By Ariella Silver, PsyD
Sleep is so important for your mental and physical health, but actually getting a good night’s sleep can feel close to impossible. It can be really hard to transition from the stress of a busy day to the calmness needed to fall asleep.
Building a sleep routine can go a long way in helping you actually get your 8-10 hours a night. Here’s how to build a personalized sleep routine that fits YOUR needs.
First, the don’ts:
1. No cardio right before bed.
This will energize you instead of calming you down. Instead, do cardio like jogging or dancing earlier in the day. Using up this energy can actually help you fall asleep later.
2. Don’t play video games, surf the web, or go on social media.
These are active tasks that engage your brain, and can potentially stress you out. Avoid these activities for at least an hour before bed.
3. No caffeine after noon.
Drink milk, non-caffeinated tea, or water instead.
4. Don’t study in your bed.
ONLY use your bed for sleep. Studying in it will make you associate your bed with stress instead of sleep.
5. Don’t use screens an hour before bed.
The blue light from computer, TV and phone screens keeps your body awake. If you absolutely need to use your computer or phone at night, use the “night shift” mode on your phone or download f.lux on your computer.
6. Don’t smoke or drink.
Alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle. Even though drinking may make it easier to fall asleep, it also makes it a lot harder to STAY asleep.
The nicotine in cigarettes is actually a stimulant, which makes it harder to fall asleep. If you smoke, don’t do it before bed.
7. Don’t have a big meal before bed
Eating a large meal up to 3 hours before bed can cause heartburn and insomnia. If you’re hungry at night time, try a low-fat snack with complex carbohydrates. Try low-fat milk with whole grain cereal, whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter, or some yogurt with half a banana. Avoid anything with sugar.
8. Don’t nap for longer than 30 minutes.
Avoid napping as much as possible, but if you just can’t keep your eyes open limit naps to under a half-hour. Sleeping longer can make it harder to fall asleep at your normal bed time.
Developing your sleep routine:
A bedtime routine should last about an hour, if possible. Your sleep routine should include things you enjoy, so you actually look forward to it. For example, consider including a warm shower with relaxing music and reading a few pages of a good book.
1. Create a sleep-friendly space.
Keep your room cool, comfy, quiet, and dark.
Of course, there are many reasons you may not have full control over this—maybe you share a bedroom, or don’t have an air conditioner. Work with what you have and get creative, like wearing ear plugs, getting a good fan or buying a white noise machine.
2. Set a bedtime and a wakeup time, and keep them.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your body establish a natural rhythm and lets it know when to feel tired and when to become alert. Changing these times around can confuse your body. Consider using apps like Health or Sleep Cycle to keep track of your sleep habits.
3. Get ready for the next morning.
It can be hard to fall asleep when you’re thinking about all the things you need to do to get ready for the day. Before you start getting ready for bed, pick out what you’re going to wear, pack your lunch and prepare breakfast. Check next day’s schedule so you can go to bed confident that you’re prepared for everything going on. This way, you can relax knowing everything is taken care of.
4. Set an alarm an hour before you want to fall asleep.
This reminds you that it’s time to start your sleep routine.
5. Bed time is alone time.
Being alone helps you relax. If you can’t completely avoid human interaction, just limit is as much as possible—including texting or messaging with friends.
6. Include at least one relaxation exercise.
This could be taking a warm bath, doing some yoga, reading*, or something else that helps you let go of the day. Over time, your brain will learn to associate this activity with sleep.
*Don’t choose a book that you know you’ll get sucked in to—this may make you stay up later!
7. If you often have trouble falling asleep, come up with a solution.
If you’re thinking about your to-do list for the next day, write it down in a journal so you no longer have to be the keeper of that information. Worried about a fight with your friend? Write down what you’re feeling, and what you plan to do about it. If you keep returning to these thoughts, remind yourself that you have a plan, and let the thought go.
8. If you can’t fall asleep, get up.
If you’ve been trying to fall asleep for 20 minutes but can’t, get up and do something relaxing. Trying to sleep when you just can’t can create unnecessary stress—making it even more difficult.
If you frequently can’t fall asleep, feel constantly tired, or haven’t gotten a good night’s rest in a week, talk to your doctor. They can help figure out if something is going on with your body, and help you manage it. You may also want to talk to a therapist. They can develop strategies with you for dealing with stress. They can also help you figure out if you’re dealing with something more, like anxiety, depression or another mental illness.
If you’re 10-22 years old and live near NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for primary care or mental health services. Our healthcare providers can help you figure out what you’re dealing with.
Dr. Ariella Silver is an Assistant Professor in the departments of pediatrics and psychiatry at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, and earned her doctorate in Clinical and School Psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in New York. She completed post-doctoral training at Mount Sinai’s Center of Excellence in ADHD and Related Disorders and the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment. Dr. Silver’s areas of interest include, learning disorders, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.