It wasn't until I was diagnosed and properly treated for Sleep Apnea that I fully appreciated how important it is to be proactive if you can't sleep, or are having trouble sleeping. I guess beforehand I assumed sleep was something that just "happens" naturally and that as long as I was in bed for a respectable number of hours, I was fine. Well, you know what they say about assuming, and it was no less true in my case. Here's a list of the Top 5 Steps you can take to improve your sleep. They're important for people with Sleep Apnea, but apply generally to everyone without Sleep Apnea as well.
Step 1: Be Consistent
Our bodies are set up for consistency. That means going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, on both weekends and weekdays. This plays into the brain's natural "circadian clock" that regulates our overall physiology. To strengthen this circadian function, we should get in the habit of dimming our lights each night before bedtime, and exposing ourselves to natural light as soon as we wake up. I'm not saying all this is easy to do. I find that avoiding light before bedtime is especially difficult, since even computer screens and television screens emit light that sends an alerting signal to the brain. And I should be spending the first 15 minutes of being awake in the mornings outside, exposed to natural light, which is not a welcoming way to start a chilly day in January. All that being said, these are ideal behaviors that give me something to shoot for.
Step 2: Create a Peaceful Sleep Environment
All the experts agree that the bedroom should be a peaceful place. If your bedroom doubles as your office, you're in trouble. Computers, cell phones and yes, even pets, should be left outside because they all have the potential of interrupting sleep. The bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark. Consider earplugs, blackout curtains, eye shades, white noise and other ways to set the right tone. And make sure you've got a comfy mattress and pillows that haven't exceeded their life expectancy.
Step 3: Leave Stress at the Door, or Better Yet on a Post-It Note
Sleep and stress don't mix. It's important to clear your mind before hopping into bed. One technique that I've used successfully to prevent the mind from racing is to set aside a few minutes before bedtime to worry and think of all the things that need to get done, but that haven't been accomplished. Then get them all down on a Post-it, or a piece of paper, and set it aside. Trust me, it'll be there for you tomorrow.
Step 4: Avoid Food, Nicotine and Alcohol Before Bedtime
Finish eating, drinking and smoking at least 3 hours before bedtime. Each of these activities can lead to poor sleep if done too close to bedtime.
Step 5: Exercise
In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to the quality of sleep. Like eating, drinking and smoking, though, be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.