10 effective strategies for improving your sleep

Tired of being tired? Insomnia (and other sleep-related disorders) can take a serious toll on both your mental and physical health. Sleeping poorly is proven to lead to functional daytime difficulties, and it can even increase your risk of accidents.

Most of us experience trouble sleeping at some point in our lives. That’s because sleep-related problems such as snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep deprivation and countless other sleep disorders are increasingly prevalent.

Fortunately for those of you who struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, there are some easy, effective ways you can improve the quality and duration of your sleep cycle. But first, let’s identify the enemy.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early and being unable to fall back to sleep. Approximately one in seven Canadians suffers from insomnia, making it the most common sleep disorder by far.

Insomnia can lead to fatigue or sleepiness during the day, forgetfulness, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, depression, reduced motivation and generally low energy. These symptoms can be annoying at best, and at worst can interfere with personal relationships, job performance and other daily functions.

10 strategies to improve your sleep

Before pursuing medication or other treatments, try these simple strategies to help you sleep better:

1. Create a comfortable sleep environment – Ensure your room is not too hot or cold, minimize noise (using earplugs if needed) and block out light sources.

2. Exercise – Many scientific studies have shown that exercising for at least 30 minutes, three times per week, can help improve your sleep. But beware: exercising less than two hours before bedtime can actually interfere with sleep.

3. Relax – Try doing something to relax your body and mind before going to bed. Take a hot bath 90 minutes before you plan to go to bed or experiment with a relaxation exercise, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation.

4. Set a routine —Establish regular waking and bedtime routines, including consistent times. Your routine will become your body’s cue that it’s time to sleep, and a consistent bedtime will help you develop a regular sleep rhythm.

5. Sleep only when sleepy — Don’t force yourself into bed by a particular time if you’re not feeling sleepy. You’ll only end up lying awake, frustrated that you can’t sleep. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring or relaxing, such as listening to calm music or having a warm, caffeine-free drink.

6. Use your bed only for sleep (sex is the only exception) — Try to avoid reading, watching television, working or studying in bed. These activities keep your mind active, which gets in the way of sleep.

7. Try to leave your worries out of the bedroom — Worrying about work, school, health, relationships or even your lack of sleep doesn’t help – it just makes it less likely that you will fall asleep. Let go of your belief that you have to get a solid eight hours of sleep every night, and stop trying to force it. Sleep will happen when it happens – usually once you finally relax.

8. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking — Avoid consuming caffeine at least four hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, some teas, soft drinks and even chocolate. As for alcohol, although you may think it helps you fall asleep, it can actually interfere with your sleep cycle later in the evening. Smoking can also negatively affect your sleep routine and increase your risk of developing sleep apnea.

9. Avoid taking naps — Naps can interfere with normal sleep cycles.

10. Avoid prolonged use of electronic devices before bed — Power down your electronic devices! Anything that gives off light, such as cell phones or electronic reading devices (e-books), makes it harder to fall asleep. Avoid these devices for at least one hour before bedtime.

Additional treatment options

If you’ve tried the strategies above and you’re still experiencing difficulty sleeping, it might be time to consider other options.

Treatment options for sleep disorders vary widely depending on the individual and the specific problem. Implementing some common sense tips may help solve the problem for most sufferers; for others, more stringent therapies or medication may be necessary.

Melatonin supplements are a common go-to solution for addressing sleep problems. However, melatonin doesn’t appear to be helpful to most people who have insomnia, except those with delayed sleep-phase syndrome.

If you’re suffering from insomnia or another sleep disorder and the suggested strategies above don’t help, be sure to speak with your Copeman Healthcare doctor or nurse practitioner about other treatment options.