Breaking bad habits like quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make to improve your health, but while working through the changes you MUST adopt to be successful at breaking the habit, you may experience temporary insomnia.
These are some facts about the complicated relationship between sleep and bad habits, along with strategies that can help you sleep better no matter what habit-changing method you are using.
Understanding the Connection Between Habits, Routine and Sleep
1. Assess your current sleep quality. Sometime a habit – like eating right before bedtime – can not only keep you from getting to sleep, but can also tend to disturb your sleep. Studies show that people who smoke, for instance, get less sleep on average. They also experience lower quality sleep overall. What bedtime routines do you have that could be affecting your sleep quality?
2. Learn the effects of caffeine and exercise on sleep. Exercise can act as a stimulant with some effects similar to caffeine. It makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep if you’re still “fired up” from your aerobics routine or the fast-paced soundtrack of your walk or run. Try an activity that is more calming or soothing just prior to bedtime that can help relax you instead of energizing you.
3. Understand the impact of changing your habit pattern. Habits become part of us through repeated action. It can be hard to break a pattern that’s been a part of you for a period of time. Start by changing your mindset, then follow up with physical action. Give it 21 to 28 days for the change to start to feel “normal” and start to “stick”.
4. Watch for symptoms of depression. Depression can be another complicating factor because it makes it more difficult to sleep and to change or eliminate bad habits. If you need help, your doctor can help point you toward additional research and effective treatment.
5. Prepare to sleep more. Some fortunate people actually sleep more when they eliminate bad habits – especially around food. This appears to be the body’s way of making up for the previous sleep deficits and stress from prior activity. The good news is that you may also sleep through some of the discomfort that often comes when you change an ingrained habit.
6. Count on good sleep to help you change for the better. Sleep is especially important at stressful and challenging times in your life. By taking steps to stay well rested, you lower your chances of returning to old habits.
Strategies to Sleep Better
1. Develop a soothing routine. Some people find that reading before bed helps to soothe and relax them, others use music to accomplish the same goal. Try a couple of methods, giving each a few days to work their “magic”, or for you to decide they aren’t quite what you need. Be open to something different.
2. Plan to stop stimulating activities. Plan ahead to give yourself adequate time to wind down from energizing activities. Do you need 30 minutes? More? Less? Keep a pre-sleep journal and track how you feel each evening for 21 to 28 days and see how much time you need to prepare for good sleep.
3. Stick to a consistent schedule. As always, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps. Try to keep the same schedule even on weekends and holidays.
4. Turn down the lights. Exposure to light makes your brain more alert. Darken your bedroom. Turn off the TV and computer screens early in the evening. Put a night light in your bathroom so you can get back to sleep faster.
5. Do something boring. Instead of tossing and turning, get out of bed until you feel drowsy. Sort out your tax receipts or read the manual that came with your dishwasher.
6. Pick the right bedtime snacks. Tryptophan is an amino acid that triggers drowsiness naturally. Try a small bowl of cereal and milk before bed – hot cereal might work even better.
7. Talk with your doctor. If your sleep fails to improve within a few weeks, get a physical examination. Your physician can give you tests to spot other issues and refer you to a sleep specialist if needed.
8. Look forward to better sleep. Remember that for most people, all of these symptoms will clear up on their own. You’ll soon be feeling better and sleeping more soundly.
Eliminating bad habits and creating a bedtime routine may interfere with your slumbers temporarily, but the positive health benefits will last for the rest of your life. Making temporary adjustments will help you to stay well rested. Then, you can look forward to creating good habits and enjoying better sleep than ever.