Have you ever struggled to sleep? Tossing and turning, thinking and thinking, staring at the clock, wishing morning would come but dreading about how tired you'll be? The next day, you drink extra coffee and are maybe more irritable.

Anyone who has struggled with falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting enough good-quality sleep knows how important it is to get a good night’s rest. When we don’t get enough, we feel tired and sluggish. We are more likely to feel stressed or frustrated, which can impact our mood, our relationships, and how we go about our day.

Everyone’s sleep requirements differ, but here are some tips to help you sleep better:

Caffeine. Minimize caffeine (coffee, soda, black or green tea), particularly later in the day. This varies from person to person, but can have a big impact. For example, two people in my family react completely different in regards to drinking caffeine - one struggling to sleep if she drinks any caffeine after noontime and the other can drink it up until bedtime without problem. I suggest you try keeping track of how much and when you drink caffeine to see how it may be impacting your sleep.

Eating. When and what you eat may have an impact on how well you sleep. For example, you may find that being hungry at bedtime makes it hard to fall asleep or that eating a very large meal close to bedtime causes problems. Journal your eating habits and watch for patterns that may be affecting your sleep. The web article Best Foods for Sleep provides a list of foods that may aide sleeping.

Alcohol. Pay attention to how alcohol impacts both your sleep and the quality of your sleep, including if you feel rested in the morning. While some people may feel alcohol helps them fall asleep, it actually can have a negative impact on staying asleep, getting restful sleep, and on how you feel the next day. If you drink alcohol regularly, you may be interested in the article Alcohol and a Good Night's Sleep Don't Mix.

Exercise. Exercise can help make your body tired and more ready to go to sleep, particularly if this is done earlier in the day. Exercise can be energizing, so you may want to avoid exercise too closely to bedtime. Stretching or yoga before bed, however, can be relaxing.

Avoid napping. Too much sleep during the day will impact sleep at night. Makes sense, right?

Relaxing routine. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Create a routine before bedtime that is soothing and relaxing - taking a shower, deep breathing, listening to calming music, getting a back rub from your partner, reading, or drinking a cup of warm herbal (no caffeine!) tea. I know several people that swear by a glass of warm milk a short while before bedtime. Many people also find it helpful to turn the lights on low around your living space for 30-60 minutes before you go to bed.

Waking up. If you wake up in the middle of the night, do not turn on too many lights or electronics (TV, computer, cell phone) as this can really wake you up. If you are wide awake and just lying in bed, get out of bed and do another activity, such as one of the relaxing activities above. Often this will redirect your mind to a restful state, and you’ll be able to fall back to sleep.

Restful space. Try to keep your sleeping space an organized and calm space. You may want to reserve your bed only for sleeping in order to teach your body that when you lie in bed, it’s time for sleep.  Yes, that means that you may have to move the television, computers, and cell phone out of your bedroom.

Clear your mind. If your brain is busy thinking about what you did that day or what you need to do tomorrow, try writing lists! It sounds simple, but can help tremendously. I suggest writing a list of what you accomplished that day and then write another of what you need to do tomorrow. This alleviates the pressure on your mind, allowed you to rest knowing that the information you need to remember is written down and ready for you the next day. Plus, what a great organization skill to kick start you the next morning!

Sleep aids. There are also sleep aids, including herbal supplements, over-the-counter medicines, and prescription medications.  Before use of these sleeping aids, you should discuss the need with your doctor.  I have also provided a web article that further discusses sleeping aids: Sleep Aids: Understand Over-the-Counter Options.

Everyone’s sleeps needs differ, and this can change over the course of your life depending on age, illness, and current stressors. Try out some of these tips and tools to experiment with what may help you.

How do you sleep? Has this changed at different times in your life? What have you found helps or hurts you when it comes to sleep?


Please note that the Toolbox articles are meant to be informative and are not a replacement for therapy.

Getting Better Sleep

Supporting your journey to a healthier, happier you
Sara Frawley, LMHC