The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
Life on little sleep is rough. I took sleep for granted until my second deployment. I worked the graveyard shift and had to train my body to sleep during the day. Many nights I would lay in bed for hours before finally falling asleep. On the worst nights I would lie in bed awake all night long, only to get up and go to work completely fatigued.
I solved my sleep problem mostly by controlling my environment and changing my habits. I took prescribed medicine for a short time as well, but looking back it was only a temporary band aid. Here is my 10-step program for getting a good night’s sleep:
1. Keep the light out
Cover your window with foil, put a blanket on the cracks of the door; do what’s necessary to make your bedroom completely dark.
2. Use a fan to blur out noise
A fan creates a constant hum that can help drown out common noises that would normally wake you up.
3. Tell your neighbor to shut the @#$ up
My neighbor in the dorm would come home every day and slam his door. He got phone calls right in the the middle of my sleep. I confronted him every time, and finally on the 4th talk he stopped doing it. Don’t be shy and curse under your breath. Take action or they’ll never stop. If you’re in a house by yourself, turn off the ringer on the phone and put a note on the door to not disturb you.
4. Avoid caffeine 8 hours before bedtime
Try to stop drinking coffee and soda 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine stays in your system for a long time and should not be underestimated.
Running, swimming, and other activity relieves stress and make you tired. However, be careful to not work out too close to your bedtime. Exercise gets you pumped for the first 2-3 hours after and may keep you from sleeping.
6. Get off the computer
The light from a computer screen or TV stimulates your body. Try reading a book for 30-60 minutes before bed instead.
7. Be consistent
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. In addition, do not try to go to sleep immediately after you get home. Your body needs some time to adjust and relax. Stick to your schedule as much as possible on the weekends.
8. Count back from 100
All of the steps before this set the conditions for sleep. Now let’s get to it and get some sleep! Lie down and count back slowly from 100. In between each count, push out all of your thoughts. You want your mind to completely relax. Do not think about your problem at work or an errand you need to do tomorrow. Try to breathe deep, count, and relax. Under the right conditions you should fall asleep within 15 minutes.
9. Get out of bed if you don’t fall asleep in 30 minutes
If you stay in bed longer than 30 minutes you will start to toss and turn. You will probably stress about not getting sleep, which will in turn make it harder to fall asleep. Rather than fight yourself, get up and do something for 20 minutes. Read a book or magazine or play guitar (that’s what I do). After about 20-30 minutes, try to fall asleep again by counting down.
10. Visit a doctor
This is the last step because you should try natural remedies before going to the doctor. Your doctor will probably give you a drug like Ambien. A drug like this helps get your circadian rhythm in order by forcing you to sleep at a certain time.
I won’t lie – Ambien kicks ass.
If you go to the doctor they will probably give you some, but it won’t last forever. Drugs help you quickly shift to a new sleep schedule, but should only be relied upon for about a week. If your doctor is good, they’ll probably ask several questions about your sleep environment and routines. Their suggestions in this area will be more helpful in the long run than the drugs.