8 Steps to Center Yourself and Achieve Good Sleep

A good night's sleep is connected to being centered and balance in all aspects of your life. Here's how to achieve better sleep

After a long day of work, school, or running errands, the idea of sleep sounds like a dream. Yet, as you struggle to keep up with the frenetic pace of modern life, sleep tends to fall low on the priority list. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep.

There are several reasons why your sleep is disrupted, and this starts with how you start and end your day. This is what your sleep habits are telling you.

Achieve a better night’s sleep with these steps to center yourself.

Begin the day in gratitude

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Take 10 minutes every morning to sit down, close your eyes, and give thanks for every one of the blessings in your life. Name each one and hold it in your thoughts. The sense of gratitude you’ll experience can help set a serene tone for the entire day. It can even help improve your mental health.

For example, in a 2018 study with 300 adults, published in the journal Psychotherapy Research, researchers found gratitude along with counseling services can shape the mental health of people in psychotherapy who had depression and anxiety. Those instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three straight weeks reported feeling better. They also saw an improvement with their mental health 12 weeks after the experiment. This was compared to those who wrote about their deepest feelings and thoughts about negative experiences, and those that wrote nothing.

Manage electronics

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Not many people can survive for more than 30 minutes without checking their phones for messages. Ironically, the rise of tech, which is supposed to give you more leisure time, has instead made it easier for to work around the clock. However, you don’t have to swear off your electronics to lower stress. You just have to control them.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the use of electronics, especially before bedtime, can lead to physiological and psychological stimulation in ways that can affect sleep. These devices emit blue light, which can suppress the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and disrupt the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm). This makes it more difficult to fall asleep.

Tip: Answer e-mail three times a day instead of every 30 minutes, and turn off the instant notification feature. Moreover, turn off your cell after 6:00 p.m. or the time you’re done with your work day.

Don’t stay late at work

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The prevailing thought is that you have to stay late to get the job done, says Margaret Moline, PhD, former director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Laboratory New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in White Plains, New York. But, if you work right up until bedtime, it’s bound to disrupt your sleep. Molina advises going home at a reasonable hour. The truth is that it’s better to go home and go to sleep, then come back and do more work in the morning.

Prioritize sleep

It’s easy for sleep to slip on the priority list between meeting deadlines and attending social events. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the body spends one-third of its life asleep. This can affect how productive and successful you are in the other two-thirds of your life. Sleep also plays an important role when it comes to your health. Skipping out on sleep could affect the immune system and make it more vulnerable to getting sick from a cold or even the flu. Sleep doctors reveal the secrets to better sleep.

Strike a balance

Toning down a tightly wired nervous system will encourage a balanced sleep/wake cycle, says Frisca L. Yan-Go, MD, medical director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Think about tai chi, meditation, prayer, biofeedback, yoga—any daily activity that allows you to cultivate a peaceful center and a sense of balance. Also, it’s okay to unplug and have a day to yourself to recalibrate. Here’s why you should take a mental health day.

Use guided imagery

“Mind/body stuff really works in helping you get to sleep,” says Belleruth Naparstek, MS, a Cleveland-based therapist and the producer of guided imagery audio programs. According to Naparstek, the imagery seduces the brain into seeing and thinking about other things, while the voice tone, pacing, music, and images will persuade the ramped-up part of your nervous system that it’s time to calm down. The imagery will shut down the adrenaline that’s keeping you too aroused to sleep.

Invoke the relaxation response

The relaxation response is a technique that aims to help people fight the effects of stress through a slower breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and meditation. Herbert Benson, MD, a cardiologist in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, has developed a 4-step method to achieve this effect. Choose a word that has deep personal meaning for you such as “peace.” Close your eyes and focus your attention on the word. Repeat it silently to yourself. When your attention wanders, as it will, gently bring it back to the word. Take a deep breath and exhale. Begin to consciously relax each of your muscles from your face to your toes. When you’re finished, continue to focus on your chosen word for another 10 to 15 minutes. Then allow yourself to gently move into sleep.

Fight brain clutter 

Every time you start thinking about bills or work or kids gone astray, turn your brain off and focus on something that is less stimulating, says Moline. One woman prays. Another meditates. A third dreams of what she’s going to plant in her garden next spring. As long as it doesn’t make you worry, you’ll be asleep in no time.

Medically reviewed by Renata Chalfin, MD, on March 23, 2020