Good night's sleep a good prescription for tying times

Can’t sleep? Can’t blame you. Is it the COVID-19 pandemic? The economy? Your children’s school situation? Climate change?

We all have something that keeps us up at night. Sleep can’t solve these kinds of problems, but it can help us cope with them. Sleeping well improves our mood, alertness, concentration and memory. It helps dispel anxiety, depression and irritability. In short, getting enough sleep every night is essential to our physical, mental and emotional health.

So how do you sleep when you just can’t? These simple actions can help you get a good night’s sleep even when you’re as stressed and anxious as you’ve ever been.

• Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day

Do your best to keep your bedtime within 30 to 45 minutes of your target.

• Resist the temptation to sleep in

Get up at the same time every morning, even if you went to bed late or didn’t sleep well.

• No naps!

Avoid dozing off during the day unless it is necessary — e.g., your job involves driving or operating machinery.

• Avoid alcohol after 8 p.m.

Alcohol stimulates you before it makes you drowsy, so it throws up a major barrier to restful sleep.

• Avoid caffeine after noon

Research shows that even if you had your last cup of coffee six hours before bed, you will still have more trouble falling asleep.

• Optimize your bedroom

If it’s allowed where you live, install blackout curtains in your bedroom. You may also want to pair them with a white-noise machine. Keep your bedroom at 60 to 67 degrees.

And now, the hardest one for many of us ...

• Turn off your screens at least 30 minutes before bed

The bright blue light of electronic screens tricks your body into thinking it’s still daytime, which causes it to hold off on producing melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. That becomes a problem the closer you get to bedtime.

It’s not easy to go cold turkey, so here are some tactics to help you work up to it.

Change your display settings: Many devices offer a way to shift the color of your screen’s light to warmer colors after a certain time of day.

Cease thy doomscrolling: If you’re actively seeking out information that agitates you (the news, social media, etc.) right before bed, stop.

Use your ears instead: Your device can be a great relaxation tool so long as you don’t have to look at it. Before bed, consider plugging in headphones and piping in relaxing music, guided meditations, ambient soundscapes (e.g., rain softly falling on a tent in the forest), or calm, quiet podcasts.

Still can’t sleep?

If you’ve followed these guidelines and are still struggling to get a satisfying amount of shut eye, there might be a deeper sleep disorder that’s keeping you up, such as insomnia, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

Talk to your primary care doctor about undergoing a sleep study. This outpatient procedure can diagnose hundreds of sleep disorders, ensuring effective personalized treatment and more restful sleep. The best part? There are no needles or incisions. All you have to do is go to sleep in a private, hotel-like room.

— Dr. Clifford Massie is a licensed clinical psychologist and a fellow at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He specializes in behavioral sleep medicine for Amita Health and has post-doctoral training in clinical psychopharmacology.