Four Tips for Better Sleep

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We know it’s important to get enough sleep for our health and well being, yet many of us struggle to sleep well. I’ve read about sleep, talked with my doctor, taken medication, and monitored my sleep with apps on my phone. These are the keys I’ve found for good sleep – maybe they will help you too.

1. Establish a Bedtime Routine

I start preparing for a good night of sleep just about the time we finish cleaning up dinner. We set up the coffee maker and tidy the house. I put my computer and any books I need in my quiet spot in our living room where I spend the early hours of the morning.

I resist the urge to watch a show or work on my computer, because even when I’m very tired, I’m tempted to stay awake much later than when I read a book. 

Most of all, I’m very conscious of the time. At 9:15 an alarm on my phone goes off (with the sound of crickets) telling me it’s nearly time for bed. My goal is to be ready for bed, or even already in bed reading when the alarm goes off.

2. Minimize Noise

Those of us who struggle with sleep know how easily it is to be woken by noise. Whether it’s one of my older kids coming home late, or my neighbor’s very loud diesel truck, noise disturbs my sleep. My doctor recommended two things.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

First, I bought a Marpac Dohm Sound Machine from Amazon; it’s not an electronic sound machine, but actually has a fan inside which creates the sound of rushing air. I love this thing and even take it when I travel. It’s such an important part of my sleep routine that just turning it on as I prepare for bed helps me begin to relax.

Eby has trouble sleeping too, but doesn’t like a fan in the room, so we got a second sound machine for the boys’ room and they love it too. Last summer we got one for the girls, and I’m convinced that not only does it help them sleep, but Claire’s puppy sleeps better too.

Second, I also sleep with soft ear plugs, which may seem like overkill, but I’m desperate for sleep, so it’s worth it.

3. Block Light

Research shows that light, even very small amounts, disturbs our sleep. My doctor recommended I sleep with an eye mask. Russ had an old airline one from overseas travel, so I gave that a try, but it slid around and didn’t block the light very well. I searched Amazon and found a sleep mask that works well. It doesn’t rest against my eyes and is more comfortable than standard eye masks. It also comes with ear plugs, which are the ones I use.

Second, I bought inexpensive room-darkening curtains. Our house sits on top of a hill and the sun shines very brightly early in the morning. Years ago I put room-darkening curtains in the boys’ room which helped them sleep later than 4:30 AM.

I resisted putting them in my room until this summer when I finally realized that I would sleep better if our room was darker. I put the curtains on tension rods so I can take them down during the day, which means I only need one panel per window. Now that the sun is rising a little later, I’ve been sleeping without my eye mask and the rooms seems to be staying dark enough.

4. Essential Oils and Other Tips

Each evening I spray lavender aromatherapy mist on our pillows which smells good and helps me relax. I use essential oils on my feet sometimes, but I really love having a simple essential oil diffuser to diffuse the oil into the room. There are many to choose from; my all-time favorites are lavender and Serenity blend.

Many people take Melatonin to help them sleep.  I don’t use it, but it helps Russ, especially when he is adjusting to a time change after travel.

Obviously, drinking caffeine too late in the day can disturb sleep, but many people don’t realize that alcohol can cause sleep to be disrupted. I’m not much of a drinker, but I love my coffee. I don’t make coffee later in the day, but if I go out for coffee with a friend, I order decaf.

I have more thoughts on sleep that I’ll cover in another post. For now, I would love to hear from you. Do you struggle with sleep? What helps you go to sleep and stay asleep?

Lisa

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

44 Comments

  1. Emily B
    September 14, 2015

    If you're trying essential oils, try diffusing lavender and cedarwood for sleep. It's almost magical for me.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      Those sounds like they would smell good too, Emily. Thanks.

      Reply
  2. Melissa
    September 14, 2015

    I know it's crazy but I'm crying reading this! I have been struggling with sleep for a long time, I have felt very alone in my struggle. I get anxiety as the evening falls because I know I will need to go to bed soon…I can't ever fall asleep well or stay asleep. I have not tried using ear plugs or a mask yet…I am going to!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      I hope they help, Melissa. I understand the tears – I've dreaded going to bed knowing I would wake after a few hours and be miserable. My sleep is still not perfect, but I'm making progress.

