In 2020, Wayne Tan, then 29, was stressed about getting enough sleep for his optometry-board certification exam—so much so that it led to chronic insomnia. When meds “didn’t get to the root of the problem,” Tan says, he found research on how changing your thinking about rest might help. With the aid of a sleep coach, “I slowly reformed my thoughts,” he says. Now that he’s board certified (it’s official!), he sleeps seven to eight hours a night. These strategies finally let him rest.
Give yourself a reason to get up
Sleep experts say to get up and get out of bed if you’re tossing and turning. Tan found that the tactic really does “help reduce the negative emotions and associations you have to sleep and your bed.” The trick: find something you look forward to doing when you’re up. For Tan, reading fiction beat studying. He’d read, then turn in again when he felt sleepy.
Do all the sleep hygiene stuff, too
“I stay away from coffee and try to get more sunlight during the day to help set my circadian rhythm so I’m wakeful in the morning and sleepy at night,” Tan says. These classic sleep-better tactics may not solve insomnia, because they don’t address the underlying psychological issues, but can alleviate alertness at bedtime. (Check out the ways athletes cultivate smart sleep habits, too.)
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Let sleep win
“When I was anxious about rest, I used the mantra ‘Sleep always wins,’” Tan says. Being awake builds up homeostatic sleep drive—the innate drive to sleep. Over time, that drive becomes so strong that your body gives in and rests. Knowing that his body would sleep whether he wanted it to or not allayed stress about not getting enough.
Go easy on yourself
Tan does a short meditation before bed to help him relax. When he didn’t have time and skipped it, he’d stress about not setting the stage for sleep. “I’ve learned to be okay with my circumstances and tell myself it’s okay I messed up my routine,” he says. “I learned that things might not be perfect, but I would be okay.”
This story originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Men’s Health.