The #1 mistake we all make while trying to fall asleep...and it's simpler than you think
We all have trouble falling asleep, but have we identified the root cause of it all?
I always find myself crawling into bed with my comfy pjs on, the room is nice and cold, I have a big soft duvet on top of me (basically the perfect bedroom setting) and....boom! I can't sleep. My eyes are wide awake and it's going to take a lot of time for them to shut.
Now, I know that I am not the only one who deals with this issue. According to The National Sleep Foundation, it takes 1 in 5 people three or more hours to sleep and about 1/3 of Americans are reported to be dissatisfied with their sleep. So what exactly is the problem? What is keeping America up at night, and how can we fix this issue?
Rebecca Robbins, PhD, associate scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that staying in bed when you can't sleep is the worst thing you can do for your sleep cycle.
Dr. Robbins states that, "One of the biggest mistakes that many of us make, is when we're experiencing sleep difficulty, staying in bed and tossing and turning and thinking that if we just stay in bed a little bit longer, we'll will ourselves to sleep, but we're actually doing the opposite." In summary, Dr. Robbins claims that we are conditioning our brains to believe that the bed is the setting of insomnia and not a place where we can rest.
A well rested person should take about 15 to 20 minutes to doze off, so taking a bit of time to fall asleep is natural. If you find yourself saying "Oh no, not again! I can't fall asleep tonight!" after 2 hours, honey we have a problem.
Here's what you actually need to do if you want to go to bed with the intention of a good night's rest:
1. Create a wind down routine
Make your brain comfortable with a consistent routine that signals relaxation and sleep in order to cognitively make you feel tired. Allot at least 30 minutes to take a bath, read a book, listen to a podcast, or play quiet music. These “transition rituals” can condition your brain to associate certain actions with preparing for sleep. This can include things like dimming the lights, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath. I also suggest limiting technology in this night time routine as a screen is known to rev up anxiety and stress signals in your brain.
2. Never let yourself to go to bed upset
Going to bed with any extreme feeling of anger, sadness, or anxiety is a recipe for disaster and insomnia. Always make sure that you resolve your worries before you hit the pillow by either talking to somebody, journaling, or meditating. According to Juanita Wells, director of clinical development at New Method Wellness, putting your thoughts down on paper can “help us remain accountable to ourselves, our feelings, our purpose, and plan.” Instead of letting thoughts and to-dos swirl around in your brain, write them down so that your brain has a game plan for the following day.
3. Try a sleep inducing activity
Activities like light reading, deep breathing meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation an help calm your mind and body and reduce anxiety. You can try guided meditations or relaxation apps to guide you through the process. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves participants actively contracting muscles to create tension and progressively releasing this. The routine is repeated until participants acquire complete relaxation. Tricking your brain into night mode with these activities can progress your journey to sound sleep.