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Shapiro Isaac
    September 14, 2015

    Great post! I also use an eye mask – and a white noise app on my phone. Going to try diffused Vetiver tonight, as I've recently started waking throughout the night. : (

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      Let me know if the Vetiver helps you.

      Reply
  4. courtney
    September 14, 2015

    oh, sleep sleep sleep. i have struggled with it in varying degrees for YEARS. had one bout with complete insomnia which lasted about 4 months and ever since then i have SUCH a fear of not getting enough sleep.

    things i do (which is probably overkill…but at this point, they seem to work so i'm not quitting! :-)):
    -exercise so my body is physically tired
    -take melatonin
    -sleep with a loud fan/sound machine. there's a free app that i use when i'm traveling – sleep machine lite – lots of choices on it!
    -go to bed at pretty much the same time every night
    -read for a few minutes before i go to bed…helps my brain stop spinning with the events/emotions of the day

    thanks for this post!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      All great ideas, Courtney. I've been able to exercise regularly again and I think it helps. It definitely makes me feel happier.

      Reply
  5. Jennifer LB
    September 14, 2015

    I do almost all of these as well (except the lavender). When I'm feeling especially stressed, anxious, or insomnia prone I put a heating pad on my abdomen. It feels like someone's warm hand.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      That's a great idea, Jennifer. I have a rice bag that I heat in the microwave. I haven't used it all summer, but it's cooling down now ( maybe), so I'll have to get it out.

      Reply
  6. Joelle
    September 14, 2015

    Ah, the elusive sleep! that has been a battle for since I had my first pregnancy and has only gotten more difficult since menopause hit. I have used ear plugs for years and can't live without them. A noise maker hasn't helped me but I would like to try the one you recommended. I use a diffuser every night and love it. I use the Doterra one and have been using it heavily for almost a year. It def was a great purchase. Terri can get you a good price using her discount and do terra seems to have a better track record than ones commonly found on amazon. I'm actually looking for one that runs eight hours tho rather than four like most of them so it will make it thru the night. I've been using frankincense and wild orange eos in it lately and feel relaxed for sleeping and also feel more focused during the day. I usually hate to admit this but I actually have gone to sleeping in a separate room after 30 years of marriage I have finally decided I just have to sleep and even tho I don't like the whole separate bedroom idea it's the only thing that helps a little as the tiniest little breathing noise wakes me and keeps me awake. I guess this is a long post–sleep is def a hot topic for me. Can't quite remember when I actually slept thru the entire night.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      To sleep all night would be blissful. On the very rare occasion that happens, I'm so surprised. I'll have to look into the diffuser – thanks,Joelle.

      Reply
  7. Lizzy
    September 14, 2015

    I LOVE my caffeine with the preference being diet soda (I know they are terrible for us….another vice for another day)…….which is terrible for those of us with sleep issues, but we need the caffeine to keep functioning when we are lacking sleep….a vicious cycle. I have found that switching to flavor seltzer has helped me get my bubbles without the caffeine. I listen to a relaxation/hypnotherapy tape to get to sleep…..my hubby LOVES this. Like you, I also establish a routine of things to be done and that has helped.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      Seltzer or sparkling water is a great idea, Lizzy. What do you include in your bedtime routine?

      Reply
      1. Lizzy
        September 15, 2015

        Typically I will start playing soothing classical music about 2 hours before bed, and about 45 min before I try to sleep I will take my evening meds (not sleep related), turn down my bed and generally start relaxing. Once all my activities for the day are complete I will switch to a relaxation recording(or as hubby calls it my "you are getting sleepy")….free app on my phone. And I TRY to go to sleep. Nothing is perfect, but laying off the caffeine at night and intentionally relaxing have been helpful.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          September 15, 2015

          That sounds like a great winding down process, Lizzy.

          Reply
  8. Mamma Sass
    September 14, 2015

    All of these ideas are wonderful, and I've tried them all. But I realize my biggest nemesis is my own brain. I can't seem to turn it off, especially when dealing with stressful events, and dealing with our special needs children. TV of course doesn't work to turn off the brain, reading books keep me awake as I want to finish and stay distracted. But how do you turn off the brain; Of all of its worries, concerns, and stressors.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 14, 2015

      I would love to hear what you've tried. I want to cover that in my next post on sleep.

