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Do’s & Don’ts for Good Sleep

Wendy Magnoli, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, provides advice for getting restful sleep during Mental Health Awareness Month.

By Wendy Magnoli, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at Shepherd Center

The quality of our sleep is often one of the first things to be impacted when we’re under stress. And as we’ve all experienced, when we are unable to get a good night’s sleep, many aspects of our daily lives are negatively affected, including our mood, ability to concentrate, energy level and relationships with others. During these stressful times, we could all benefit from some hints on how to get a better night’s sleep!


1. Go to bed at the same time each day.

2. Get up from bed at the same time each day. Try to maintain something close to this on weekends.

3. Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning. There is good evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise.

4. Get regular exposure to the outdoors or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon.

5. Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable.

6. Keep the bedroom quiet when sleeping. If this is difficult to do, you may prefer to sleep with some background noise. There are multiple free apps available to provide white noise as you rest.

7. Keep the bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep.

8. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Relaxing rituals prior to bedtime may include a warm bath or shower, aromatherapy, reading, or listening to soothing music.

9. Use a relaxation exercise just before going to sleep or use relaxing imagery. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this will allow your body to rest and feel relaxed. There are many relaxation apps you can try. Different things work for different people, so try several and see what works best for you!

10. Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks to bed.

11. Designate a time in the late afternoon or early evening a few hours before bedtime to write down problems and possible solutions. As you write, do not dwell on any one thought or idea – merely jot something down and put the idea aside to think about tomorrow.

12. Avoid screen time 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime. The blue light from screens can interfere with the brain’s signals to the body that it is time for sleep. If you just can’t give up your screen time, try some blue light blocking glasses.


1. Avoid exercise three to four hours prior to bedtime, as it may be too activating to allow you to relax enough to go to sleep.

2. Avoid engaging in stimulating activity just before bed, such as playing a competitive game, watching an exciting program or movie, or having an important discussion with a loved one.

3. Don’t use your bed for activities like paying bills, talking on the phone, working or watching TV. This can prevent your body from associating your bed with sleep.

4. Don’t have caffeine in the evening (coffee, many teas, chocolate, sodas, etc.)

5. Don’t read something exciting or watch television in bed.

6. Avoid using alcohol to help you sleep. It actually interrupts your sleep cycle.

7. Avoid going to bed too hungry or too full.

8. Do not take another person's sleeping pills.

9. Do not take over-the-counter sleeping pills without your doctor's knowledge. Tolerance can develop rapidly with these medications.

10. Avoid taking daytime naps. If you do, keep them to no more than 20 minutes, eight hours before bedtime.

11. Avoid commanding yourself to go to sleep. This only makes your mind and body more alert.

12. Do not watch the clock or count minutes. This usually causes more anxiety, which keeps you up.

13. Don’t lie in bed awake for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Instead, get up, go to a different room (or different part of the bedroom), participate in a quiet activity (e.g. non-excitable reading), and then return to bed when you feel sleepy. Do not turn on lights or sit in front of a bright TV or computer – this will stimulate your brain to wake up. Stay in a dark, quiet place. Do this as many times during the night as needed.

14. Avoid succumbing to maladaptive thoughts like, “Oh no, look how late it is. I’ll never get to sleep” or “I must have eight hours of sleep each night. If I get fewer than eight hours of sleep, I will get sick.” Challenge your concerns and avoid catastrophizing. Remember that we cannot fully control our sleep process. Trying too hard to control it will make you more tense and more awake.

15. Don’t change your daytime routine the next day if you didn’t sleep well. Even if you have a bad night’s sleep and are tired, it is important that you try to keep your daytime activities the same as you had planned. If you avoid activities or stay in bed late because you feel tired, it can reinforce the insomnia.

16. Avoid increasing caffeine intake the next day if you are tired. This can keep you up again the following night.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.