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Changing your sleep habits

Insomnia - sleep habits; Sleep disorder - sleep habits; Problems falling asleep; Sleep hygiene

Sleep patterns are often learned as children. When we repeat these patterns over many years, they become habits.

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In many cases, you can relieve insomnia by making a few simple lifestyle changes. But, it may take some time if you have had the same sleep habits for years.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

People who have insomnia are often worried about getting enough sleep. The more they try to sleep, the more frustrated and upset they get, and the harder it becomes to sleep.

  • While 7 to 8 hours a night is recommended for most people, children and teenagers need more.
  • Older people tend to do fine with less sleep at night. But they may still need about 8 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.

Remember, the quality of sleep and how rested you feel afterward is as important as how much sleep you get.

Change Your Lifestyle

Before you go to bed:

  • Write down all the things that worry you in a journal. This way, you can transfer your worries from your mind to paper, leaving your thoughts quieter and better suited for falling asleep.

During the day:

  • Be more active. Walk or exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days.
  • Do not take naps during the day or in the evening.

Stop or cut back on smoking and drinking alcohol. And reduce your caffeine intake.

If you are taking any medicines, diet pills, herbs, or supplements, ask your health care provider about the effects they may have on your sleep.

Find ways to manage stress.

  • Learn about relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation.
  • Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.

Change Your Bedtime Habits

Your bed is for sleeping. Do not do things like eat or work while in bed.

Develop a sleep routine.

  • If possible, wake up at the same time each day.
  • Go to bed around the same time every day, but not more than 8 hours before you expect to start your day.
  • Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals at least 2 hours before going to sleep.

Find calming, relaxing activities to do before bedtime.

  • Read or take a bath so that you do not dwell on worrisome issues.
  • Do not watch TV or use a computer near the time you want to fall asleep.
  • Avoid activity that increases your heart rate for the 2 hours before going to bed.
  • Make sure your sleep area is quiet, dark, and is at a temperature you like.

If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and move to another room. Do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk to your provider if:

  • You are feeling sad or depressed
  • Pain or discomfort is keeping you awake
  • You are taking any medicine that may be keeping you awake
  • You have been taking medicines for sleep without talking to your provider first

References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. Insomnia - overview and facts. sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/insomnia. Updated March 4, 2015. Accessed April 9, 2020.

Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 102.

Edinger JD, Leggett MK, Carney CE, Manber R. Psychological and behavioral treatments for insomnia II: implementation and specific populations. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 86.

Vaughn BV, Basner RC. Sleep disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 377.

  • Insomnia

    Animation

  •  

    Insomnia - Animation

    Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Or, do you go to sleep, only to wake up a few hours later and stay awake for hours at night? Well, let's today talk about insomnia. Your sleep-wake cycle is a delicate pattern run by something called circadian rhythms. These rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes in your brain that roughly follow a 24-hour cycle. Your daily and nightly habits, many you learned as a child, may affect your circadian rhythms and how well you sleep at night. Poor sleep or lifestyle habits that may cause insomnia include going to bed at different times each night, daytime napping, and a poor sleeping environment such as too much noise or light. Spending too much in time in bed while you're awake can change your sleep patterns too. Likewise, working evenings or night shifts and not getting enough exercise can affect your sleep. People who use alcohol or recreational drugs may have trouble sleeping. Heavy smoking and drinking too much caffeine can also cause insomnia. And, even using some types of sleep medications a lot can cause you to lose sleep. Medical problems can cause insomnia too. People with anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, thyroid disease, depression, and chronic pain problems may have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. So, what do you do about insomnia? Well, it's important to remember that not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep every night. Some people do just fine on 6 hours of sleep, while others need much more. If you need more sleep, your doctor will probably ask about any medications you're taking, your drug or alcohol use, and your medical history. Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and sleep habits. It's best to avoid caffeine and alcohol at night. If you don't exercise, starting regular exercise might help you sleep better. If you're depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor to see if relaxation techniques can help, if medication might be helpful, or if seeing a mental health provider is best. If you're suffering from bouts of insomnia, take heart. Most people can return to more normal sleep patterns when they make simple changes in their lifestyle or habits.

  • Insomnia

    Animation

  •  

    Insomnia - Animation

    Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Or, do you go to sleep, only to wake up a few hours later and stay awake for hours at night? Well, let's today talk about insomnia. Your sleep-wake cycle is a delicate pattern run by something called circadian rhythms. These rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes in your brain that roughly follow a 24-hour cycle. Your daily and nightly habits, many you learned as a child, may affect your circadian rhythms and how well you sleep at night. Poor sleep or lifestyle habits that may cause insomnia include going to bed at different times each night, daytime napping, and a poor sleeping environment such as too much noise or light. Spending too much in time in bed while you're awake can change your sleep patterns too. Likewise, working evenings or night shifts and not getting enough exercise can affect your sleep. People who use alcohol or recreational drugs may have trouble sleeping. Heavy smoking and drinking too much caffeine can also cause insomnia. And, even using some types of sleep medications a lot can cause you to lose sleep. Medical problems can cause insomnia too. People with anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, thyroid disease, depression, and chronic pain problems may have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. So, what do you do about insomnia? Well, it's important to remember that not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep every night. Some people do just fine on 6 hours of sleep, while others need much more. If you need more sleep, your doctor will probably ask about any medications you're taking, your drug or alcohol use, and your medical history. Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and sleep habits. It's best to avoid caffeine and alcohol at night. If you don't exercise, starting regular exercise might help you sleep better. If you're depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor to see if relaxation techniques can help, if medication might be helpful, or if seeing a mental health provider is best. If you're suffering from bouts of insomnia, take heart. Most people can return to more normal sleep patterns when they make simple changes in their lifestyle or habits.

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    Review Date: 4/9/2020

    Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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