      Reply
    2. Abra
      September 14, 2015

      I'm right there with you. I've never been a good sleeper, but I also am being treated for PTSD and menopause symptoms in addition to insomnia. I utilize many of the tips Lisa mentioned above (routine, limiting caffeine, exercise, using white noise), and I also write down whatever thoughts are keeping me up and pray over them in addition to praying that I'd be able to sleep. I also see a counselor and have a couple different sleep aids (melatonin, Unisom, trazodone (off label) and Ambien) that I use depending on how badly I need sleep and which medication side effects I can handle the next day. If you begin losing time, not remembering how you got somewhere or where you are going (those were my symptoms after only sleeping a couple hours a night for several months), definitely go see a doctor about getting even temporary relief for your safety and for those around you. Hang in there! ((hugs))

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        September 15, 2015

        Abra, I did a week long course of a prescription med to help break a stretch of insomnia. I couldn't believe how much better I felt once I got some sleep. I didn't need the medication ongoing, but I still travel with some and use it if I find I'm getting too exhausted. Thanks for the comment.

        Reply
    3. Joelle
      September 16, 2015

      Try listening to a familiar story on CD. If you know the story you won't be as tempted to have to really listen and it helps to turn your brain off of the swirling thoughts. Kind of lulls you into a quiet place.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        September 16, 2015

        Good idea, Joelle.

        Reply
        1. Tyra
          September 19, 2015

          I've started using Audio books on my phone and good ear buds that double as ear plugs. I listen to Psalms and Proverbs or Pride & Prejudice depending on my mood. : ) Joelle is right, since I know what I'm listening too it just serves to turn off the other dialogues in my head and help me get to sleep. It also has a sleep setting that turns it off after 15 min. I'm almost always asleep by time it turns off.

          Reply
          1. Lisa Qualls
            September 21, 2015

            I'm glad that works for you too, Tyra. I may try it for one of my kids who has trouble with anxiety and sleep.

  9. ericjburnett
    September 14, 2015

    I had trouble sleeping and discovered that I was low in magnesium. Certain medications can affect the levels which often aren't detected by blood tests. My doctor told me I could take up to 500 mg. I use magnesium citrate from Costco. I also sometimes use magnesium spray from our Co-op. Stress can also reduce magnesium. I sleep so much better now. There is a lot of information if you do a search.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      Great suggestions, Eric. Thank you. I used Magnesium spray on my feet for awhile too and I think it helped.

      Reply
  10. sharimcminn
    September 14, 2015

    These are all great suggestions Lisa. For parents and kids. Two things that have really helped me with my sleep issues are: taking a Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc supplement to reduce restless legs; and eliminating gluten from my diet has helped me not wake up every two hours all night long. Now I sleep in 3-4 hour segments and feel much better. I try to be in bed 9 hours.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      I'm glad you mentioned that Shari. Thank you.

      Reply
  11. Anna
    September 14, 2015

    I seriously struggle with sleep… Ugh. Working on finding SOMETHING that makes a difference! But I noticed W's Little Friend doll in the picture and have such good memories of meeting you and your sweet children. ❤️

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      Anna, so nice to hear from you! I hope some of these ideas help you get better sleep. Wogauyu still loves Jo-Jo, and keeps him on the bed with his favorite animals. I plan to keep all of the special dolls you made – Kalkidan's is precious to me.

      Reply
  12. Tricia
    September 14, 2015

    Lisa, practicing meditation and mindfulness during the day and sometimes as I try to go to sleep has helped me. Deep breathing helps a lot. I have a fan in the room. I have realized that things go best if my husband falls asleep slightly before me, but that doesn't always happen. I sometimes get woken up if he comes in after. Or if I am deep in sleep, I don't get disturbed. I also take schizandra dreams, especially if I awake in the night and have trouble going back to sleep. Really important topic. When our girls were first home, I was waken multiple times per night for over 3 years. I was a mess. Doterra serenity diffused, relaxation cds, reading, sometimes melatonin, listening to books on ipod all help my most sleep challenged child. We also put a little representative heart outside of our door that at times she has come and gotten rather than wake us up. A transitional object as she continues to learn healthy sleep patterns.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      Wonderful ideas, Tricia. Thanks for sharing them. I like the idea of the heart on your door. I had to look of Schizandra Dreams 🙂 Interestingly, I can fall asleep quickly and I don't usually wake if Russ comes to bed later, as long as it's in the first few hours. After that, if I'm woken, I struggle to get back to sleep.

