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Ask Dr. Lowenstein: What can I do if my thoughts are keeping me awake at night?

Throughout the pandemic, many people struggled with getting a good night’s sleep. But even before then, more than 50 million Americans suffered from a sleep disorder, according to the American Sleep Association. The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, which is defined as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.

All too often, people struggle with insomnia because thoughts are racing through their head, and they can’t seem to turn them off and relax. If that sounds like you, here are some tips that might help improve your sleep regimen:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Establish a regular time for going to bed and waking up in the morning, and try not to deviate from that schedule more than an hour on weekends and holidays. Your body adjusts to a sleep-wake cycle that should not be disrupted, if possible. Ideally, adults need at least seven hours of sleep a night, but no more than eight.
  • Set the scene. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool – preferably around 65 degrees. If outside noises are bothersome, consider using a white noise machine. Above all, banish your phone and other electronic devices from the bedroom. You want to avoid any temptation to peek at your devices, which could generate unnecessary worries. Electronic devices also emit blue light that could wreak havoc with the melatonin in your body. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Get plenty of exercise. This one is a no-brainer. If you haven’t been very active during the day, your body may not be tired. To promote better sleep, increase your activity level.
  • Avoid – or at least limit – daytime naps. Shorter naps of 15 or 20 minutes may be okay, but longer naps can actually interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Consuming caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime could make it difficult to sleep well. The same is true of large meals, especially when they’re consumed too close to bedtime.
  • Write down your worries. If something in particular is on your mind and you just can’t shake it, try writing it down. This allows you to deal with it the following day.

Still having trouble? If your inability to get a good night’s sleep is persistent, it may be time to get professional help from your family doctor or psychologist.