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18 Simple Practices to Help You Sleep Better

I review behavioral and mental practices helpful for those with insomnia.

Sleeplessness is a prevalent problem; about “35% to 50% of adults report sleep difficulties annually.”1

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People with breathing difficulties, chronic pain, urinary and gastrointestinal problems, and high blood pressure, have higher levels of sleeplessness, than those without these conditions.2

Insomnia itself may also increase the risk of certain physical but also mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.

Therefore, it is a good idea to consult the appropriate health professionals to address potential causes and complications of your sleeplessness, especially if you have chronic insomnia.

Today’s article, however, is about things you can do yourself to help improve your sleep.

I begin with perhaps the most obvious one, good sleep habits.

Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors and habits that promote good sleep. These can include:

  1. Exercising regularly (not close to sleep time).
  2. Following a healthy diet and not consuming large meals in the evening.
  3. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
  4. Establishing a soothing routine prior to sleep (e.g., reading a spiritual book).
  5. Keeping the environment conducive to sleep (e.g, keeping the lights low).
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Stimulus control

Stimulus control includes techniques intended to re-associate bed with sleep:

  1. Going to bed only when sleepy.
  2. Leaving the bedroom if unable to fall sleep in 20-30 minutes.
  3. Not napping during the day.
  4. Waking up the same time each day no matter what.
  5. Not studying, working, watching TV, or using the computer, while in bed.


Relaxation helps reduce physiological arousal. Try these shortly before going to bed:

  1. Stretching or yoga.
  2. Visualization (e.g, visualize sleeping peacefully and waking up refreshed).
  3. Meditation (do so only if you already have some experience with meditation).
  4. Breathing exercises (e.g., abdominal breathing).
  5. Progressive muscle relaxation.
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If these methods do not give you all the help you need, you may also consider these three practices: Challenging your thoughts, paradoxical intention, and sleep restriction.

Sleep restriction

Sleep restriction is a practice that may help you sleep better, by initially limiting the time you spend in bed. To practice sleep restriction, you need to limit the hours in bed to the hours you have actually spent sleeping (though it is recommended to not go below five hours).

For example, if you slept only six hours last night (even if you were in bed for, say, ten hours), then remain in bed for only six hours tonight.

As your sleep improves and you spend more time actually sleeping, then you can increase your hours in bed.

Challenging your thoughts

Certain beliefs can worsen insomnia. For instance, some people assume that the consequences of not getting enough sleep is much more severe than it really is. Such beliefs result in unnecessary anxiety, making it even more difficult to fall asleep.

Not all anxious thoughts are sleep related. They may also be related to health issues, finances, relationship difficulties, etc. One thing that can help is keeping a journal and writing down the anxiety-provoking thoughts and concerns that arise during the night or right before sleep.

After a good night’s rest, it will be easier to return to these thoughts and concerns, to rationally assess them, or if need be, to do something about them (e.g., make a medical appointment, call the bank, etc).

Paradoxical intention

This is one of my favorite mental techniques because it is so simple and yet can be quite effective.

The way it works is that instead of anxiously trying to force yourself to sleep (“I can get at least six hours...five hours...if I sleep now I can get at least four hours”), you try to stay awake as long as you can.

In other words, paradoxical intention does not oppose the anxious intention (of trying to force yourself to sleep), but guides it in the opposite direction (toward forcing yourself to stay awake)

If you are not convinced that this helps, recall the times that your favorite program was on, or when you had a lot of work to do, but sleep overpowered you. You were forcing yourself to stay awake, but eventually allowed sleep to happen.

So next time you can not sleep—and neither can stop trying to force yourself to sleep—simply intend to stay awake. But mean it. You can not fake it or the body will know. Then, if or when you really sense sleep coming over, you can allow yourself to fall asleep.


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I hope you found at least some of these suggestions and reminders helpful.

As I once told a friend, good sleep is like a famous writer, a well-known dream weaver, one also happens to be reclusive and shy. Be ready to receive this wonderful guest, but at the same time, keep busy with your own work in the meantime.

Who knows, maybe you’ll get a visit tonight.


1. Masters, P. A. (2014). In the clinic: Insomnia. Annals of Internal Medicine, 161, ITC1–ITC14.

2. Taylor, D. J., Mallory, L. J, Lichstein, K. L., Durrence, H. H., Riedel, B. W., & Bush, A. J. (2007). Comorbidity of chronic insomnia with medical problems. Sleep, 30, 213-218.