Healthy Sleeping Habits

Sleep Training Isn’t Just for Babies—How To Use It for Better Nightly Zzzs

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: W+G Creative Stocksy | Studio Firma
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If you yearn to “sleep like a baby,” you’d do well to start by taking a page from their playbook. Bedtimes, anyone?

In the latest episode of The Well+Good podcast, host Taylor Camille speaks to sleep doctor Carleara Weiss, PhDHeadspace meditation and mindfulness teacher Eve Prieto, and journalist and former Well+Good senior editor Jordan Galloway about their top sleep tips, and one common parenting tactic is offered up as a way for adults to get a better night’s rest, too: sleep training.

“We use sleep hygiene and stimulus control to…clean up those behaviors that affect sleep,” says Dr. Weiss, a behavioral sleep doctor and clinician scientist whose work involves sleep, circadian rhythms, and aging. “I used to tell my patients that we grew up on a sleep schedule as kids, but we forget to do that to ourselves. It’s important to have that; the more consistent our routine, the better.”

Listen to the episode here:

It was an actual baby that introduced Galloway to the concept of sleep training. During college, she noticed (like really noticed) her baby niece wailing in the middle of the night. When she confronted her parents, they said the baby was sleep training and needed to learn how to self-soothe in order to learn how to sleep on her own.

Years later, in the effort to fix her own problems with insomnia, Galloway tried her own version of sleep training. This included regular bedtimes (between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.) and a lot of discipline. “If I woke up in the middle of the night, instead of turning on the TV, getting on my computer, getting on my phone, or getting up, I just kind of stayed in bed and toughed it out, for lack of a better word,” says Galloway. “Within a month of doing this, I got back on my [pre-insomnia sleep] schedule.”

Another hot tip Dr. Weiss says we can take from babies is establishing a “wind down” routine. “Incorporate some relaxation techniques in your routine,” Dr. Weiss says. Parents often read to their kids before bed or sing them a song, but for you, “that could be some relaxing yoga, that could be some meditation or reading a book.”

Just one word of caution: Don’t fall asleep in front of the Netflix. “It’s fine to watch some TV to relax, but that should not be what’s making you fall asleep,” Dr. Weiss says. “Because you have the screen there and we know that the screen produces light and that affects your melatonin [production]. Most likely why you’re waking up in the middle of the night because you’re shutting down that natural production of melatonin.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prieto says she uses meditation to unwind before crawling between the sheets. “One of the things that helped me so much and has really transformed my relationship to my sleep is my meditation and mindfulness practice. The world’s a really tough place to be right now, and that is going to show up both in our waking hours and then in how we sleep,” she says.”We’re carrying that sense of restlessness, carrying that sense of stress and anxiety [from the day] with us into bed. If we can find a way to deal with that and manage that in the day, it hopefully means that when we get to bed at night we’re more ready for sleep…and the mind can settle that little bit faster. With meditation and mindfulness we intentionally take some time out of our day to practice and train the mind.”

For more intel on how to refine your snooze schedule, listen to the podcast above.

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