Dear Dr. B,
I’m so tired at night; I can hardly keep my eyes open. But, if something grabs my attention before I fall asleep, it jolts my mind awake, and I’m up for hours. Is there something I can do to calm my brain and thoughts when this happens so I don’t lose so much sleep?
Tired but Sleepless
Your situation is a common one but fortunately one that can generally be fairly easily addressed!
1. Forms of Technology
In this technology age, I usually find that the main culprit for the “jolting my mind awake” that you described is usually some form of technology: television, computer, iPad, or even our phones. The screens on such devices mimic daylight and signal to our brain that it’s time for us to be awake. As a result, when we spend time on our devices too close to bedtime, our brains become stimulated and make it difficult for them to calm down when we want to be able to sleep shortly after that. Really, for optimal “sleep hygiene,” all such devices should be avoided in the bedroom.
2. Types of Reading Material
Another culprit for such stimulation is the material we read too close to bedtime. Many people like to read close to bedtime, myself included, but we must take care not to read material that is too “attention-grabbing” and will signal our brains to engage in too much mental stimulation and make it difficult to fall asleep.
The next culprit for such stimulation that can “jolt your mind awake” is conversation. This is a big one for me. Late in the evening, after the kids are settled down in bed is one of the few quiet, times during the day when my husband and I can be relatively assured that we can have a conversation without interruption. Unfortunately, such conversation will frequently stimulate my brain and make it quite difficult for me to shut it off and then make sleep next to impossible for me, whereas he will have absolutely no difficulty whatsoever!
4. Inconsistent Bedtime
One more component that may be contributing to your suboptimal sleep experience is an inconsistent bedtime. Unfortunately, in my conversations with patients in my office, I find that more often than not, people do not maintain a good consistent bedtime. This interferes with your brain’s ability to become conditioned to falling asleep.
5. Physical Environment
This last factor that may exist and contributes to decreased sleep hygiene involves the physical environment in which you sleep. If the physical environment is too bright, or the temperature is too cold or too hot, or the bed is insufficiently comfortable, or animals are allowed to sleep in your bed, etc. ; any or all of these factors can combine to contribute to a suboptimal sleep environment and infringe on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
So the first thing I recommend is to take the time over the next couple of weeks and intentionally observe your evening routine to assess what factors may be contributing to your suboptimal sleep hygiene. You may find, as many do, that a combination of factors exists. I’d recommend that you take some notes about the time that you go to bed, what temperature the room is, what time you ate dinner that night (so how many hours were in between dinner time and bed time), what time you turned off electronics, what time you turned off the light, etc. Also, take the time to note in the morning what time you fell asleep, how many hours you slept, and rate the overall quality of your sleep. You will begin to notice a pattern, and that should be reinforcing for you, which will hopefully contribute to your motivation to make some healthy changes which will then improve your quality of sleep, which will then improve your overall functioning during the day!
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (Proverbs 3:24)
If you have found that other factors have helped to improve your sleep quality, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
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