Organizing for Sleep
Updated: May 22
12 ways to stay sane and overcome sleep challenges
I've had sleep challenges for about 10 years and I've tried just about everything to find a way to sleep through the night without drugs.
My Mum and Grandma had Alzheimers - I want to live to a ripe old age with my mind and body in tact, so now I put sleep ahead of most things in my life...because it IS my life!
Since it seems nearly every woman I talk to has sleep frustrations, I thought I'd share what helps me rest even when my body rebels.
I've done the sleep lab (this is me!), tried the sleepy teas and herbal remedies, tested the routines, used the relaxation techniques, decluttered my bedroom...and I still often need a prescription pill to get a full night of sleep (Hydroxyzine, an antihistamine that doesn't make me groggy - I love it even though I'm not normally a pill person).
I often wake up 1-2 times a night and this used to make me freak out in all kinds of ways - some nights I'd have intense anxiety, some nights I'd be angry, some nights I cried with frustration.
Some of these might sound odd, some you may have heard and tried before, but, as my friend Cortney says, "They actually work, but you have to actually do them!"
Make sure to check out the link to my favorite sleepy-time meditation at the end.
How I get more and better sleep:
Don't freak out
Declutter, organize and set up bedrooms for sleep
Do a brain dump
Keep lights low or use candles for an hour+ before bed
Program screens to dim in the evening
No liquids (including wine) within an hour+ of bed time
Read or listen to books on something other than a phone/tablet
Kick out cats, dogs and phones from the bedroom
Wear earplugs (it can take getting used to, but it's worth it!)
Coffee: drink less and earlier
Exercise daily - even a few minutes
Forgive your bed and bedroom
BONUS if you have a partner who snores or moves a lot: have comfortable second sleep location.
1 - Don't freak out
Just because we're not asleep doesn't mean our bodies and brains can't rest.
Worrying about not sleeping doesn't make us sleep and it often keeps sleep at bay, so why worry? It came as a surprise to me when I realized it was an option to not freak out.
I used to lay in bed with building anxiety as minutes turned to hours. "I need to sleep! I have so much to do tomorrow! How am I going to get by without enough sleep?!"
The more I worried about not bothering my partner with tossing and turning, the more I felt the urge to toss and turn, so the more my anxiety and frustration grew.
Now, as soon as I feel the old dread coming on and hear anxious thoughts wandering in, I get important thoughts out of my head (see #2) and do something to distract my mind (see #7), and sometimes I go to my other bed. I DO NOT sit and stew.
2 - Make the bedroom a sleep sanctuary - declutter, organize and make it a beautiful place
Maybe you're one of the few people who aren't bothered at all by clutter, but if you struggle with anxiety and sleep challenges, there is a lot of evidence that a cluttered bedroom is adding to these challenges.
I believe it's 100% worth the time it takes to set up our bedrooms to be a sleep sanctuary, and science thinks so, too.
The main idea is to only have things in the bedroom that support sleep, though of course many of us also have our clothes in our bedrooms and for some of us it's also the place for sex...
Take out art, knick-knacks and clutter that doesn't need to be there
Surround yourself with things that tell your brain "I'm going to get a great night of sleep!"
Have an 'in-between basket' next to a hamper instead of tossing clothes on the floor (see the link below to see what I mean)
Take time to pick up - it might feel annoying, but not sleeping is more annoying, don't you think?
Put as many soft, squishy, cozy things as you need to help the child inside feel safe, loved, comfortable, supported - I use two body pillows and super soft sheets
See my Top 5 Tips to Clear and Organize to help this process
3 - Do a brain dump
Write down important things needing to be done the next day.
Part of what keeps our nervous systems awake are thoughts about things we need to do. Rather than let these become torture devices, we can get them out of our heads.
I have two spots in my bedroom with a pen and bright notecards - I write down what I want to remember and immediately put the notecard where I'll see it the next day (on the floor). These are thoughts that come in while I'm getting ready for bed.
Put notes with a pen by the bed
When I'm laying in bed and think "Omg I HAVE to do that tomorrow!" and my brain starts spinning, I immediately write down the thought. I have a small stack of sticky notes so it's heavy enough to reach the floor - I throw it to the end of my bed in the dark. It helps!
