Can’t Sleep? Advice for Beating Sleeping Problems

Sleeping is one of my favourite things to do. Even though beating my sleeping problems is something I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life.

As a high school and university student, my insomnia got to be so bad that I almost failed an 8 a.m. class or two.

Although things are better for me now, my sleeping problems still reappear every couple of months. Like they have been lately. (I think I jinxed myself writing this post.)

We all know how great getting a good night’s sleep feels. You wake up feeling refreshed and invincible, ready to take on whatever the day has in store.

On the other hand, getting a bad night’s sleep is the worst. You wake up miserable and spend the day feeling grumpy, irritated and exhausted, with headaches and bags under your eyes to boot.

Study after study confirms just how important sleep is for both our physical and mental health.

People with chronic sleeping problems are more prone to health conditions like depression, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immunity, and are more susceptible to accidents.

Yet, ironically as we learn more about how fundamentally important sleep is to almost every facet of our lives, as a society we have never slept worst.

Almost a third of us will suffer from sleeping problems at some stage in our lives. And it’s easy to see why.

The majority of us don’t get the doctor-recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Far too often, we sacrifice getting a good night’s sleep for something else.

Sometimes it’s for a good reason – like studying or taking care of family members, especially if you have kids.

But sometimes it’s not – like watching just one more episode or mindlessly scrolling through your phone just a little longer.

If you suffer from sleeping problems, before you go and start knocking back handfuls of potentially addictive (and sometimes dangerous) sleeping pills, check out these tips that have helped me and many others with beating our sleeping problems.

Bedtimes Are Not Just For Children

The human body craves routine. There is a lot that has to happen in our bodies while we sleep. So the more predictable our daily patterns are, the more efficiently our body is able to undertake them.

Pick a realistic bedtime that works for you and try not to stray from it too much.

A quick rule of thumb is to simply work backwards eight hours from the time you need to be awake the following day. So if you need to wake up for 7 a.m., you should be heading to bed at about 11 p.m. each night.

And don’t worry. A night out here or there won’t harm you too much. But constantly going to bed at random times will.

Once you get into this habit, the benefits of going to bed at the same time will soon become apparent. Not only will your ability to sleep improve, but you have more energy during the day.

Set A Bedtime Routine

In order to fall asleep quickly, you need to be in a relaxed state of mind when you go to bed.

Easier said then done, right?

Heading to bed with a racing mind isn’t going to do anybody any good. You will just end up tossing and turning instead. I’m sure we’ve all had those nights before.

As if that’s not bad enough, psychologically, over time you will begin to associate your bed with your sleeping problems instead of with sleep.

The solution to preventing this is to only head to bed when you are tired.

But wait a second. How are you supposed to do that and maintain a regular bedtime?

Easy! Once you’ve found your “perfect bedtime”, work back another hour and set this time aside as your time to unwind.

Do whatever you can to make the sixty minutes before your head touches that pillow a period of calm. Avoid undertaking any activities that could remotely be considered stressful, over-stimulating or thought-provoking.

That means step away from your computer. Put down any work you brought home with you. Stop working on your never-ending side hustle to-do list. Try not to watch scary or violent movies, or play video games.

In fact, you shouldn’t be watching or looking at any screens at all. The blue light they emit makes it harder to fall asleep. It suppresses melatonin production. It interferes with your circadian rhythm (also known as your internal clock). And it prevents your body temperature from dropping at night, which you need for your body to drift into sleep.

If avoiding screens before bed feels impossible, at the very least set your devices to “night mode” which will reduce the blue light.

Try to find a calm, screen-free bedtime routine that helps promote getting a good night’s sleep.

Make and pack your lunch for the following day. Take a shower or a bath. Read a book. Write in your journal. Meditate. Drink tea. Stretch. Listen to a podcast (may I suggest my favourites – Tiny Bites and This American Life?).

By creating a routine, you will signal to your brain that sleep is on the horizon. It will learn to respond by slowing down and preparing itself for bed. We are creatures of habit, after all, so use that to your advatage.

Your Bedroom is Your Sanctuary

We spend one-third of our lives asleep, and therefore spend a lot of time in our beds and our bedrooms. Yet we use our bedrooms for various things and we are paying the price in lost hours of sleep.

As hard as it is, our bedrooms should not be treated as an office, a home theatre or somewhere to run your social media empire from. Those activities should be kept outside of your bedroom where they belong.

Take a moment and think – is my bedroom really set up for sleeping?

Entering a bedroom should immediately be calming. The walls should be a nice, muted colour. If there is clutter, declutter. If your curtains don’t block out the light from outside, get better curtains. And if you’re sleeping on a saggy bed with worn-out pillows, it’s time to think about replacing them.

There is a section in my 50 Self-Care Gift Ideas for Under $50 post dedicated to helping you sleep better. It includes the pillows and black-out curtains we use and that I highly recommend, amongst other things. For under $50!

If you share your bed with your partner, you may also consider sleeping with separate comforters or blankets.

What About Shift Work?

Shift work sleep disorder is a real thing. And like any sleeping problem, it too can be bad for your health – if not worse. It can put you at an even higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease. It also makes you much more susceptible to accidents and injuries.

If you (or your partner) work night shifts, rotating shifts, or in my husband’s case early morning shifts (hello, 4 a.m.!) it can be hard to be awake and alert when your body is programmed to be asleep.

Although it can be a lot harder beating your sleeping problems as a shift-worker, it is still possible to get a good night’s sleep.

Use bright light to simulate the sun while you need to be awake, but avoid bright lights on your way home and before going to sleep.

Limit your caffeine intake to the beginning of your shift only. Watch what you eat, and avoid heavy meals made up of foods that are harder to digest (such as high-sugar, fried and processed foods).

Take a half hour nap during your “lunch break”, if you can.

And if at all possible, avoid frequently rotating shifts so that your body can get into some resemblance of a schedule.

Go to Your Doctor

Sleeping disorders can be a sign that there’s something else going on with you. So if you are concerned at all, let your doctor or healthcare professional know what’s going on.

Because none of these above tips will help you with beating your sleeping problems if they are caused by something medical.

I know this firsthand. After years of being bounced around from doctor to doctor at the walk-in clinic at my university, I finally met with one who cared.

She didn’t just throw sleeping pills at me, as her peers did time and time again (which is a very concerning issue in itself!). She took the time to not only give me a proper diagnosis, but a treatment plan, as well.

And it worked.

In my case, I had quite a few vitamin deficiencies and was seriously anemic. After only a few weeks of being put on a strict regiment of B vitamins and iron supplements, my insomnia drastically improved.

I needlessly suffered for years because no one took the time with me that she did. (Which is also a very concerning issue!)

You don’t have to suffer, too.

Beating your sleeping problems will take time, but it is possible. By making sleep a priority, your health, your wellbeing and your life will improve.

YOUR TURN: How well do you usually sleep? Do you have any other tips you’d add? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

2 thoughts on “Can’t Sleep? Advice for Beating Sleeping Problems”

  1. Nice Post Amanda, Drinking a sugar free coffee right before sleeping works great for me. I know you said right intake of more caffeine is not that good. But it works for me better than anything else.


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