eat too much or too little. If you feel too full or too hungry, this can interfere with sleep. Try to be done eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, and if you still feel hungry when it's time for sleep, then have a light snack that will satisfy you but won't make you feel too full.
  • Take a hot bath before bed. Make sure you are not doing this right before you go to sleep. Instead, try to do this 90 minutes before bedtime. Taking a bath will raise your body temperature at first, and then when you get out of the bath your body temperature will slowly go back down which can cause people to feel tired. Also the relaxing effect of the bath can help calm you.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Keeping your room a little on the cool side is better for sleep. Either having no light or very little light is best for sleeping, bright night-lights can disrupt sleep. Get window shades that will block out any light coming from outside, or wear a sleep eye-mask. If outside noise bothers you (cars, TV, people talking, and so on), then purchase earplugs or get a machine that creates a soft noise to help drown out the outdoor sounds. 
  • Get in the sun. When you get up in the morning, turn on bright lights or open your curtains to get natural sunlight exposure. This will help your body know that it is time to wake up, and will help your brain learn what times it is supposed to be tired and when it is supposed to be awake.
  • Hide the clock. Knowing what time it is or how long you have been unable to sleep can make us feel uncomfortable or anxious, and that makes it harder to sleep. Set your alarm before bed and then turn the clock away so you won't watch it. This helps to stop us from worrying about the time, and lets us focus more on just trying to sleep.
  • Try the 20 minute rule. If you go to bed and find you have not fallen asleep after about 20 minutes (just guess if it's been 20 minutes as you don't want to watch the clock!) then get up and read something boring for about 20 minutes. The key is you do not want to read anything too fun or exciting as this will keep you awake. Make sure you do this without any bright lights. After 20 minutes of reading, go back to bed and try to sleep. If another 20 minutes pass with no sleep, then get up and repeat this activity as many times as needed until you do fall asleep. Getting up to watch TV or get on the computer is not recommended, as these have bright screens that will make your body feel more awake.
  • Reset your sleep pattern. If you are unable to fall asleep until very late (such as 2 am or 3 am), and then sleep in late the next morning (such as 11 am or noon), then your sleep pattern has changed so that your body thinks you should not feel tired until very late at night, and does not want you to feel awake until you have slept in late the next day. To change this so you can fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier, you need to set your alarm for an early time (7 or 8 am, or earlier). Even though you will feel tired when the alarm goes off, you must force yourself to get up and stay up for the rest of the day. By doing this, you will likely be tired enough to fall asleep at a more normal bedtime (9 or 10 pm) that night. If not, do this again, and within a few days of doing this, your sleep pattern should be back to normal.