Instead of over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills, the drug-free, research-proven techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT could help you quiet your mind and teach you to overcome sleep problems. In studies, CBT worked as well or better than medications — and kept on working for at least a year after people learned its simple strategies. Start by priming your body, mind, and sleep environment. Then put these steps to work at home.
Get up if you’re not sleeping. Tossing and turning boosts anxiety and sends your brain the message that your bed is a stressful spot. If you can’t sleep, get up and read a boring book or magazine in another room until you’re feeling sleepy.
Discover your sleep number. Figuring out how much sleep you really need can help you assess whether or not you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Researchers say some people who believe they have insomnia actually need less than 7 or 8 hours a night. Are you among them? For clues, think about how much sleep you need when you’re on vacation and stress is low, or how much you’ve gotten on mornings when you wake up feeling refreshed.
Try going to bed later for 4 to 5 nights. It sounds crazy, but one of the most effective strategies for combating insomnia is restricting the total number of hours you spend in bed. CBT practitioners recommend staying up late for a few nights, so that the sleep you do get is unbroken. Don’t go to bed until you truly feel like you can fall asleep. Try it over a weekend. You may feel pretty tired for a few nights until your body learns to sleep straight through. Then, start getting to bed earlier, by moving your bedtime back about a half hour per night.
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