Sweet Dreams: Tips to Help you Sleep Better (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of Pascal Maramis

Like children, adults may need to take conscious steps to relax ourselves and tuck ourselves into bed at night. When insomnia creeps in, use this tip guide to create a comfortable sleep environment—including a routine of relaxing activities–to help you get the rest you need.

  1. Wake up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each day—this can help set your body like a clock.
  2. Sleep restrict: Start by allowing yourself only 6 hours of sleep a night (no naps) and if you find that that works, add on more sleep each night in increments of 15 mins.
  3. Sleep expand: “Paleo-sleep” This version of sleep with natural breaks (which we now look at as insomnia) was normal for humans before we had artificial lighting. Around sundown turn your lights down and settle into either going to bed or doing only relaxing activities. Set your alarm for sunrise or shortly after. This may mean 10-12 potential hours of sleep each night. During your sleep breaks, do something relaxing that may require intimacy and focus such as reading, working on an art project or connecting with someone.
  4. Limit naps during the day which can make it harder to fall and stay asleep at night. You want to go to bed very, very tired!
  5. Regular exercise can improve sleep quality and duration and also help with depression, stress and other potential causes for insomnia. If you are not exercising, this may be the only tip you need to improve your sleep.
  6. Eliminate or reduce heavy meals, alcohol and stimulants a few hours before bedtime.
  7. Medications can disrupt sleep. Check what you are taking to see if sleeplessness or agitation is a side-effect, and, if so, talk to your doctor. Some medications can also encourage sleep—melatonin, some anti-histamines, so consider talking to your doctor about these, too.
  8. Magnesium supplements in balance with calcium may help you sleep better especially during times of stress when our body can be depleted of magnesium.
  9. Limit technology time a few hours before bedtime. Screens are like caffeine for the eyes!
  10. Make your sleeping environment intentionally relaxing. Temperature, lighting, and noise should be controlled to make the bedroom conducive to falling (and staying) asleep. Ear plugs, eye masks, lavender and other sleep-enhancing aromatherapy oils can reduce the impact of distractions beyond your control.
  11. The hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause and menopause can impact sleep. Talk to your doctor about potential remedies, including hormone replacement, regular exercise, stress reduction and herbs. Also, if you have night sweats or hot flashes, light, air wicking night clothes and bedding can make you more comfortable.
  12. Depression and anxiety can impact sleep. Treating these can reduce insomnia. Some of the techniques here that help with insomnia can also help with depression and anxiety. If you need more assistance, reach out to a helping professional.
  13. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 mins, get up and do something off the bed. You don’t want to associate your bed with the frustration, sense of failure and distress that can go along with trying to sleep but not “succeeding.” You are not a failure for not being able to sleep but if you lie awake and ruminate, you might feel like one.
  14. Settle in with a bed time story—listen to a podcast, read something interesting but not too stimulating before bed. Stories can be healing and relaxing.
  15. Focus on a boring but focusing mind task once the lights are out.
    TRY THIS: Make an alphabetical list in a category of your choice – flowers, animals, foods, athletes –This allows our mind to focus on one thing, cast out worries and ease ourselves into rest.
    OR THIS: focus on your breathing and count: 4 seconds to breathe in, 4 to hold, 4 to exhale, 4 to rest and then begin again…. Continue to do this at least 10 times or until you fall asleep.
  16. If you find you lay in bed thinking and worrying, set aside time to review the day and to make plans for the next day. It can also be helpful to make a list or write in your journal about anything that is on your mind that might keep you up. Unload your troubles onto the page, and know that they are being held so you can rest and pick them up with more vitality tomorrow.
  17. Stress Management Techniques Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing techniques, imagery, meditation, and biofeedback can also help you sleep better. You can learn these from free podcasts and websites. Call us for suggestions.

Zzzzz….Sweet dreams…. Let us know if you try these tips and if they help.

We will be publishing another follow-up piece on this topic later in the spring. And if you want to schedule a private health consultation to talk more about how to improve your sleep, including learning how to implement personalized stress management, eating and exercise programs contact Program Manager Merryl Reichbach, LCSW at or 718-777-5766

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