      Reply
  13. Tricia
    September 14, 2015

    One more thought – my naturapath recommended orange glasses – you can get from amazon – if you just can't stay off of electronic devices at least 2 hours before bedtime. Keeps out the sleep interfering blue rays.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      That's a great idea, Tricia, I've never heard of orange glasses. I wonder if those would be helpful for my kids who are students and work on their computers late into the evening.

      Reply
  14. Vicki
    September 14, 2015

    We've had great success with essential oils for sleep. If you don't like the scent of the oils, apply them to your feet. You won't be able to smell it and the soles of the feet allow for quick absorption. We layer vetiver, Serenity, and Balance.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      We used Balance after the accident, and we put them on our feet. I sort of forgot that! It is such a blur. Do you think that is more effective than diffusing, Vicki?

      Reply
  15. Margaret
    September 14, 2015

    I have found that having a familiar audiobook going as I fall asleep helps to occupy my brain enough that my thoughts aren't always spinning. I also take melatonin and unisom. My other problem is waking up in the morning. I've discovered that a sunrise alarm clock that gradually turns on the light in the 30 minutes before the alarm goes off is extremely helpful. It signals the brain to start waking up much more gently than a sudden loud ringing, which is nice when you *have* to be up at 4:30 to get ready for work.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      I've wondered about sunrise alarm clocks; it seems they would be much gentler. Thanks for mentioning that, Margaret.

      Reply
  16. Genevieve
    September 15, 2015

    Sleep has been a problem for me for years. The biggest benefit I've found was a suggestion from my doctor that you also mention in the post: an eye mask. My doctor told me that any light at night – especially blue light from something like a phone charger or blinking computer light – can disrupt our hormones and sleep cycle so much that it can even lower a woman's fertility.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      A good eye mask is so helpful; I really like the one I have. Thanks, Genevieve.

      Reply
  17. Amy C.
    September 15, 2015

    What a great post, Lisa! While I rarely struggle with sleep (unless my husband is out of town), I do have a tendency to stay up much later than I need or want to because of the computer or TV. I love your idea to set everything up for the morning and set a gentle reminder on your phone. I'm definitely doing that now! Our daughter, though, has struggled with sleep from the day we adopted her. It wasn't until our recent visit to Children's and they checked some things (which turned out fine) that a conversation started with others and I began to do more searching. After several had recommended Melatonin, the same amount had recommended "Natural Calm" (a magnesium supplement). I was leery until we tried it. She was snoring in deep REM sleep for the first time EVER! IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! Now, she asks for her Calm before bed because I think it has reduced her anxiety of sleep and she realizes how good sleep is! Gone are the 10 or 11PM hours of her FINALLY falling alseep. She is 9 yrs old and out by 8:15 now. As a wife and mother, I feel so relieved that bedtime is not such a struggle anymore. Thanks for your reminders of the importance of sleep and that sometimes we need some "other things" (fan, eye shade, supplement, curtains, alarms, removal of distractions, etc.) to get us to a healthy place.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 15, 2015

      Amy, I'm going to look into Natural Calm. Thanks!

      Reply
  18. Elizabeth
    September 16, 2015

    Using blue-light blocking sunglasses after the sun goes down is useful for me. Another tactic I use is to have a really hot bath and a cool bed – for me the vasodilation reaction as my body tries to cool down sends me into deep sleep really quickly.
    I struggle with insomnia on and off but for me the main sleep issue is that I have PTSD related nightmares. It has really been a long process for me to learn to be gentle with myself and to find ways to take care of myself after a bad night. Focusing on the positive – that I can rest my body, or have some time to meditate or do guided imagery, or that I'm warm and comfortable – is more helpful for me than getting stuck in thinking about how I'm not sleeping or how I'm going to be tired tomorrow.
    I hope your sleep continues to improve, and well done for being so assertive about finding new strategies to care for yourself.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 16, 2015

      I'm so sorry to hear about the nightmares. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions, Elizabeth.

      Reply

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