How can I improve my sleep habits?

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Downloadable poster for 14 sleeping tips

Just as if you were training for a marathon, training to improve your sleep may take some work and discipline. We’ve outlined some tips below that have been proven to help improve the quality of sleep. They may seem tough at first, but over time, these habits will improve your sleep.

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During waking hours

Tip 1: Make a schedule and stick to it!

Our bodies like regularity. When you go to bed at regular times, your body gets into the habit of feeling sleepy at the time you usually go to bed. When you wake up at regular times, your body learns to be alert at the time you usually wake up.

It is also important to avoid hitting the "snooze" button on your alarm clock. This can interfere with your sleep cycle and actually make you more tired. You will feel more rested if you allow yourself to sleep only until the exact time that you need to wake for the day.

Keep a schedule that allows you to wake up and go to bed at about the same time every day (even when you don’t have school or work the next day). If you share a room, try to set a quiet time or bedtime for everyone so you are not disturbed.

Bedtimes should not change by more than one or two hours between days, including weekends. So, on weekends, don’t go to bed later than two hours after your normal bedtime.

Tip 2: Try to take advantage of natural light

Try to maximize the amount of natural light that you are exposed to in the morning by opening the curtains or even going for a walk outside if you can. Exposure to light can help your brain produce melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep.

You should also try to limit the amount of light that you are exposed to at night. For example, avoid bright rooms and electronic devices (phones, TV, Kobo readers) in the hour or two before your bedtime.

Tip 3: Try not to “catch up” on sleep on weekends

It’s tempting, but sleeping in late on Saturday and Sunday mornings will interrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep at the right bedtime during the week.

Try to set a consistent bedtime and wake time everyday. For instance, don’t get up more than two hours after your normal waking time on weekdays. To keep your internal clock as it should be, a good rule is to try not to sleep past 9 am, if possible, on weekends or holidays.

This might sound boring and too difficult to do, but try it and you might be amazed at how much better you feel after two weeks of consistent and restful sleep!

Tip 4: Limit naps

Try not to take naps during the day. If you are really sleepy or don't feel well and you need to nap then limit the nap to 20 to 30 minutes in the late morning. Set an alarm or ask someone to wake you up so that you don't nap for too long.

Napping for too long or too late in the day will make it harder for you to fall asleep at bedtime. To help you feel more awake and make it through to your scheduled bedtime, try going for a walk, going out in the sunlight, drinking lots of water, exercising or meeting friends.

Tip 5: Increase your uptime

Your “uptime” is the time you spend moving during the day. Increasing your uptime, for instance by doing regular exercise or simply going for a walk, will enable you to develop good habits that will help you feel more comfortable and ready for sleep.

Tip 6: Keep pain in check

Do what you can to control pain using both medication and non-medication strategies – it’s really hard to sleep if you aren’t comfortable. Talk to your healthcare team if your pain is keeping you awake at night. If you are still having difficulties, after working hard on healthy sleep practices, talk to your healthcare team about appropriate medical treatments for sleep.

Tip 7: Limit caffeine

If you are aged 19 or under, limit your caffeine to 100 mg a day. If you are aged 20 or older, do not drink more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. Caffeine interferes with the quality of your sleep because it prevents certain chemicals from telling your brain that you’re sleepy.

Tip 8: Wind down and relax before bed

Make a relaxing bedtime routine that you can follow each night. It should involve one or two hours of quiet, wind-down activities such as reading, looking at a magazine, listening to music or writing in a journal. Create a cozy nesting place in your room where you feel comfortable, such as a beanbag chair with lots of soft blankets.

Do not work until the minute you want to fall asleep. It is important for your body to relax and slow down enough to let you sleep. A warm bath or shower in the hour before bed might help relax you and get you ready to sleep. This also leaves you extra time in the morning so you can sleep a bit later!

Tip 9: Do relaxation exercises

Relaxation exercises can be a great way to get to sleep faster and more easily. They can help you overcome worries about not falling asleep and can help you feel more at ease at bedtime. They can also make your muscles less tense and help relieve any pain that is present before falling sleep.

Relaxation techniques can help slow down your breathing and heart rate and prepare your body for a deeper, more restful sleep.

The session on psychological strategies describes some simple relaxation exercises that you can try. It is important to practise these relaxation techniques during the day. If you wait to try them until you are trying to fall asleep, you can actually put more pressure on yourself. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep at night.

Tip 10: Limit electronics before bed

Limit the number of electronics in your bedroom or in the area of your home where you sleep. TVs, computers, cell phones, tablets and video games are considered energizing or stimulating activities. It is best to develop other calm activities to do at bedtime. If other people in your home are using electronics near you when you are trying to fall asleep, see if you can agree to set "quiet hours" leading up to your bedtime.

During sleep time

Tip 1: Use your bed only for sleeping

Avoid studying, doing homework, reading, watching television or drawing in bed. Find a chair or another place beside your bed to do these other non-sleeping activities.

When possible, do activities that you may find stressful, such as homework, in a room other than your bedroom. This will help to ensure that your body only associates your bedroom with relaxing and sleeping.

If you sleep on a couch or futon and there is no other place to do work or watch TV, make sure that you stop these activities about one or two hours before your bedtime.

Tip 2: Go to bed only when sleepy

Don't go to bed until you feel sleepy. It is ok if this is quite late in the night because this is just a temporary bedtime. This technique builds sleep deprivation and will help you to fall asleep more easily in the nights to come.

Your goal will still be eventually to get about eight or nine hours of continuous sleep at night. It may take three or four weeks of practice before you are able to go to bed at your "ideal bedtime".

Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol should never be used to help you sleep. While it may make people feel sleepy, the sleep that they get isn’t good sleep. Alcohol also has stimulant effects. Over time, you need larger and larger amounts of alcohol to become sleepy as your body becomes tolerant to your nighttime ‘dose’ of alcohol.

Marijuana and cigarettes also have stimulant effects on the body, similar to alcohol. Many of the chemicals in cigarettes, such as nicotine, interfere with sleep.

Your body also has to work hard to eliminate the chemicals in alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana from your system, which will further interrupt your sleep.

Tip 3: Do a relaxing activity if you wake up during the night

If you cannot fall asleep within about 20 minutes, get out of bed, go and sit somewhere comfortable and do a quiet activity. Try not to watch the clock, just get out of bed when it feels like it’s been 20 minutes to you. The activities you do should be relaxing, quiet and not need to be finished – for example, reading, guided meditation, writing in a journal or knitting. Think about activities that you enjoy doing and find relaxing. Climb back into bed only when you feel sleepy again.

Tip 4: Avoid clock watching

Turn your alarm clock around, cover it and try not to look at it between the time that you are getting ready for bed and the time your alarm goes off in the morning.

Last updated: May 2nd 2016