How to sleep better
Resting well is important both physically (physiologically) and mentally (psychologically).
If you are experiencing difficulty, please take steps to cure the problem. This will soon improve your health and well-being.
In addition to affecting how we feel when we are awake, the quality of our rest can profoundly affect existing diseases.
Rest is not a unitary period of passive repose. Physiologically, there are five different phases, and their disruption can itself be stressful.
Causes of Poor Rest
Have you ever been so excited about something that you couldn't diminish wakefulness? Fear, anxiety, tension, and delusion can work the same way as anticipation. Insomnia can have psychological causes.
It can also have physical causes. There are a host of physiological disorders and diseases that cause insomnia.
In addition to ordinary infections, muscle aches, and indigestion, disorders (imbalances, diseases) of physical systems such as the cardiovascular, respiratory, nutritional, and endocrine systems and of various organs such as the liver and pancreas can cause insomnia.
Medications, food additives, jet lag, and withdrawal from drugs can also cause it.
If your nights are troubled and you want to know how to rest better, it's important to find out what is causing the problem and correct it.
Unless you have a license to practice medicine, please don't rely on evaluating yourself. In other words, if you have any doubt at all, please consult at least with your primary-care physician.
For example, you may think that your insomnia has a minor psychological cause, whereas a physician may detect an underlying physical disorder.
If you find yourself drowsy during the daytime but think you have rested well, you may actually have sleep apnea. It might be advisable to be tested for narcolepsy or somnambulism (sleepwalking) or to help with nightmares or night terrors.
Your dentist might be the one to inform you that, unknown to you, you are grinding your teeth at night (bruxism).
If you suspect a persisting problem, please seek professional help. If your disorder does have a physiological or psychological cause, treatment of that cause will quickly and automatically alleviate it.
People who are both psychologically and physiologically healthy exhibit a wide range of normal patterns throughout the night. Some may feel rested with only 5 hours per night and some may only feel rested with twice that. Though 7 or 8 hours is average, people are different.
Only you know how you feel.
Are you comfortable and alert during the day? Do you have difficulty falling asleep at night? Do you wake up during the night? Do you feel well-rested upon awakening? Do you feel that your rest was sufficient long? The answers are subjective.
Also, normally your typical pattern will likely change as you grow older. Elderly people rest less as well as less deeply. Furthermore, many people over 40 have more difficulty falling asleep at night and staying asleep throughout the night.
Occasional bouts of insomnia are normal and nothing to worry about. Normally, you'll probably have a good idea about their causes, which will be alleviated with the resumption of good habits.
For example, if you are grief-stricken or have just disrupted your "biological clock" by flying across five time zones, be patient. Pamper yourself (for example, by eating, exercising, and meditating in the ways presented on this website) and soon you'll be back to normal again.
What not to do: Do not worry about an occasional bout of insomnia. We all have them. Do not lie in bed fretting about it. Get out of bed, read a good book until you feel drowsy, and then return to bed. Do not watch television or a movie and do not listen to music or the radio because they can be too stimulating.
The next day, if you are tired and it's possible, take a short nap. Do not use over-the-counter pills or ask your physician for prescription pills.
What's the best cure for a troubled mind? It's emptying it of unwanted thoughts, which immediately cures racing mind insomnia.
Do you practice meditation daily? If not, we strongly recommend it.
If you want to know how to rest better through meditation, see the Meditation section of our website.
If you don't want to meditate, at least use a Relaxing Breathing Exercise two more more times throughout the day as well as just before bed. You will find the link to that page at the bottom of this page.
You may do the Breathing Exercise even without getting out of bed, and that may be all you need. It only takes a few minutes and it can be surprisingly helpful.
What's a good way to tell if you aren't getting sufficient rest? You'll find that the people around you are stupid. (It always amazes us how much dumber other people are when we happen to be tired!)
What should you do if bouts of insomnia are not occasional enough? Experiment and find out what works best for you. Here are some tactics that others have found useful.
Aids for Rest
Check your dietary habits. Are you on a sensible 4X, 5X or 6X nutritional plan such as the one presented on this website?
Eating within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime can unbalance your hormones. Avoid it if you are having any trouble sleeping.
Additionally, have you noticed any foods, drinks, or additives that keep you awake or awaken you in the night?
Food and drink additives often cause sleep disturbance.
Also, eliminate caffeine from all sources. Avoid obvious stimulants. Drink nearly all of your daily water by the end of the afternoon. If you supplement with PS, do not take it in the evening.
