Good Sleep Guide

Helpful hints for a good night's sleep

If you're lying awake at night, you know that worrying about not getting to sleep just prolongs the anxiety. The following guidelines - what doctors call good "sleep hygiene" - can help you establish that all-important healthy bedtime routine.


The basics:

  • Go to bed and awaken at the same times each day. A regular bedtime routine may help signal your mind that the time to relax and sleep is approaching.
  • Avoid daytime naps or limit them to one mid-afternoon nap. If your goal is to sleep more during the night, napping may make it more difficult to sleep later on. However, napping does assist with short-term alertness, for example, driving in midst of a long-car trip.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine is a stimulant, which has an alerting or wake-up effect. Alcohol, as a sedative, may speed the beginning of sleep, but increases the number of times you awaken in the night.
  • Sleep Hygiene Basics
  • Eliminate tobacco use, especially in the evening. Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. Also, when smokers fall asleep, they experience nicotine withdrawal.
  • Exercise regularly during the day, but avoid evening exercise. Exercise can have an alerting effect and raises your body temperature, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Make your bedroom primarily a place for sleeping. It is not a good idea to use your bedroom for paying bills, studying, exercising, etc. Help your body recognize that this is a place for rest.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable. Also, most sleep scientists agree that a slightly cool room contributes to good sleep.
  • Avoid stress and worrisome thoughts in the evening before sleep. It may help to write down these items on a notepad to address in the morning.
  • Incorporate bedtime rituals. Activities such as listening to soft music or sipping a cup of herbal tea help cue your body that it's time to slow down and begin to prepare for sleep.

Small changes make a big difference

During the day:

  • No naps.
  • Exercise 20-30 minutes every day, preferably in the morning or afternoon.
  • Sunshine exposure when you first get up will help "set your internal clock" and improve sleep onset at bedtime.
  • No caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
  • No alcohol within 4-6 hours of bedtime. Try to minimize or avoid alcohol.

Thirty minutes before bedtime:

  • Turn off the TV and all electronics, stop reading and make a "Worry List." Write down anything that pops into your head, things to do, etc.
  • After making the list, go through each item one at a time and decide what you are doing and when you are doing it about each thing.
  • Relax, have a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, pet the dog or cat, etc.
Bedtime Rituals


  • Set your alarm clock for when you need to get up and then turn it to face the wall so you cannot see what time it is (if the alarm rings it is time to get up, otherwise it isn't).
  • Lie down in bed and get comfortable.
  • Become aware of your breathing. Slow it down a little. Make breathing in the same length as breathing out. You may become aware of your heartbeat.
  • Think about something pleasant and quiet, such as lying on a beach, etc.
  • Try some relaxation exercises (see below).
  • If you are not sleeping after a reasonable time, or if your brain starts to become "active", get up and leave the bedroom.
  • Review the Worry List. You can read something short, relax, try warm milk or herbal tea, etc. When you feel tired go back to bed and repeat the process.
  • Do not worry about sleeping poorly and getting up and down. This will happen at first. You will be more tired the next day and it will be easier to fall asleep the next night. The point is to associate going to bed with falling asleep, not laying awake worrying about not sleeping.

Basic relaxation techniques:

Exercise one:

  1. Regular breathing - let yourself relax - you may become aware of your heartbeat. That is normal and okay.
  2. As you inhale tighten up the muscles in your toes.
  3. As you exhale relax those muscles - let them become heavy and sink into the bed.
  4. Slowly work your way up your ankle, calf and upper leg.
  5. Then start in your fingers and work your way up your arms.
  6. Work your way up your trunk to your neck, head and face muscles.
  7. Just let yourself drift, feeling relaxed, limp and heavy on the bed.

Exercise two:

  1. Get into a comfortable position in the bed.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth using your belly muscles. The length of breathing in should be the same as breathing out.
  3. Picture a flat pebble falling into a still pool of water.
  4. The pebble rocks back and forth (like a leaf falling in the air) as it settles into the pond. Light darkens as the pebble goes deeper.
  5. Count down with your breathing starting with a breath in at 40. The mental image is the pebble rocking to one side.
  6. As you exhale the pebble rocks back to the middle.
  7. The next breath the pebble has shifted to the other side, and so on.
  8. If you lose track of counting, just pick a number and keep going down.
  9. People often fall to sleep part way through counting down. If you do not fall asleep but you are relaxed and resting this is restorative like simple meditation.

Learn more about sleep hygiene >>

Questions? Contact the Eastern Iowa Sleep Center today.