Preparing for Sleep

Sleep is crucial to maintaining good mental and physical health. Sleep problems are one of the most common complaints in health settings and an estimated 20% of the adult population have suffered from sleep disturbance at some point in their adult life. Many people complain about difficulty getting to sleep. Below are some useful strategies to use to help in preparing yourself for sleep.

1. Exercise. Making sure the body is tired when it comes to going to bed is very important. Exercise helps in this respect, particularly if your day involves very little physical activity (e.g., sitting in front of a computer).

2. Eating. Eat at least 4 hours before you go to bed. Having a full stomach keeps you awake, so it’s important to have your meal (particularly if it’s a large meal) as early as possible. Avoid eating right before you go to bed.

3. Activity. Do all the active sleep preparation tasks first. These include having a bath, going to the toilet, brushing your teeth etc.

4. Bedroom. If you have trouble sleeping, it is very important that your bedroom and bed are reserved only for sleep. The goal is to build associations between sleep and feeling tired with your bed. For these reasons, the bedroom should be conducive to sleeping (e.g., removing bright, stimulating colours, TVs etc).

5. Heat. Warm the body up. Our body temperature changes as we sleep. At the beginning, the body is warm. As the night progresses, the body cools down and is at its coolest when you wake up. Going to sleep is a warming up process, so to enhance the process, warming up the body before bed can help. Take a hot bath. Not so hot that you burn yourself, but hot enough to make you sweat. Once the water starts to get cold, let out some and add in more hot water. This plays a physiological role in helping your body prepare for sleep. A hot bath helps to move your blood to the peripheral of your body and actually helps your body become tired. Get out of the bath while your body is still hot, get changed and into bed because your body will be ready bed.

6. Clothing. Wear loose, comfy and breathable clothing. You should avoid wearing heavy, thick material or too few clothes. Ideally, your sleeping clothes should go to your ankles and wrists. Being too hot or cold disrupts your sleep.

7. Stretching. Stretch before getting into bed. Having a good stretch (both arms and legs) shifts the carbon dioxide in your lungs and fills your lungs with oxygen. This is a quick and simple way to relax your body and get it ready for sleep.

8. Relaxation. It is important that your body and mind feel relaxed before you go to sleep. You can engage in any relaxation strategy that works for you (e.g., doing some meditation, having a bath, writing a gratefulness list). Often people cite watching TV or reading as relaxing. These activities can actually stimulate the mind rather than relax it. If you do decide to use these activities to relax, make sure what you watch or read is relaxing material. The mind may be full of worries from the day you’ve had. Writing a problem list or mentally “boxing away” these worries until the following day can help relax the mind.

9. Visualisation. Visualisation is a useful tool that can be used to mentally prepare for any activity. Using visualisation in your sleep preparation involves mentally rehearing each step of the sleep process. Imagine yourself preparing for bed (e.g., bathing, putting on clothes, getting into bed, feeling tired), imagine yourself falling asleep, being asleep and then waking up. In your visualisation, make sure you try to imagine not only the sequence of events, but the sensations and feelings involved in each step. Visualise the process as an enjoyable one – imagine yourself waking up with a smile on your face.

10. Signature. This is the last thing you do before you go to sleep. Make sure it is the last step in your routine each night. The signature it there to cue your body and mind for sleep. It could be one of the above activities, or it might be something more personal (e.g., praying).

11. Not falling asleep. If you find yourself lying in bed, trying to sleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxing or even repeat a few of the last steps in your routine to prepare your body for bed. If you have trouble getting to sleep, do this each time until you fall asleep. Staying in bed, not sleeping and worrying about this builds negative, stressful associations between sleeping and your bed.

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