By: Susan Higgins, MA, OTR/L, and Lilly Ditto, MOT, OTR/L, both occupational therapists in Butler Hospital’s Partial Hospital Program.

Sleep is so vital, and sleepless nights so common, that experts in Butler Hospital’s Partial Hospital Program provide a class on the importance of sleep and practical strategies to improve sleep quality for the patients, most of whom experience difficulty getting consistent and/or good quality sleep.

While medication is useful in the short term, there are also many environmental and behavioral strategies that can help to improve sleep. We have the ability to train or retrain ourselves to implement these strategies in combination with medication.

Self-help tips for better sleep:

  • Try to have a regular sleep schedule—get up at the same time each day, even on weekends and vacations. Resist the urge to sleep in. Minimizing time in bed will deepen your nighttime sleep.

  • Go to bed at the same time each night if possible. But, do not go to bed if you are not sleepy because this will leave you frustrated and actually delay sleep further. If you are not able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and leave the bedroom. Try a relaxing activity, and return to bed only when you are sleepy.

  • Avoid clock watching while you’re falling asleep and during the night. It can increase your frustration. Turn the clock around or cover it, and set the alarm if you need to wake at a specific time. This will help you fall back to sleep more quickly instead of crunching numbers during the night.

  • Avoid napping if possible. If you need to take a nap, research shows it should be for just 20 to 30 minutes. Do not nap after 3 p.m.

  • Establish a relaxation routine before bed. Try reading a book, taking a bath or listening to soothing music. Try to avoid bright lights, especially the blue light from electronic devices, as the light will interfere with your body’s natural sleep cues. Turn these devices off at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

  • Make your bedroom a haven for sleep—comfortable, dark, quiet, and cool. Keep computers, work items, cell phones, tablets, and other distractions out of the bedroom. Even reading in the bedroom can confuse your brain. Just like walking into the kitchen may make you feel hungry, you want walking into the bedroom to make you feel sleepy.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar and nicotine late in the day. Their stimulating effects can last for hours. Nicotine is a stimulant so cut down on smoking before bed, try not to smoke at night, or better yet, quit smoking with one of Butler Hospital’s smoking cessation research studies.

  • Have a small snack so you’re not going to bed hungry, but avoid heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime because they can interfere with your sleep. Try toast and peanut butter, or a few crackers and cheese.

  • Avoid excess liquids to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.

  • Use a white noise machine to drown out environmental noise.

  • Get regular exercise to improve sleep initiation and deepen sleep, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime as it may initially increase your energy.

  • Jot down any worries before bed to reduce mind-racing. Keep a notebook beside the bed for those things you don’t want to forget.

Sleep problems are a common symptom of most mental illnesses—depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD. In turn, poor sleep can also exacerbate symptoms of mental illness. Try these tips for a few weeks, and if you’re still wide-eyed all night, contact Memorial or Kent hospital below and ask them how you can get help if you’re suffering from sleep debt.

We Can Help

If you think there’s a medical reason why you’re not sleeping, the staff in Care New England’s sleep centers might be able to help. Call the center at Memorial Hospital at (401) 729-2636 or at Kent Hospital at (401) 737-7000, ext. 31621 to learn more.