If you take fish oil, a good time to use it is just before bed.
Are you getting too much exercise? If you exercise and exercise intensity is too high, back off by reducing the intensity of the exercise and let your body recover more completely. Do not exercise in the four hours prior to bedtime.
Are you getting too little exercise? It's not natural to use your body only a minimal amount. Your successful prehistoric ancestors were relatively active and, in bursts, very active.
If you don't exercise at all, please start. Regular, appropriate exercise during the day increases sleepiness at bedtime.
If not, we recommend at least twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes just before going to bed every day.
After the pre-bedtime meditation period, get into bed and do not turn your mind loose! Do not let your thoughts run wild. Stay mentally focused on your meditation practice until you fall asleep.
(Incidentally, perhaps because their practice is so deeply relaxing, master meditators seem to need less rest.
Similarly, do not talk, listen to a radio, music or television, or watch television or a movie after your pre-bedtime meditation.
If you are experiencing troubled rest, avoid daytime naps.
If you don't have insomnia, we think that a 5 to 30 minute nap in the daytime is an excellent practice. (We nap daily.) However, if you nap irregularly or for too long, you will wake up feeling dopey and disrupt your usual nighttime sleeping pattern.
If not and you are unable to move to a better location, consider using white noise or earplugs. Start thinking of sounds as like foods: be selective about which ones you ingest.
Is your bedroom dark enough?
If not, try blackout blinds or, less expensively, taping some aluminum foil to the windows. Alternatively, try a mask. (We have good ones that are molded so that they don't press against our eyelids.)
Do not have lights on in your bedroom at night. That recommendation includes nightlights and clocks that are readable in the dark.
Try to be regular in your habits. Our bodies thrive on routines. Go to bed at the same time every night.
Do not regularly use an alarm clock. If you regularly rely on one to wake you, you are obviously not getting sufficient rest. We didn't evolve using alarm clocks. Using them is a chief cause of rest deprivation syndrome, which taxes our health and well-being.
Try progressive relaxation.
Progressive relaxation, incidentally, also works in a sitting position on long airplane flights. There are different ways to do it.
You can just lie on your back when you get into bed. Starting with your toes and working up your body, tense a muscle group for six seconds and then relax it and move on to the next muscle group.
Work up from your toes to your feet, calves, shins, hamstrings, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, upper back, hands, forearms (front and back), biceps, triceps, shoulders, and neck.
Do you share your bed with someone? If so, that person may be disturbing you more than you realize. Try sleeping alone.
Try a warm bath before bed; it will help relax you. Try having someone give you a massage before bed.
If you want an occasional aid, Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends trying two capsules of a standardized extract of the herb Valerian.
Like him, we do not recommend using any such aids, whether natural or not, on a regular basis. Instead, focus on eliminating the cause of the problem if you want to know how to rest better.
Do you have a good mattress and foundation? Mattresses do wear out. (Recently, we replaced an old mattress with a Tempur-Pedic and it's terrific! What an upgrade! Unfortunately, Tempur-Pedics are expensive and not everyone likes them; however, the market does provide a number of alternatives and one should work well for you.)
Do you rest in the best position? Do not rest on your stomach or back. Rest on your side with your thighs perpendicular to your spine and a small pillow between your knees (to reduce the tension from your top leg pulling on your lower back).
Keep your arms down, in other words, not over your head (under a pillow or as a pillow). To switch sides, just swing your knees up and flop over. If you do not rest this way, you can quickly train yourself to do it automatically. A side benefit of doing so is that you won't ever wake up with a morning backache.
Do you have a good pillow? A good pillow should support your neck in the best position; it will keep your head, neck, and spine in alignment. Since some people have broader shoulders than others, your pillow should be the proper height to support your neck properly.
Especially if you do not meditate, try visualization. If you want to know how to rest better through visualization, see the visualization section of our website.
If you are following the free program presented here on our website and seriously use these tips, we predict that you will soon be resting better and feeling better.
Good for you!
This completes the how to sleep better page. If you are interested in a simple breathing exercise for relaxation, see the link further down this page.
Web pages to help you further
In this the psychology for weight loss section of our website we have the following pages:
You will find the direct links to those pages on our site map/index.
Our recommended books for this topic
Here is an initial book suggestion that we recommend in relation to how to sleep better:
Duke University Medical Center: poor sleep more dangerous for women