One of the biggest hindrances to a good night’s sleep? Your own brain. Whether it’s due to your mind moving a mile a minute, waking up multiple times a night without explanation, or a pestering list of to-dos floating around in your head, there can be a significant mental component to poor or lack of sleep. Luckily, there are ways you can train your brain to not only fall asleep more quickly, but to also stay asleep and get a deeper, more restful night’s sleep.
1. Don’t Stay in Bed If You’re Feeling Restless
If you’re lying awake for more than 20 minutes, do yourself a favor and get out of bed. Trying to force yourself to fall asleep by staying in bed is one of the worst things you can do to yourself because it may train your brain to associate the bedroom with insomnia-related stress and anxiety. And in the long-term, it’ll only make it even harder for you to fall asleep.
Instead, go into another room and do something low-key and relaxing — like super gentle yoga, or listening to soothing music or a calming podcast — until you’re genuinely ready to go to bed.
2. Skip the Screens and Read a Book
Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that screens are bad for sleep. According to Harvard Health Publishing, one experiment comparing blue light exposure (the kind emitted from digital screens) to green light exposure showed that blue light suppresses melatonin secretion for about twice as long as the green light. Also, the blue light shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much.
In short, it’s not a good idea to use screens before bed — especially if you’re trying to train your brain to sleep better. Instead, make a habit of reading before turning off the light. Focusing on the story will divert your thoughts away from any worries of the day, and eventually, your brain will begin to associate picking up a book with feeling sleepy.
3. Use a Weighted Blanket
Sleeping with a weighted blanket is another great way to help your brain sleep better. Besides being very cozy, weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, which can help relieve stress and anxiety by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. It can also boost melatonin levels, thereby promoting relaxation and feelings of calm.
Additionally, weighted blankets often prevent you from tossing and turning as you sleep, which makes it easier to settle down and stay asleep at night.
4. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is essentially a way to teach your brain how to recognize negative behaviors or thought patterns, and then change, challenge, or replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts and behaviors.
Sleep is just one of many patterns recognized and affected by the mind, so CBT can be an incredibly effective way to help train the mind to sleep better. One study involving adults with insomnia found that CBT could reduce time spent awake by as much as 55% — and those who underwent CBT saw improved sleep over the long-term.
5. Practice Mindful Meditation
An overactive mind can make it extremely difficult to fall asleep — but mindful meditation can help. Not only does meditation help slow a racing mind, it also increases self-awareness, allows you to reflect on your thoughts and emotions, and therefore, improves your overall psychological well being.
There is still much research to be done on the ties between sleep and meditation. However, one study found that participants with moderate sleep issues experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia and less daytime fatigue with meditation. It’s also believed that meditation can increase levels of melatonin and serotonin, and improve control over the autonomic nervous system, which reduces how easily you’re awakened.
More Tips for Better Sleep
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to improve sleep quality. From breathing techniques to simply hiding your alarm clock, there are many tips and tricks to help you sleep better and, if you wake up a lot in the middle of the night, train your mind to fall back asleep quickly.
Also, keep in mind that your sleep environment will always play an essential role in determining the quality of your sleep. No amount of brain re-training will be effective if you’re waking up in a sweat, with aches and pains, or because of bright lights (among other things). Be sure to turn down the thermostat at night, keep your room nice and dark, and of course, use a supportive mattress.