(A big thank you to Dr. Lonny Webb for his contributions to this article!)
We all go through it. Some nights just seem like sleep isn’t possible. I’ve had countless nights where I just lay in bed (mistake number one) staring into the darkness, hoping that the sheep I’m counting will knock me out like Rocky did to Drago. So yeah, having trouble sleeping sucks, and I’m not a huge fan of generalizing things, but most of us can be lumped into one of three groups.
Type 1 – Trouble Falling Asleep
This is the group I fall into big time. I have the hardest time falling asleep. I push myself to the utter brink of exhaustion before I can fall asleep. Over the years, I have taught my body to fight tiredness. There was always something to get done or something I wanted to do, like rushing to finish a paper for school or play video games with the boys.
I am a night owl by definition, and I tell myself that I love the quiet hours of the night, but at what expense? There were two years of my life that I probably went to bed at 4 or 5 in the morning and consistently woke up 5 hours later. I have the biggest problem with disconnecting from the world and letting my brain unwind for bed.
Type 2 – Trouble Staying Asleep
I rarely have trouble staying asleep, but when I do, it’s always stress or anxiety-based. I stopped sleeping with an alarm because the anxiety of it going off keeps me up. When I have an alarm set for the morning, I always wake up every hour on the hour all night long. It sucks. This was a struggle for me the months after I graduated. I would wake up in the middle of the night panicking and stressing out about a paper that wasn’t due.
Type 3 – Trouble Waking Up Early
Mornings. I *enter explicative here* hate mornings. Always have, except on Saturday mornings when I would wake up at 6 am to watch cartoons. The sacrifices we make for the things we love. In college, I tried my best never to have a class before noon because the idea of having to wake up before 10am would make me break out into hives. Even now, as someone who reports in at 9am, I wake up at 8:45 to throw on my clothes and walk my dog. I honestly don’t ever want to go back to an office ever again.
I have a friend who wakes up at 4am EVERY SINGLE DAY to go to the gym before work. There is not enough money in the world for me to wake up before the sun does. HAHAHA fat chance of that happening on a regular basis. I’m more likely to stay up until the sun comes out, but that’s the reader/gamer in me. My friend lives on the east coast, so he will hit me up on his way to the gym as I am going to bed. I don’t know how anyone does it. Garfield’s hate of Mondays pales in comparison to my hatred of mornings.
Okay, now that I’ve ranted about not falling asleep, not being able to stay asleep, and hating mornings, what can you do to overcome those problems? Sleep is like anything in our lives. It revolves around habits like brushing our teeth in the morning or going to the gym, or eating healthy. But we need to form healthy habits around sleep to benefit from it and actually feel rested.
Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
Make a Bedtime Routine
Train your brain so that when you do a series of things in a particular order, it knows it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed. For me, I take a shower, do my skincare routine, brush my teeth, lay out my clothes for the next day, and read for 30 minutes. If I do all of that, then by the time I’m ready to go to bed, my brain is already relaxing.
This is probably the biggest thing you can do for yourself. Make sure you are going to bed and waking up at the same time every single day. Easier said than done for some, but if you can regulate when you go to bed, your body will start to adjust. Just stick to it, and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy around your chosen time sooner rather than later.
All of us spend so much time on the internet, whether it’s our laptops or our phones. Do you need to be scrolling through your FYP on TikTok at 2am? Most of the time, when I put my phone down, I knock out within 20 minutes.
Exercising at some point in your day has been proven to lower the time it takes to fall asleep by half while providing an extra 40 minutes of sleep. That’s probably why my sleeping problem started in college when I stopped playing sports. Just make sure you give yourself sometime after to come down from the workout rush.
Not feeling well-rested affects the rest of the day after you wake up, and no one wants to start the day miserable. If you want to learn more about sleep habits, check out part 1 of our sleep hygiene series. You can also check out the Better Sleep Council (yes, it’s a thing) for more tips on sleeping better.