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Sleep Better

There are various techniques that can help you sleep better. Some are more appropriate in specific situations than others. However, good sleep hygiene behaviors are important for everyone. Use the links below to jump down to each topic and learn about things you can do to improve your sleep.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene includes the behaviors and environmental factors needed for healthy sleep. Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Eliminate or reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the hours before bed
    • The peak level of caffeine is within 30-60 minutes
    • The effects from caffeine can last between 8-14 HOURS!
  • Exercise daily, but not right before bed
  • Spend time outside every day
  • If you nap, limit it to 30 minutes and avoid them in the late afternoon
  • Only use the bedroom for sleep and sex
  • Turn down bright lights in the evening
  • Don't eat before bed
  • Turn off all screens 30-40 minutes before bed
    • This includes cell phone, TV, and laptop! The lights and sounds stimulate your brain to stay awake.
  • Get a comfortable bed when possible
  • Don't sit and worry about your day
  • Make the room as comfortable as possible
  • Consider blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, a white noise machine, or a fan

Soothing music facilitates relaxation by decreasing sympathetic arousal, decreasing the stress response, and providing a distraction from your thoughts. Listening for even 20-50 minutes before bed can improve sleep. It can be done alone or along with other relaxation techniques. 

Music should be:

  • Something that you consider relaxing
  • A consistent volume throughout the song
  • Played quieter than your usual volume

    Piano keys

Mind-body relaxation techniques can help to slow the body, ease the mind, and get ready for sleep. Pilates and yoga focus on concentration, control, breathing, and flow. They can improve mood, promote self-efficacy, and improve sleep. The combination of mediation, deep breathing, and the postures used are likely what lead to sleep improvement. Meditation helps to stabilize your emotions. Deep breathing helps to cue the body to relax. The flow of postures increases the mind-body connection.
Lavender is the most common essential oil used for sleep because of its calming and relaxing effects. Lavender oil can be used to improve mild insomnia, improve mood, and decrease anxiety. Nighttime lavender aromatherapy can decrease the difficulty of falling asleep and morning sleepiness. Other essential oils are also often used to improve sleep;however lavender is the only one with much research behind it so far. Other essential oils thought to help with sleep include roman chamomile, bergamot, clary sage, and ylang ylang.

Lavender aromatherapy

Melatonin is a naturally secreted hormone that amplified day-night differences. People with primary insomnia tend to have lower nocturnal melatonin levels. Melatonin supplementation can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Taking melatonin is especially helpful if your sleep-wake cycle has been disrupted, such as when working late evenings or nights.
Bright Light Therapy
Bright light therapy can also be used when the sleep-wake cycle has been disrupted such as by working evening or night shifts, routinely staying up late, and jet lag. The shift in cycle leads to poor sleep and decreased alertness. The light-dark cycle is an environmental cue for the circadian rhythm. Bright light can help to shift the circadian clock and increase alertness. The light must be at least 7,000-10,000 lux and should be used for at least 20-30 minutes to be effective. These lights can be purchased online and at many stores including Walmart, Walgreens, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

The best timing for the bright light therapy depends on the sleep problem.

  • Wake up too early and can't fall back asleep? Evening bright light therapy can be effective to delay the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Wake up in the morning still feeling tired? Morning bright light therapy can help increase alertness.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Sleep Aid Medications
There are various types of sleep aid medications. Some are over-the-counter (OTC) and others require a prescription. OTC sleep aids can be helpful on a short-term basis, but are not meant for long-term use. Prescription sleep aids should only be used under the care of a health care provider.

Picture of pills

Most OTC sleep aid medications contain antihistamines. Examples include diphenhydramine and doxylamine. Below are some of the pros and cons of taking OTC sleep aids.

Pros of OTC sleep aid medications:

  • Often fast and effective
  • Help break a pattern of insomnia

Cons of OTC sleep aid medications:

  • Don't treat the underlying cause of insomnia
  • The quality of sleep is often not the same
  • Can cause morning hangovers and daytime drowsiness in some people
  • Other possible side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, drowsiness, headache, weakness, and constipation
  • Extended use can make you develop a tolerance, making them less effective over time
  • Interactions with other medications and alcohol
    • Including: other sedatives, anxiety medications, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxants, allergy medications, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and prescription pain medications

If you need to use OTC sleep aids for more than a short period of time, or think you might need a prescription medication, please make an appointment at Student Health Service to speak with a health care provider about your problems sleeping.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
CBT-I is the 1st line treatment for insomnia. It focuses on stimulus control, sleep restriction, relaxation, and anxiety about sleep. CBT-I can be done as an individual in-person therapy, group therapy, telephone-delivered therapy, and online-based therapy. This is a short-term therapy that gives you the tools to change your sleep beliefs and behaviors. Most programs are 4-8 weeks long.

If you think this might be for you, check out the links in the “Apps and Resources” tab above, or make an appointment at Student Health Services or Counseling Services, where they may help something that is right for you.