I sometimes have a lot of these OMG thoughts, so I keep a few stacks of notes nearby. I often write these in the dark so I have to decipher them the next morning, but it's worth it.
5) Keep lights low - use candles when possible
The Sleep Foundation says,
"Light is the most important external factor affecting sleep," and "Light plays a central role in regulating circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest. Light also affects the production of melatonin, an essential sleep-promoting hormone."
At night, I turn down my adjustable bedroom lights on my way to the bathroom. In the bathroom, I keep a lighter in the same place so I can light candles without turning the light on. After this, I avoid bright lights like I'm a vampire.
I've grown to love candlelight nights.
6 - Dim screens
The blue light emitted from screens really does a number on sleep hormones, so I've programmed my phone, my Amazon Fire (for my night time stories) and my computer to to automatically change to a more sleep-friendly light at 8:00 pm.
Phones and tablets have built-in options for scheduling dimming, and on my computer I use a program called F.lux. They make the screen a bit orange, but to me it's worth it.
7 - No liquid within 1+ hours of bed time
When I went to the sleep lab, I slept better than I had in years. When they awoke me at 5 am I was so angry I yelled with tears in my eyes. I felt robbed.
They didn't find anything wrong with me, so the sleep doctor gave me a book and that was that. (I'm still mad about how this turned out).
When I thought about what was different that night, I knew part of it was being in a new place - we can start to associate our own bed with bad sleep, which is no bueno.
But I realized they hadn't let me read or drink tea, which I'd been doing every night (to help me sleep, of course!). I hadn't gotten up to pee and I hadn't been anxious about the weird red light staring at me or the wires attached to my head. The fact that I didn't awaken with my heart racing was far more weird than the lights or wires.
So I cut out reading and tea...and wine. <GASP> I know, wine is wonderful! But for so many of us, it's no friend to sleep.
Without wine, tea and bright lights, I fall asleep faster
and stay asleep longer.
I do still have my story at bed time (and often throughout the night)...
8 - Read or listen to books on something other than a phone or tablet
My hubby learned I loved the author Gerald Durrell, so for Christmas one year he gave me an Amazon Fire loaded with a books by him (one of the most thoughtful gifts ever!).
We now often marvel at how incredible that device is in my life.
Instead of read with a light on, I put an ear bud in one ear and an earplug in the other, turn on my book, turn off the light, and I'm usually asleep in less than five minutes. It's like magic! Maybe the English accent has something to do with it...David Attenborough and the James Harriot reader have the same effect.
The important things are:
It distracts my mind with something mindless, with my eyes closed
There are no lights on
It's not a phone
If I awaken throughout the night, I put the earbud back in, rewind to somewhere near where I fell asleep, and hit play...and I'm usually asleep again in minutes.
Of course the screen is on the night setting and as dim as it can go!
And I have a VERY strict rule for myself: absolutely no social media or internet searching at night. No apps are loaded on my Fire, it's purely for books and the meditation below.
8 - Kick out cats, dogs and phones
When I first started having sleep trouble, my beloved dog Cricket slept under the covers at my feet (don't ask me how she breathed!). But when she started snoring and kicking in her sleep, I gave her a bed next to my bed.
But I didn't have all these other tools and I her snoring still made me wake up with my heart revved up, so I taught her to sleep in the living room. It was heartbreaking to turn her out after all those years, but it was her or my sanity.
When I moved in with my hubby, he had cats that slept with him. It's wonderful when he's home because they sleep with him, but if I'm alone, they want to sleep with me, which goes no better than sleeping with Cricket.
So, armed with earplugs and a few things to throw at the door, I locked them out. It took 2-3 nights of diligent banging on the door, but now they know not to even try.
With phone, research shows they're a true enemy of sleep. It's too tempting to scroll past our bed time, and unless we have them on airplane mode, they make noise.
I always have my phone on vibrate, and I plug it in downstairs as one of the first steps in my night time routine. It's like putting my friend to bed! No temptation, no midnight dings.
9 - Wear earplugs
I don't know when I started wearing earplugs, but this was a game changer for me. Some people say they don't fit right or they're uncomfortable, but for me, not sleeping is much more uncomfortable. It's been well worth the first few nights of feeling like I was Frankenstein with knobs sticking out of my head and blobs digging into my ears.
