Goodbye Sleeplessness, Hello Slumber

Tips and tricks for falling asleep and staying asleep when you can’t seem to wind down.

Nearly every adult has an occasional sleepless night. However, if you’re one of the millions of Americans who experience more disturbances than dreams, take heart, there are ways to promote healthy sleep without resorting to potentially-addictive sleeping pills.

Your sleep schedule

Dr. Michael J. Breus, better known as “The Sleep Doctor,” stresses that the most important thing you can do to improve your overall sleep quality is stick to a schedule. According to the clinical psychologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, following the clock will reset your internal rhythm.

Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night – children may require 10 hours or more. The best way to create a healthy schedule is to plan for five 90-minute REM cycles each night. This equates to about 7 ½ hours. If your job or school day requires waking at 6:30 AM, plan to be in bed by 11 PM. The length of time you sleep is important since the most restorative sleep occurs in the hours just before waking.

Children’s bedtime schedules should include a winding down routine. This should be comprised of actions, such as putting on pajamas and brushing teeth. Having a predictable pattern of events leading up to bedtime will make it easier for children to transition from day to night.


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Environmental factors

You can set a schedule all you want, but if there are distractions in your sleeping quarters that take your attention away from dreamland, you won’t be any better off. Your bedroom should be free of technology and clutter, as both of these things will do nothing but serve as a reminder that there are things to do. According to HomeAdvisor, your bedroom should also be outfitted with soft light and soothing colors, according to HomeAdvisor.

Daytime stress can also affect your ability to shut down come night. A demanding job, looming exams, relationship troubles, and even the nightly news can send signals swirling through your brain that leaves it screaming instead of dreaming. You must learn to control your reaction to situations that elevate your cortisol levels. While there are many ways to banish stress, the best way to beat it is to greet it with open arms. For instance, if you have a big presentation planned for the next day, remind yourself that you’ve done everything you can to prepare, take a deep breath, and let that part of your day go. If you find yourself thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, switch your train of thought to something more pleasant. Turn on a noise machine and listen to the sound of waves while you imagine yourself nodding off under the umbrella shade on a sun-soaked beach. While it might sound silly, this form of self-guided imagery can help you cope with negative emotions and take your mind to a more sleep-friendly state. It’s similar to how reading a book to a child can help them settle down for the evening.

Health and wellness

Your level of physical activity and the things you put into your body also dictate the quality of your sleep. If you don’t typically exercise, you should start. Spoon University explains that working out can help you sleep but notes there are studies to suggest that a nighttime fitness routine can actually keep you awake. Plan to exercise either in the morning or at least two hours before bedtime. Likewise, avoid eating a heavy meal within three hours of going to bed as the digestion process can also leave you with your eyes wide open. If you must eat before bed, Good Housekeeping explains that a light snack of cantaloupe, string cheese, or almonds can help you sleep.

While these tips can promote healthy sleep, if you have underlying issues, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome, talk to your doctor about ways to treat these conditions. Children with chronic insomnia should also be seen by their pediatrician to rule out asthma, medication side effects, and neurodevelopmental disorders.


Julia Merrill is a retired board certified nurse practitioner. In her years in the medical field she has seen the challenges facing her own patients when dealing with their medical care. Her goal to bridge the gap between those who receive care and those who provide it.