How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Part 1 – Brain Training

I get asked fairly regularly for insomnia tips or ideas on how to get a good night’s sleep. I actually have quite a bit of knowledge in this area as I’ve written many articles on sleep disorders for other sites. I know many tips and even rules for getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping Well Takes Work

If you’re like most people you will experience insomnia at some time in your life. It’s actually a very normal problem. Insomnia stems from stress and anxiety, mostly, but can also come about thanks to mental illness or psychiatric medication.

And the thing is, conquering insomnia, no matter what the cause, takes work. You will have to do things you won’t want to do. But when trying to sleep well, you get out of it what you put into it.

Train Your Brain to Sleep Well

The reason most people don’t sleep well is because they have something called bad “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene is simply all the behaviors and thoughts surrounding your sleep habits, and for most of us, our actions and thoughts are keeping us from sleeping.

But you can train your brain to sleep well. It takes time, but you can do it.

How to Train Your Brain to Sleep Well

The following will help train your brain to sleep well:

  1. Only sleep at night. Your body is set to a circadian rhythm – one that is based on the 24-hour clock and by sleeping during the day (napping), you are disrupting this rhythm. If your brain starts to get used to the fact that you sleep at night, this is something it will come to expect – as it should.
  2. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. The human body sleeps best in a cool, but not cold, room.
  3. Only use your bedroom for sleeping and sex. You are trying to program your brain to think “sleep” whenever you walk into your bedroom. This is a learning process for your brain and you break that process by doing other things (like watching TV) in your bedroom. (It would probably help if you eliminated sex from the bedroom too, but that’s not normally very practical.)
  4. Always go to bed and wake up at the same time. This means no sleeping in on the weekends or late-night movies. You’re training your brain to act a specific way and changing times will hurt your rhythm. (In my opinion, this is the most important tip.)
  5. Go to bed when you are sleepy. That being said, you need to be sleepy in order to sleep in bed. If you brain gets used to you tossing and turning in bed, that is an unhelpful association.
  6. If you try to sleep for 20 minutes and can’t, get up. Do something quiet, preferably in a dark room (not your bedroom, remember, you’re only sleeping there), and wait to get sleepy again. Do not watch TV or use the computer (more on this later).
  7. Create a bedtime ritual. Always do the same things in the same order before going to bed so this is used as a cue to your brain that you are about to go to sleep. For example, wash your face, brush your teeth and then read for 30 minutes every night before bed.

None of these will work immediately, but keep at it and over time you will find yourself sleeping better.

How to Train Your Brain to Sleep

Brain Training Takes Time and Effort But It’s Worth It

Now I know you’re not going to want to do all those things, but if you want to sleep, those are the rules. By skipping one or two, you may be defeating the benefits of the others. I’m sorry, but while good sleep hygiene can be restrictive, it’s the way to ensure quality sleep and quality sleep is one of the most important ways to ensure stability and good mental health. And while I can’t guarantee a good night’s sleep will make you feel better, I can guarantee a bad night’s sleep will make you feel worse.

More on Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Yes, there are even more tips than that on how to beat insomnia, but you’ll have to wait for part 2 for those.

(A Psychiatric Times article: Sleep Hygiene.)

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About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

  1. Hi all..,
    Anybody know i am going to bed when i feel tired but after lying. I feel inside i not able to go proper sleep and i think more about my future and past day activities. Again i try to sleep but my mind not go to sleep. kindly help me for better sleep. i try all above mentioned activities. bur its not work out. Say any other better idea to control my brain. i trust you are giving better solution for this problem.

  2. you advise to ALWAYS go to bed at the same time very night and stick to it, yet if you don’t fall asleep within 20 mins, which I never do, to get back up again… makes no sense whatsoever!

  3. I believe that sleep is probably the most significant factor other than medication in maintaining a healthy mood. Too little or too much sleep is usually a receipe for disaster. The winter months are most challenging though, when I wake up in the morning for work in the dark and return home in the dark. This is less about sleep cycle and more about photoperiod. I haven’t found a practical solution for this one other than retire too a more southerly latitude some day. My sleep problem is a bit different. I fall asleep almost immediately, but often wake at 2am or 3am and cannot fall back asleep. If this happens several days in a row, I’m in big trouble.

  4. I follow all of the suggestions in the article, and I also find that using a lightbox in the morning, as mentioned in the comments, is helpful. In addition, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and eliminating caffeine after a certain point in the day (4:00 p.m. works for me), have also helped me to sleep better. My new psychiatrist refuses to prescribe sleeping pills, so if all else fails, I take 100 mg. of Benadryl (available over the counter) and that, coupled with my improved sleep hygeine, has been enough to help me sleep on restless night. Sleep is so important to everyone’s health, but for me, good sleep is key to preventing an escalation into mania, so I do my best to keep my sleep consistent and refreshing.

    • Hi Andrea,

      You’re right that exercise is known to create better sleep patterns and certain aspects of diet do as well (not eating a big meal right before bI’medtime, for example).

      Antihistamines (Benedryl) can induce sleep but studies show they actively impair you the next day. (Just FYI.) I’m not qualified to make _any_ medical suggestion, but if I were, I might suggest you look at melatonin or an OTC counter medicine with valerian (only with your doctor’s approval, of course).

      “Sleep is so important to everyone’s health, but for me, good sleep is key to preventing an escalation into mania, so I do my best to keep my sleep consistent and refreshing.”

      I absolutely agree 100%.

      – Natasha Tracy

  5. Another good idea is to run a fan for some background noise. Sometimes I would have trouble sleeping because I could not tune out all the noises. I would hear the toilet flushing or the kids giggling or the dogs or the wind or whatever. The fan prevents me from hearing those things. A blindfold and ear plugs are helpful for some other people too. Another thing to try is sitting in front of a light box for half an hour in the morning if it is not possible to get real sunlight. In the winter we are lucky to get six hours of sunlight a day and most of that time is spent indoors or bundled up and covered up to keep warm.

    • Hi Tanya,

      I agree, a fan can be a good white noise maker for some people. I’m not a fan of white noise, I prefer the earplugs, but that’s me. I got used to wearing earplugs when I lived near where a transit bus stopped (loud at all hours) and now I can’t sleep without them.

      And yes, if you can’t make your room dark for some reason, a sleep mask is an excellent idea. I’ve tried to sleep with one though and it wakes me up. (It’s amazing how fussy I am when I’m unconscious.)

      I also agree a light box is generally more practical than going outside immediately after waking. I’ll be talking more about that as part of this series as there is a new theory about when you should be using your lightbox.

      – Natasha Tracy

  6. I agree with all the above. The only thing I would add, based on the recommendation from my doc (who is at Mayo) is that when you wake up, get out of bed and spend 45 minutes outside in the sunlight. That supposedly helps your brain reset/establish it’s indeed time to wake.

    Red