Sleep is regulated by two biological systems: your internal body clock and your sleep drive.
Your internal body clock tells you what time to wake up and what time to go to sleep. It sends you alerting signals throughout the day until it’s time to go to bed. The alerting signals return shortly before you wake up.
Your sleep drive builds up your appetite to fall asleep from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. When the alerting signals from your internal body clock decrease, your sleep drive takes over and puts you to sleep.
Most insomnia is caused by interfering with this self-regulating system. Here are some things you can do to get out of your own way and sleep more soundly.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day. Don’t change your bedtime or wake up time by more than about 45 minutes. If you go to bed late, try to get up at the usual time the next day. This will prevent you from interfering with your body clock and sleep drive.
Have a brisk wake up
Limit snoozing and get up quickly. Snoozing diminishes your sleep drive. Make sure to get natural light within 1 hour of waking. This reinforces your internal body clock.
Create a bedtime buffer zone
Dim ambient light about 1 hour before bed time. This encourages the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Turn off devices, too – they have too much light and can be unnecessarily stimulating.
Use your bed for sleep and sex
Do you know that you can inadvertently teach your body to be awake in bed? Keep activities besides sleep and sex out of the bedroom so that you don’t condition yourself to be awake when you’re in bed. If you can’t sleep, get up after 20 minutes and do something relaxing or boring until you feel sleepy again, and then return to bed.
Don’t “try” to go to sleep
Trying to sleep is like trying to fall in love. There’s no way to force it to happen, and trying to fall asleep can make you more awake. Get up and do something relaxing and boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed.
Don’t stress about sleep
People usually overestimate the effects of one night of poor sleep. Start with the assumption that you will be fine. If you get one bad night of sleep, don’t try to compensate. Go to bed and get up at the regular time the next day. Remember to let your sleep drive and internal body clock do their jobs.