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Practice good sleep hygiene. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep. Keep consistent wake-up and bedtimes. Keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and exercise before bed. Turn off your screens 30 to 60 minutes before trying to go to sleep.
Don’t chase sleep. Don’t go to bed early. Don’t sleep late. Don’t nap. You’ll diminish your sleep drive, making it even harder to go to sleep the next night.
Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. Learn the difference between tiredness and sleepiness. (Sleepiness is when your eyes are drooping.) And limit your time in bed to the amount of time you are asleep, plus half an hour.
Don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep. Tossing and turning in bed reinforces your brain’s association between wakefulness (and negative emotions) and the bed.
Re-establish daily routines. Have a morning routine. Eat meals at the same time. Exercise at the same time (not too late). Log off work at the end of the day and take a walk.
Stick to your natural circadian rhythm. You’re not going to be able to easily change whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. Recognize when you sleep best and stick with it.
Have a bedtime routine. Just like a child. Establish a daily wind-down time. Then take a bath. Read a book. Relax.
Stop catastrophizing. Quit telling yourself you won’t be able to sleep, or to function the next day. Ask yourself if these thoughts are really true. Replace them with positive thoughts. (“A bad night of sleep is not the end of the world.”) Then try to focus on something else. “People who sleep well don’t think about sleep all the time,” says Wendy Troxel, a certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist.
Keep a worry journal. “Sometimes we worry because our brain is telling us to not forget something,” says Philip Cheng, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center. If you write your worries down during the day, “when worry comes at night you can tell yourself you’ve already documented it.”
Practice gratitude. If you find yourself starting to ruminate in bed, think about the things you are grateful for, or savor your favorite moments from the day. This will train your brain to associate the bed with pleasant thoughts. “And it gets us back to feeling safe,” says Allison Harvey, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic.
Listen to someone else’s voice. A pleasant but unexciting audiobook is ideal. Turn it on low volume when you go to bed. This will distract you from your thoughts.
Try CBT-I. The website of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine allows you to search for a therapist in your area. Some health programs, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have programs. And app versions such as Sleepio and Somryst were developed by researchers.
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