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No more counting sheep: Proven behaviors to help you sleep

November 5, 2018

About the Author

photo of Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH

Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH, Contributor

Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH, is an Associate Physician and Clinical Director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her research focuses 1) adapting sleep … See Full Bio
View all posts by Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH


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November 23, 2018

I’ve found that lavender oils help my child sleep. For me personally I love reading in bed at night time after dinner. Exercise is always recommended. And a glass of wine does the trick. I try and limit my consumption of alcohol however.

Suzie Bertisch
November 13, 2018

The first step would to make sure there is a not a medical conditions causing you to go to the bathroom at night, although this can be very typical. Reducing fluid intake in the evening is one thing to try. Also keeping the room as dark as possible when you wake up in the middle of the night. If you are having trouble falling back to sleep after 20 min, try to go into another room to sleep or do a quiet activity for a period of time. Some of the other comments provide links to some relaxation techniques that you could try. What you are experiencing is very common, and the closer you wake up to your wake time, the harder it is to fall asleep.

November 12, 2018

I . Watch tv in bed, and time the tv to go off. In an hour or so. I listen to the radio when I get up to pee (3x at night), and time that to go off.
When my mental health was more compromised by anxiety it wasn’t this way, until therapy. A freeer mind helps sleep.
By watching tv or listening to radio, I believe it “dulls my mind from reality”, which helps me to sleep.
Do you ever go to sleep at night , and awaken in a few hours feeling good? That’s why I’ll listen to the radio, to get back to sleep. I use a pillow speaker so I don’t wake my wife.. comments?

Suzie Bertisch
November 12, 2018

Yes, Alistair. What you describe is commonly experienced by many patients with insomnia.
This is why for patients with insomnia disorder, we recommend additional behavioral techniques, such as limiting the time you spend in bed (which tends to be the exact opposite of what people do) and getting out of bed if you are not sleeping for more than 20 minutes. These techniques not only reduce the frustration, but also increase the body and brain’s drive to sleep and also reduces arousal from the environment.

And thanks for the music recommendation–relaxing and distracting activities are often helpful for people.

Sharon Leslie
November 12, 2018

Do not have trouble going to sleep, but if I have to make a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night (after 3-5 hrs sleep), it is sometimes hard to get back to sleep. Any solutions for this problem?

November 12, 2018

I have always needed not more than four hours sleep to face the next day. And when it’s time for me to sleep, I just knock out into a stooper you could walk over me; I can literally use a loud speaker/sub woofer in a pub as a pillow and sleep! And if I lie down when ready to sleep, I will be out in under five minutes! Sometimes I sleep for two hours and wake up feeling like I’ve sleeping forever. I normally just wake up at 3AM, alarm or no alarm. Am I abnormal?

Suzie Bertisch
November 13, 2018

Hi Takura, It is very unusual to for someone to require only 4 hours of sleep each night, though it is possible you are among the 2% that can sleep less than 6 hours a night and not feel the consequences.

November 12, 2018

Is it possible to come off sleep medication if you have been on it for 30 years?

Suzie Bertisch
November 13, 2018

Yes, it is. It does require working with a health care provider, and may work better if you also work with a sleep provider who can council you about sleep behaviors that may give you a better chance to come off the medications. Given the risk of sleep medications, it is always worth trying. I suggest you discuss this first with the prescribing doctor.

Val Laing
November 12, 2018

I find listening to an audible book very helpful in getting to sleep quickly.

November 6, 2018

I’ve always found the problem with sleep is the catch-22 situation where you’re trying so hard to go to sleep that you are then adding to the problem, and are worrying about not being able to sleep!

It is a hard one – I’ve found this piece of music works quite often for me though.

Jencks Penelope
November 12, 2018

I find that listening to a book on my iPhone, and setting it to stop in 1/2 hour keeps me from thinking about stuff that stops me from relaxing, and often lulls me to sleep. Sometimes i fall asleep after it has stopped, but at least i do relax, so if i haven’t fallen asleep by the time it stops, i usually do pretty soon after.

If you forget to set the “timer”, though, the voice will probably wake you up later, as your sleep becomes shallower.

November 12, 2018

A great tip I read was to not try to sleep, rather try to relax, much easier and for me, results in sleep!

November 13, 2018

What music helps you?

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