Putting in an earplug (the other ear has an earbud for my audio book) is now part of my night time routine. I love hearing all sound but my breathing disappear...
10 - Drink less coffee
I. Love. Coffee. I love the flavor and the warmth and the ritual and the smell. But I also love to sleep.
It used to be that the worse I slept, the more coffee I drank the next day. Now it's the opposite. If I have a rough night of sleep, I think back on the day before - how much did I drink and when did I drink it? I often find I drank coffee later than my normal 10 am cutoff time and/or more than 1-2 cups of my half decaf blend.
So every January I do a cleanse and cut out coffee for 2-3 weeks (among other things). This gives my body a break from the stimulant and resets my caffeine tolerance.
When I'm used to drinking multiple cups of coffee every day, it takes multiple cups of coffee to feel "awake." When I cut it out, I can actually feel the caffeine kick in. It's a weird feeling - my heart rate and anxiety go up, I hear myself talking faster, I see myself moving faster and multitasking more, which really means trying to do too many things at once.
Watching caffeine kick in is like watching someone on drugs.
Throughout the year the amount I drink every day often ratchets up, but I seem to do best with a cup of green tea, then one cup of half decaf coffee. I have varying degrees of self control, but I know to never drink coffee after 10:30 unless I want to be tortured that night.
11 - Exercise
I know, I know, everyone says to exercise for everything good in life and some days we just do. not. want. to!
But we weren't built to sit in one place and not move for hours on end. Toxins pool up, our muscles, tendons and ligaments stop working smoothly, and we generally just begin to break down from the inside.
Maybe that sounds harsh, but that's how I see it.
"Get busy living, or get busy dying," says Red in Shawshank Redemption.
We were born to move, so I make a point to get up and move every single day. Even in the rain. I take a walk, do jumping jacks, do lunges in the living room.
Just. Do. Something.
The more the better, anything is better than nothing!
When I get regular exercise, I feel more energetic and positive, I ache less, I can concentrate and think more clearly, I'm more able to focus...
And most importantly, I sleep better.
12 - Forgive your bed and bedroom
How many times have you gone to a hotel or someone's house and slept like a champ, then come back home and slept terribly again?
I used to do this and heard so many others talk about it, and I finally learned what's happening...
We're expecting to get crappy sleep at home, so we get crappy sleep at home! I used to just know in my bones I was going to have yet another frustrating night and would get up tired...
And just that expectation set me up for terrible sleep. I've read about this, the sleep doctor told me this, I've experienced this...
And now I don't! Because I forgave my bed, my bedroom, my body, my brain. I did #1-11 above and started taking Hydroxyzine so I could teach my body, brain, mind and bedroom what those 8 hours of being in bed are for.
I don't take Hydroxyzine every night, and there are times I'm better or worse at doing all these things, but I no longer suffer every day because of my suffering every night.
I encourage you to do whatever it takes to get sleep. Suffering is optional, but it takes focus, dedication and practice to overcome it - and sometimes support.
If you've been wanting to try new sleep tricks but are resisting, hear my voice and your inner voice urging you to begin. Today. Maybe right now.
I believe in you! I believe in your ability to get good sleep! PLEASE reach out to me if you'd like support.
And if you know of someone with sleep challenges, share this with them and see if they're willing to try anything here. If so, you can be accountabilibuddies to create new habits. This always helps me!
Good luck on the sleep front! And please let me know if there's a tip or trick that helps you sleep...I'm always on the hunt for new ideas.
I hope to try biofeedback soon and would love to know if you've tried this...
Here's a 45 minute body scan meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn that makes me fall asleep every time
Here is the Sleep Foundation article I referenced above.
Here's another good sleep foundation article.
Want help with organizing for sleep, or for any other reason? (Stress relief, happier relationships, better business, better health...) Please remember that I'm here for you! Reach out if you have questions and/or you feel stuck.
There's no need to struggle with clutter anymore - you're not alone and I can help you feel better right away.
Text me at 360-265-2477, send me a personal message on Facebook or schedule a free coaching call with me here ($125 value)
For inspiration and organizing tips in your in-box, join my e-newsletter, Sunbeams. Inspiration only, no spam, I promise :)