The Very Best Tips for Getting – and Staying – Asleep

Falling right to sleep and then staying asleep may sound like a dream, but it is possible. Yet more than half of all midlife women experience insomnia at least a few nights a week. Everyone’s different, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the following tips to find the ones that work best for you.

One way to reduce bouts of insomnia and get rid of those miserable nights permanently is to develop a schedule, and then stick-to-it! Just as mothers are instructed to put their new babies to bed at the same time each night, adults can improve sleep quality by being consistent with when they go to bed and wake up every day.

When you keep a regular sleep schedule you set your body’s internal clock.

Even on weekends, it’s important to follow these times fairly closely in order to avoid confusing your body’s internal clock, also known as your circadian rhythm (natural sleep and wake cycle.) So, it’s very important to go to bed and get up at the same time 7 days a week.

Changes to your routine of just an hour or two can disrupt this circadian rhythm. Even if you consistently get the necessary 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but vary the times you go to bed and get up, you won’t feel as rested and refreshed as when you stick to the same schedule night after night. So set a regular bedtime when you normally feel tired, and fight the temptation to stay up later on weekends.

Just as important is waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends when you may think it’s a great chance to sleep in a couple hours. By following a regular sleep schedule, you should wake up naturally. That’s right! You can kiss that alarm clock goodbye, because your internal clock will wake you up automatically.

If you do need to change your bedtime for some reason, try to do so gradually, in 15 minute increments earlier or later over several days, rather than suddenly. And if you occasionally need to make up for lost sleep, choose to take a short nap of not more than half an hour. Set an alarm to awaken you, so you don’t overdo it. And be sure to nap early in the day, say before 2:00 PM, because napping late in the afternoon can wreak havoc with your ability to fall asleep at night.

Your sleep environment is also critical but often gets overlooked.

The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears was dead on…for some the bed may be too hard, others too soft, and still others just right! And that strategy applies to things besides the firmness or softness of your mattress. Everything from light to noise to the temperature in the room can affect your quality of sleep.

Generally, the quieter your sleeping quarters are, the better your sleep will be. Just because you’ve become accustomed to noises like traffic on the street or TVs playing down the hall, doesn’t mean that your sleep is not being disrupted by these sounds. And loud, sudden noises like dogs barking, sirens wailing, or horns honking can be particularly troublesome.

If it’s not possible to deaden or muffle these sounds by closing windows or hanging heavy drapes, then try adding steady, soothing sounds. Play a tape of gentle music, soft ocean waves, or run a fan to create white noise. There are even white noise machines you can buy for this specific purpose.

Light can disrupt sleep, too. For some people even a tiny bit of light can make it hard to drift off to sleep. When my oldest daughter went to college, she had a hard time adjusting. At home Hayley had her own room, so when her roommate was working late at night in their room, Hayley found it hard to sleep. The noises and light not only made it hard for her to fall asleep but when she could get to sleep, she’d often be woken up. We bought her a comfortable, well-fitting, 100% light-blocking sleep mask and a box of good quality ear plugs; problem solved! She slept like a baby again.

Just as noise can interrupt our sleep, a room that’s too hot, too cold or drafty can make mess with our sleep. Sleep studies show that most people sleep best in a room that’s on the cooler side. And menopausal women especially benefit from a cooler temperature while sleeping. I even prefer to have a window slightly open, except on very cold winter nights! Wearing light, unrestrictive bed clothes and have multiple covers that can be added or pealed back as needed, will help too.

And of course, a good quality mattress and pillow are important.

If your mattress is too firm or too soft, try adding foam, egg crate or down-filled toppers. And experiment with multiple pillows for added support if one is not sufficient. As I’ve aged, my arthritis has made it important to cushion my joints, so I routinely sleep with a body pillow against which I can cradle myself.

A very common sleep inhibitor is the television, which has become a mainstay in the modern bedroom. TV stimulates the mind, which should not be surprising based on the stressful, often violent content on late night shows. And the flickering light has also been shown to confuse the body’s clock. Another big no-no that many make is to work in bed for an hour or more before going to sleep. This sends the wrong message to the brain by increasing alertness and stress, rather than unwinding, which is what we should be doing before going to sleep.

It’s far better to read light material, listen to soft music, do needlework, even jot a list of to-dos on a bedside notepad for the next day in order to empty your mind. Also consider a warm bath, do some slow, easy stretches, practice deep breathing and meditation, ask a partner to give you a massage. These are all great options before sleep, will help you to fall easily to sleep and stay asleep.

And no guide to healthful sleep would be complete without addressing the role of what we eat and drink in how well we sleep. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that caffeine is probably the most common stimulant that disrupts sleep. So avoid any caffeine for a minimum of 4, but preferably 6 hours, prior to bedtime. This includes not just coffee, but also tea, many soft drinks but especially cola, chocolate and even some medications like pain killers can contain caffeine.

If you’re going to drink an alcoholic beverage, refrain from doing so within 3 hours of bedtime. Even though drinking initially makes some people drowsy, you’re more likely to wake-up later, and at the very least it will decrease the quality of your sleep. And drinking too much liquid before bed will increase the likelihood that you’ll have to make one or more bathroom trips during the night. Caffeine is also a diuretic, and will magnify this problem.

Be careful not to eat large meals too late at night, and avoid all rich, heavy foods within 2 hours of going to bed. Spicy and acidic foods can also cause heartburn, an acid stomach or indigestion, especially when lying down. If you’re hungry before bed, choose a small snack that in your experience doesn’t interfere with your sleep. Ideally, choose dairy foods combined with carbohydrates or food containing tryptophan with carbohydrates. For example, a small dish of whole grain, unsweetened cereal with low fat milk or half a turkey sandwich are ideal choices.

Finally, realize that waking during the night is normal.

If you do wake up, don’t look at the clock! If you can’t help yourself, then turn the clock away from you so that you can’t see the time. Clock-watching will make it harder for you to fall back to sleep. If you must get up to use the bathroom, don’t turn on the light, instead use a dim night light for safety. Turning on the light will overly stimulate your brain and make falling back to sleep harder.

If you do find yourself tossing and turning for more than 15 to 20 minutes, try engaging your brain in some non-stimulating activity like counting backwards from 99 or “counting sheep.” Listening to soft music or even reading light material are okay, but keep the light dim, so as not to signal your internal clock that it’s time to wake up.

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night, but if you find yourself struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep more often, talk with your doctor. Chronic problems such as obesity, arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes have also been linked to poor sleep patterns. Getting the help you need before you have a serious, chronic sleep problem is so important, because sleep is absolutely critical to the body because of its regenerative qualities.

Sweet Dreams!

If you are ready to be inspired, supported, motivated and encouraged to create a life to love, and to receive a FREE, 45 minute Coaching Consultation, I invite you to contact me at (856) 854-7393 or eileen@midlifeandmenopausecoach.com. I will get back to you promptly, usually within 24 hours.

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