MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Jan. 1 is often the time when people resolve to live healthier in the new year. For some, that means getting more sleep.
So, what does it take to fall asleep faster?
When asked what is the biggest thing standing in the way of a good night’s sleep, Dr. Andrew Stiehm, a sleep specialist at Allina Health, said, “It’s our own brains, most of the time.”
He says his patients tell them they “can’t turn it off.”
As a first step, he recommends patients first make sure they don’t have a larger, underlying health condition that’s affecting their sleep. If so, they should see a doctor to address that issue first.
For the vast majority of people who struggle to fall asleep, Stiehm says 90 percent can be helped without medication.
“We need to find a healthy way to deal with our worries,” he says. “We often tell patients have a notebook on your bedside, write it down in your notebook, you’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
He also suggests a hot shower before bed because it cools off the body and mimics a normal biological signal that it’s time to go to sleep.
When it comes to caffeine, he people should stop their consumption by early afternoon.
“The number of times I’ve seen people have coffee after dinner, it boggles my mind,” he says.
Stiehm calls screens a curse because they are not only a source of distraction, but a source of light. He recommends shutting them off at least an hour before bed.
“Our brain thinks when it’s light out, it’s the middle of the day, so it’s trying to stay awake,” he says.
Some people swear by aromatherapy. Stiehm says that can work for some, but not others.
And, what about the breathing exercises that promise people will “fall asleep in under a minute”? Stiehm calls them a form of mediation that can help people relax.
“Focusing on your breathing is a way to dismiss those intrusive thoughts that are stopping you from sleeping,” he says.
He says people run into problems with they try one solution, then give up and try another. He recommends making several small changes at once to notice change.
But ultimately, it comes down to going to bed and waking up around the same time each day.
“The most important thing is have a stable routine,” he says.