Use simple scheduling methods to strengthen your sleep system without drugs

Q:  I’m having a hard time setting a reasonable bedtime.  I need about 9 hours of sleep, but my actual bed time swings wildly and sometimes I don’t go to bed until about 4 a.m.  This understandably puts a big crimp in my day.  On the flip side, when I do manage a reasonable bedtime and get in my 9 hours I function so much better during the day.  Any suggestions to fix this?

A:  Try some simple sleep scheduling ideas.

First, set and keep a consistent wake time 7 days a week.  Set this at your most desired wake time and stick with it.  Do not allow yourself to sleep in.  Do not nap — or at least limit your nap to no more than about 15-20 minutes, and in the early afternoon.

Second, set your bed time about 8 or 8.5 hours earlier than your wake time.  This is slightly less than what you’re used to, so it will have the effect of revving up your homeostatic sleep drive.

If you don’t feel drowsy at bed time, stay up.  But do relaxing things to help yourself feel drowsy.  Be alert to the signs of drowsiness — like yawning, head-nodding, droopy eyelids.  Avoid caffeine in any form after about mid-day.

You may not feel drowsy the first or second night at your desired bed time, but inevitably your physiologic requirement for sleep will soon catch up with you.  Stay consistent, and do not allow yourself to fall asleep on the couch or anywhere else before your scheduled bed time.

Stick with your consistent wake time no matter how sleep deprived you may feel the next morning.  Get up and going.  Expose yourself to bright light right away.  All this is setting you up for the following night, when you will sleep that much better.

Going forward, your sleep system will strengthen and improve with this consistency.  You can then gradually add in more time in bed as you like.

These sleep improvement methods combine parts of what’s known as sleep consolidation, stimulus control, and sleep hygiene, three of the core methods in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically applied to insomnia.  Check out CBT sleep training for dozens more drug-free ways to help yourself sleep better and when you want.

Explore posts in the same categories: Insomnia, sleep

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