Amongst the myriad of complaints you'll hear from the average person on a day to day basis are things like pain, sickness, weather, lack of finances, lack of time, etc. And probably the king of these whiny complaints would be a lack of sleep.
In another entry I may go over the necessity of sleep but for now lets focus on the 'how' part of sleep. Now aside from the obvious somewhat uncontrollable factors like small children waking you up in the middle of the night, noise pollution, sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, etc. There are actually dozens of other factors that influence our ability to get a quality 8hrs sleep each night.
1. Nutrition-You don't have to turn yourself into a health nut; but truth be told if you are eating mostly fast food or packaged and processed foods you likely won't consistently get a good nights sleep. Even if nothing else make sure your last meal/snack of the day is something that is easily digestible and healthy. Even low level indigestion can keep you tossing and turning for hours. Even though I'm not a huge fan of dairy things like yogurt, milk, and cheese often make great bedtime snacks.
2. Stimulants-Obviously most people won't give up their daily coffee(s) and this is fine. the key is to not over consume them-3 cups a day is plenty. Furthermore energy drinks, weightloss pills, teas, colas and all that should not be consumed after 4pm. Depending on how well your body metabolizes caffeine you may even need to stop sooner than this.
3. Consistent sleep patterns- While life is unpredictable and we all enjoy traveling or partying late, it is key to maintain a consistent wake up time and bed time 5-6 days a week. This means not altering either of these times by more than 1hr each day. This way your body habitually knows what it should be doing.
4. Activity-If you are sedentary most of your day or you perform no regular exercise, you likely have difficulty sleeping. In addition to helping regulate your circadian rhythms exercise helps take away that restless feeling you sometimes get. There is a huge value in actually feeling 'physically spent' as you crawl into bed. You need to earn your rest so to speak. As far as the old debate on working out before bed? I would say this is a highly individual thing. Personally I can workout right before bed and fall asleep minutes later. Others will be kept awake all night. So you will just have to experiment for yourself.
5. Productivity-This is closely tied in with number 4. While we all need days where we do much of nothing, all in all, we are made to produce. Each day of our life we should produce something of value, or do something to expend energy. Not being productive or doing nothing usually leads us to be restless at night. Again you must earn your rest. Furthermore if you are shirking responsibility in your life or not living up to your potential you will have many sleepless nights. In essence your subconscious mind is telling the rest of your body; "we can't go to sleep, we haven't done anything of value-we just wasted a whole day."
6. Personal Conflict-There are many possibilities for conflicts within yourself. Number 5 touched on the possibility of not achieving your potential. Other personal conflicts may be; doubting your faith, pressing spiritual questions, did not finish 'to do list', you acted unethically, or immorally at some point today or recently, in congruent lifestyle (what you want, what you are, how you live-don't match up),etc.
7. Interpersonal Conflict-Simply stated this can be left over tension from a fight with a friend, family member, coworker, somebody who treated you rudely in public, etc. First step is you should never go to bed with out resolving a conflict or at least without making plans to resolve a conflict. Otherwise your mind will just keep rehearsing the negative scenario amplifying the feelings each time. Furthermore regardless of whether or not you can reconcile your differences with the other person you have to forgive them within yourself. Anyone who has unforgiveness in them will have more than their fair share of sleepless nights.
8. Naps-If you are truly a healthy person you should not need naps anyways. But if you are not willing to give up your naps then you must at least make them consistent. As in approximately the same time each day and the same duration. Furthermore if you are napping more than an hour on any given day you need to re-evaluate your health and your lifestyle. Also I wouldn't be taking naps within 4hrs of bed time.
9. Things left unsaid,undone- This is similar to several of the above points but do your best to have todays business finished before you close your eyes. If you do lie awake with thoughts of unfinished tasks and they will only take a few minutes to complete then it may be worthwhile to get up and do them so you can sleep with a clear mind. If they are more complicated then have a pad and pen by your bedside to record thoughts and ideas, and tasks for tomorrow. Anything that is not written down will continue to float through your mind until it is dealt with. Even with more abstract thoughts it is worthwhile to journal if you can't sleep and write down anything that comes to mind regardless of how random or insignificant it sounds. Writing is always a great way to clear the mind. And a clear mind is always a mind that can rest well.
10. Alcohol-Aside from too much alcohol making you feel drowsy, any sleep that you get after consuming a significant amount of alcohol(again this depends on the person) will not be nearly as good of quality of sleep as someone who is sober. IF you need to drink yourself to sleep then you should be getting examined by a counselor, psychologist, or medical professional. I don't know the exact exchange but I would guess that 8hrs of drunken slumber is more like 3 hrs of normal rest. If you need booze to relax great, but don't over do it.
11. Sleep environment-Firstly your sleep environment should be consistent. A different place too often usually makes it difficult to rest. Provided it isn't to cold or too noisy outside opening a window is great for sleep as it allows cool fresh air to drift in. A quality mattress and pillow are worthwhile investments. Try to have your room completely pitch black, even small amounts of light can keep you from experiencing deep sleep. Turn off all electrical equipment with the exception of an alarm clock. Also you should not have any electrical stimulation/ or be spending a tonne of time on the computer or TV before bed. The light from these devices tells your body to stay awake. Make every effort to make your house as quiet as possible at night. IF this isn't possibly ear plugs are a decent option. Also do your best to have your bedroom as clutter free as possible. Clutter or any mess on a subconscious level will produce a low level stress or irritation. Whether or not you are aware of this fact this low level stress will prevent you from sleeping well. If you do need to have music on to sleep most modern stereos have a fade option that allows you to program the music to slowly fade out to nothing over the course of an hour or so, so you don't have music playing all night.
12. Massive stress!-Sooner or later we all come across experiences that are so burdensome that regardless of how tired we are we couldn't sleep if we wanted to. This could be a terminally ill loved one, a tragic death, job stress, finances, relationships (on a positive not being madly in love can also cause a lack of sleep), or just about any other major life event. The point here is again to write about it, talk to a friend who you know is typically up all hours of the night, pray, and seek counseling during the day. But all in all, stress as a reason for lack of sleep should only produce a handful of sleepless nights in our lives. Therefore it shouldn't be enough to produce an actual pattern of sleeplessness than spans several weeks or months.
Never underestimate the value of deep breathing for relaxation and producing a 'sleepy' feeling. Learn some good deep breathing patterns and do them before bed. Lastly sleeping aids are always a great last resort. Personally I am opposed to pharmaceutical sleeping pills, but there are hundreds of great natural sleeping aids, and herbs out there. My personal favorite that rarely if ever lets me down is 'Metabowize PM Formula' which can be found at www.xoomaworldwide.com/dynamite . Whatever sleeping aid you choose it shouldn't be habit forming.
With the information contained above it should be a rare night indeed when you don't get a visit from the sandman. Sweet dreams everyone!