Can’t sleep well? Try taking these steps …

Have you ever sat in church and suddenly become so tired it felt like the hand of God itself was reaching down and pulling your eyelids closed?

Or suddenly start to nod off during the sermon, only to physically jerk awake? You try to make the movement look natural so no one knows you were about to fall asleep.

It isn’t that you’re bored, you’re actually interested in the sermon, and you’re trying to track with what the pastor is saying. But you’re tired, and that tiredness has a far greater impact on you than you thought it did.

Many of you have reported to me that you’re struggling with being able to regularly get a good night of sleep.You’re not alone! According to the National Sleep Foundation, at least 40 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.

The importance of sleeping well each night can hardly be overrated. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports good sleep is an important part of life:

    Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

    The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

    The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others, the NIH reports.

Even though we may have a pattern of sleep problems, we often do little or nothing about it. Some people visit their doctor with the hope of getting a sleeping pill, which they often do receive a prescription for. But resolving your sleep issues usually doesn’t happen just by taking a pill.

Overcoming our challenges to a good night of sleep is like keeping a garden free of weeds. How do you eliminate weeds? You have to pull up the roots, or they’ll grow back. A physician might give you a prescription for a pill, but that does little to resolve the root issues contributing to why you aren’t sleeping well.

So, let me provide you with some steps you can take to improve your capacity to sleep better:

1. Resolve spiritual inhibitors to sleep. Stated another way, pursue peace with God and peace with others. Whenever there is a problem in our relationship with God (unrepented sin, true or false guilt, conviction, etc.) or a lack of peace with others, we can become so obsessed with these issues that it can impact our sleep. A time of prayer, confession, repentance, praise and worship can make things right with God. Meeting with others to resolve relational issues may be necessary to have peace with some people in our lives.

2. Manage your mental and emotional health. Stress, anxiety, depression, compulsive thinking, and other mental and emotional issues and behaviors can significantly affect our capacity to sleep or sleep well. Learning to redirect your thinking is a major tool in addressing stress, anxiety, compulsivity, and some types of depression. This can sometimes be done by reading books on the topic, and sometimes a little training with a competent counselor is helpful or needed. Sometimes medication may be needed for issues that have a physical origin; in that case, a physician or psychiatrist can help resolve such issues.

3. Minimize/eliminate other inhibitors to sleep:

  • Avoid taking naps in the late afternoon or evening. Some people find themselves so tired in the first half of the day due to a lack of sleep that they work in a nap to re-energize. But doing so may affect your ability to go to sleep when needed that night. If you do decide to nap, make it earlier in the day rather than later.
  • Exercise, but do it early, meaning at least three hours prior to when you need to go to bed. Exercise can help reduce stress, relax your body, and help you sleep better as long as it isn’t done too close to bedtime.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day to keep your body well hydrated, but make sure you reduce your water intake well in advance of bedtime to keep from creating a need to wake up to use the restroom.
  • Watch what and when you eat. Avoid snacking 2-3 hours before going to bed, and try to finish dinner at least 3 to 4 hours prior to sleep time. Make breakfast your primary meal, with a healthy lunch, and a more reasonable dinner. Feasting during the evening can affect your capacity to go to sleep when needed, and the quality of sleep. Whether having dinner or a snack after your last meal, choose foods you know will not cause indigestion. A 10 p.m. “run for the border” for tacos are an invitation for sleep problems.
  • Caffeine, alcohol, nicotene, and other chemicals can all interfere with sleep. Avoid any stimulants 4-6 hours prior to bedtime.

4. Create an inviting sleep environment:

  • Many people use their bedrooms for a host of reasons other than sleeping including work, entertainment, exercise, conversations, and a variety of other activities. So “going to bed” doesn’t necessarily mean to our minds or bodies that it’s time to sleep — and that can contribute to sleep problems. Try limiting the use of your bedroom to sleep and sex. Take all other activities to some other place in your home. Choose not to have a television or desk in your bedroom, which will only invite additional uses for the room.
  • Your bedroom should be a quiet, dark, and cool environment. Minimize or eliminate noises from outside the room prior to going to bed. Ear plugs and “white noise” apps or appliances can be used to reduce outside noises. Blackout shades and heavy curtains can greatly minimize outside light coming into the room, and an eye mask can be worn to further reduce any light in the room. Try to make sure the room is well ventilated, and keep the temperature in the room somewhere between 60 and 72 degrees.
  • What is very important and seemingly obvious, yet often overlooked, is making sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillows that are an invitation to your mind and body for a pleasant experience of sleep. Studies show mattresses “wear out” within about 10 years.

5. Establish a routine that prepares you for sleep:

  • Use light to program your internal body clock. As soon as you arise in the morning, allow outside light into your bedroom and home. Try to get outside some time during the day to be in the sunlight. Cancel all light when trying to sleep. Getting up and going to bed at the same time will help create a habit for your internal body clock.
  • Avoid starting stressful activities or conversations a few hours prior to bedtime. You need to be shedding your stresses the closer you get to the time you need to go to sleep rather than starting new interactions or activities that add to your stress level.
  • Do something relaxing and more enjoyable prior to bedtime such as reading a book, watching a television show, or taking a long bath.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation exercises. Taking deep breaths, and then releasing them very slowly begins to slow your breathing pattern and help relax your body. A simple relaxation exercise is to start at either the top or bottom of your body and tighten each muscle group, hold the tension for a count to 10, and then release. Then go to the next muscle group. By tightening, holding the tension, and then releasing the muscles, you are actually relaxing your body from the tenseness created by stress throughout the day.
  • Pray. Spend some time talking to God and include worshiping, praising, and adoring Him. A season of prayer that draws you close to God will help melt away your stress and anxiety.
  • Laugh! Tune into some comedy for a good laugh. To find out more about how this can help you sleep better, read my blog on this subject at this link here.
  • 6. Go to bed when you’re actually tired. Trying to sleep when you aren’t tired or prepared to sleep can cause more problems than otherwise. However, to develop a strong pattern of being able to go to sleep and get a good quality of sleep, building the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time will help program your body to be tired enough to want sleep at generally the same time. If you cannot go to sleep within about 15 minutes of going to bed, don’t try to force sleep. While keeping lights as dim as possible, get up and do something relaxing, such as reading a book, until you’re tired enough to go back to bed and sleep.

    7. If you do wake up during the night:

    • Don’t check the clock for the time. Beginning to think about the time and how little sleep you’ve gotten, or might have left to sleep, can affect your capacity to go back to sleep.
    • If you wake up with a need to use the restroom, try using a flashlight to avoid turning on any brighter lights that can inhibit your ability to go back to sleep.
    • If you can’t go back to sleep and do get up, keep the lights dim. Don’t read from equipment that are backlit. Do something relaxing, such as reading a book, until you can return to sleep again.

    Trying these steps can help you weed out some of the things that may be root causes to your inability to get a good night’s rest. But if you continue to wrestle with the ability to go to sleep or sleep well, get help by visiting your physician. Don’t hesitate getting help to develop the ability to sleep well every night. Your overall health will be better by you resolving any sleep problems you have.