‘I’m a Sleep Doctor, and This Is My 5-Step Behavioral Therapy Plan for a Better Night’s Rest’

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Trouble initiating sleep is more common than you think. At a recent Well+Good ReNew Year event focused on the science of sleep, Arianna Huffington and sleep doctor Carleara Weiss, PhD, discussed exactly how to sleep better at night.

According to Dr. Weiss, 30 to 40 percent of young adults deal with some form of insomnia. In some parts of the United States, in fact, that number is closer to 60 percent. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic hasn't made getting a restful night's sleep any easier. "So many people who have never had sleep problems before it started are having occasional insomnia as directly associated with the stress and uncertainty about the virus, or the well-being of their families, how it's going to be to work from home, or how they're going to adjust to the life after the pandemic," says Dr. Weiss.

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That lack of sleep isn't good. When you're not getting at least 7 to 9 hours every night, you're unlikely to function as well as you should with adequate rest. "Sleep is important not just to refresh the brain from a mental wellness standpoint, but also a physiology standpoint," says Dr. Weiss. "We have so many processes that depend on a good night's sleep."

If you want to learn how to sleep better at night, behavioral therapy is key. "It's the gold standard treatment for insomnia," she says. And here are five steps to follow that will finally let you put an end to counting sheep.

How to sleep better at night, according to a sleep doctor

1. Wake up at the same time every day

Pressing that snooze button feels good, but—as with anything—consistency is key. Especially when you're learning how to improve your sleep. "The first step is waking up at the same time every day," says Dr. Weiss. When you do, your biological clock begins to understand when it's time to be awake. So set your alarm, and stick to it.

2. Immediately expose yourself to light

After getting out of bed, Dr. Weiss suggests immediately exposing yourself to bright light. "Either natural light or artificial light," she says. "This helps with shutting down melatonin in the morning and reinforcing that information to the brain that it's time to be awake."

Find out what it's like to use $3,400 worth of technology to sleep better at night: 

3. Create a pre-bedtime routine

Once nighttime rolls around, creating a pre-bedtime routine sets you up for a great night's sleep. It's one of the most important steps for anyone who's having trouble initiating—or staying—asleep.

"Having a bedtime routine is fundamental. Allow 30 minutes, or one hour, to start a routine that may include a bath or a shower, or reading something that's more relaxing. Also stay away from your phone or any type of screen for at least one hour before going to bed," she says. "We also recommend looking at the time you consume caffeine and alcohol. Those things take longer to metabolize, and once they do, the body increases the amount of cortisol circulating in [your body]. It's going to make you wake up in the middle of the night."

4. Actually go to bed when you're sleepy

One of the most important parts of Dr. Weiss' plan of how to improve sleep is to actually go to bed the instant you start getting sleepy (which, of course, is easier said than done).

"Go to bed when you feel sleepy—not just when you're tired," she says. "We need to understand the signals from our body to say 'This is time to be sleeping' or 'I just need to rest a little bit because I'm tired from the day.'" If you're struggling to keep your eyes open just to finish the next chapter, put the book down and turn off the lights.

5. Use your bed for sleeping and *only* sleeping

There's no cheating with this process. Once you get into bed, you're not allowed to use your phone or watch television. Dr. Weiss says to stay in bed only if you're really sleeping. "No reading in the bed, no working with your laptop in the bed. No watching TV or eating your dinner in bed," she says. "We tell patients the bed is to sleep or to have sex. Everything else needs to be outside of the bed."

How to fall back asleep if you wake up in the middle of the night:

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