Written by Casey Engelbert with contributions from Kevin Morton

It has become clear to scientists who study sleep that our slumber is not just downtime in which we get to relax — it is an important necessity without which we cannot function. For most who have trouble falling asleep, the pressure of this knowledge makes those nights when you can’t sleep that much worse.

Thankfully, however, there is something you can do about it.

If you are one of the many people who feels like they just can’t sleep, take note of these proven techniques for good sleep hygiene and feel yourself melting into the sheets on a consistent basis.

Are you having trouble sleeping? Care to share your problems or your story? We would love it if you did! We really value your thoughts and experiences, and you will likely even be helping our other visitors with your perspective.

Setting A Consistent Schedule

The first step is to bring regularity into your sleep life and do all that you can to keep your biological clock on track.

If you can’t sleep there’s a good chance it’s due to a shift in your biological clock, causing you to be alert when you feel like you should be asleep.

Have you ever established a bedtime with your kids that they can’t stay up past? Try taking a piece of your own advice and establish a nightly bedtime for yourself — then stick to it! A regular and consistent bedtime will allow your circadian rhythm to function at its best, permitting you to fall asleep on time and in turn letting you wake up energized when you need to in the morning.

Bright light therapy ranges from exposing yourself to sunlight at strategic times, to actually using a “bright light box”, designed to help shift your biological clock.

But sometimes your circadian rhythms may be sufficiently off to make this feel nearly impossible to do from the beginning. Your clock-dependent alerting may be kicking in at a time when you need it to be shutting down, thus handing you a heavy dose of frustration as you lie in bed feeling too alert to sleep.

If this is the case, as it often is, setting a consistent sleep schedule that you’re happy with will require you to shift your biological clock so that your clock-dependent alerting is weak at the times you want to go to bed. Bright light treatment, as seen at left, can be a highly effective way of doing this.

Time Your Naps Right

Napping is great for lowering your sleep debt and increasing your alertness, but you must time them right–ideally to coincide with afternoon dips in clock-dependent alerting.

It is also important take all necessary precautions to make sure that you will be relaxed enough to slip into slumber once you make it into bed each night, and this calls for being smart with when you take naps.

Naps, though certainly a great way to make up on sleep deprivation, can interfere with your ability to sleep if taken too late in the day. Thus, it is important to make sure that you take your naps well before evening falls if you want to stand a chance of falling asleep at a reasonable hour.

In fact, once you start to understand your body’s schedule of clock-dependent alerting, you will be strongly equipped with the ability to take naps at strategic times in the day (i.e. when you experience a dip in clock-dependent alerting, typically for most people between 2-4 PM)

Wind Down And Calm Your Mind

Furthermore, try not to exercise within three hours of your scheduled bedtime. The increased heart rate is likely to be enough to keep you wide awake for longer than you may like.

It may also be worth your while to establish a wind down time of about 90 minutes prior to your bedtime in which you partake in no strenuous activities at all. Many even find it useful to physically write down a list of their concerns and worries before getting into bed in order to clear their minds. (If this strategy just brings those troubling thoughts to the front of your mind, this may not be the strategy for you!).

Others find it useful to listen to calm music before going to bed as well. That is to say, doing anything in the effort to make sure your mind is relaxed is a great way to help you fall asleep with greater ease. The following picture leads you to a website written from personal experience that could help you with this:

Once You Fall Asleep, Stay Asleep

Third, it is important to take all necessary steps to make sure that once you do fall asleep, you will stay there without being interrupted throughout the night. This involves the avoidance of drinking liquids within 2 hours of your bedtime to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom, staying away from stimulants and stimulating foods in the evening, and creating a cool, dark, sleep-only environment in which to sleep.

Make your bed for sleeping only, so your body and mind do not get used to doing waking activities in it.

Remember that in order to do this it is crucial to avoid partaking in most waking activities in your bed. That is, if you’re having trouble sleeping try to make your desk the place where you get work done, a comfy chair the place where you read good books, and so on. In order to fall asleep with the greatest ease your bed must be for sleeping and sleeping only.

With personal laptops becoming more and more common, it is tempting to take advantage of the convenience they provide in your bed. However, the combination of computing in bed being a waking activity and the bright light that you are staring at when using one is a combination that can really not only make it hard to fall asleep, but shift your biological clock in a way that causes you to stay up later on subsequent nights as well.

Of course, some people wake up in the middle of the night due to certain sleep disorders they might have. If this describes you, or you think it might, make sure to check out the information we provide on various sleep disorders.

Don’t Admit Defeat. You Can Do It!

Finally, if you do wake up in the middle of the night, or you just feel like you can’t sleep until the early morning brings your down, it is important not to admit defeat.

If you can’t fall asleep either at bedtime or after waking in the middle of the night, don’t lay around in bed. After 15-20 minutes, get up out of bed and do something unstimulating until you feel sleepy once more (although stay away from the bright light of the television).

You can take charge of your sleep. Don’t be another one of the countless individual that thinks they just can’t sleep. Ambitions and high energy are important in life too, but to optimize these parts of our lives we need to remember that sleep hygiene is an important foundation that lets us pursue our goals with vigor.

Just as with our careers and our relationships, good sleep hygiene is something which requires time and a bit of effort. But when you become successful at it, it sure is worth it! And thankfully, you do have the power to be a healthy sleeper once more.