MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
You may have a friend or have personally suffered from insomnia. At night, many folks lay
down in bed and close their eyes, and one million tangentially-related thoughts pop up, one after
the other, each screaming for attention. These thoughts steadily prevent attempts to slip into a
state of restful sleep. Some nights, people don’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 a.m. ; other nights some
describe feeling like they never slept at all!
On the flip side, there are those people who most nights, can fall asleep in as little as 5-10
minutes, and only need about 6 hours of good-quality sleep to feel well-rested. I can already hear
what you’re thinking: They must have a simple / easygoing / stress-free life! Or they probably
take a boat-load of sedatives! To the contrary, these people may also have optimal sleep
Believe me (or not), there are plenty of things we can do to improve the quantity and quality of
our sleep; here are a handful of recommendations that have work.
- Set and keep a consistent bedtime and wake time. Every day. Including on the weekends.
Our bodies run on a hormonally-mediated day/night cycle called the circadian rhythm, which
tries to “guess” when we eat, exercise, and sleep. If your sleep schedule varies, your circadian
rhythm can’t adequately prep your body for sleep; on a similar note, NO NAPS > 15 minutes.
- Create a pre-bedtime routine. Do the exact same things, in order, every night before you get
into bed; you’re conditioning your body to recognize its sleepy time, so after a week or so of
consistency you’ll notice you start to become exhausted toward the end of the routine.
- Cut down. Alcohol, tobacco, & caffeine impair sleep quality by increasing body temperature,
physiological activity, or both. Use minimal alcohol/tobacco within 2 hours of sleep, and no
caffeine within 6 hours. On that note, try to avoid big meals, exercise, and/or technology use
within 2 hours of sleep—you’ve got to give your body and your brain time to wind down!
- Play it cool. Set the right “mood” in the bedroom: cool (temperature), dark, and quiet. You
should also reserve the bed solely for sleep and *passionate* activities; reading or watching
TV in bed confuses your brain as to what the bed is actually for…and how it should act!
- Visualize. Paying attention to anxious thoughts sparks neural beta waves, which
prevent you from drifting off to sleep. Counting sheep, a mathematical function, also
does the exact same thing! If you want to facilitate transition to the 1st stage of sleep
(alpha waves), try visualizing yourself in the most comforting or relaxing environment
you can think of—for me, it’s a white-sand, clear-blue-water beach—and stay there,
even when aberrant thoughts try to butt in. It takes practice and persistence, but over time
you’ll become more adept in teaching both your mind and body to relax in a timely fashion!
For questions, contact Dr. Ashley Kilgore, email@example.com or the Minot Mental Health Center at 701-723-5527