The following are simple rules that I’ve prescribed to patients, and that I try to follow myself:
- Go to bed at the same time every night. OK, realistically this is not always possible, but if you can try to go to bed at approximately the same time every night, within a half hour, you’ll start to train your mind and body that this is bedtime, time to go to sleep.
- Get up at the same time every day. Yes, this one is tough, too. No sleeping in on Saturdays. If you can get up approximately the same time everyday, then again, you can train your mind and body when to be awake, and when to sleep.
- The bed is just for s*x and sleeping.Forget reading, forget watching TV, forget checking your phone. Your bed has only two functions: s*x and sleep. You want to break any other behavioral associations and reinforce this simple rule. Also, the light from your devices’ screens blocks the production of melatonin, a brain chemical that’s crucial for falling asleep.
- Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. If you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes, or if you find yourself running through tomorrow’s to-do list instead of nodding off, then get up. Go into another room, read a book or fold laundry. Just do something in a different space. When you get sleepy (and you will!), then go back to your bed and try to go back to sleep.
- Plan ahead. You can start earlier in the day or evening to tee up optimal conditions for falling asleep. Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon, as well as alcohol near bedtime. Try to exercise earlier in the day, so your body has ample time to wind down. Try to give yourself a couple hours between dinner time and bed time. A large meal right before bed can be very disruptive. But a calming cup of warm milk might help—or a nice warm bath or shower before bed. After the initial heat up, your body will cool down, which is a physiological sign of sleepy time.