Use this plan from Dr. Michael Breus to get off of your sleeping pills and start sleeping naturally.
Step 1: Go to Bed Later
This might seem counterintuitive, but most people start taking sleeping pills because they have trouble falling asleep. Going to be early when you don’t feel tired is just going to feed into this cycle. Instead, try going to bed later than you normally would. This extra time before you hit the sack will increase how tired you feel and help you to fall asleep faster.
To figure out when you should go to bed, keep track of your sleep schedule using a sleep log. For one week, keep track of when you go to bed, when you fall asleep, and when you wake up. Average out when you’re falling asleep and set a new bedtime for 30 minutes after that average time. Average out your wake-up time and stick to that morning schedule. That probably means you’ll be a little sleep deprived, but that sleep deprivation is supposed to help you feel more tired at night when you go to bed. Once you get used to falling asleep naturally, you can shift your schedule. Find the sleep log here.
Step 2: Use a Reverse Power Hour
What you do before you go to bed can make a huge difference in how easy it is for you to fall asleep. The goal is to do things that help your body to wind down before sleep so that you’re in the right frame of mind to be able to fall asleep. Doing a reverse power hour during the hour before you sleep will help you do this.
There are three parts to a reverse power hour.
- Get everything done. Think about what needs to be done for the following morning and get done whatever you’re able to do at the beginning of the hour. This will keep you from fretting in bed about doing it the following day.
- Have a night routine. Have a routine of things that you start about 30 minutes before bed. That could include a hot bath, removing makeup, changing into pajamas or brushing your teeth. Add something else to your schedule to replace your sleeping pills that will help you feel like it’s bed time.
- Relax out of bed. Rather than unwinding in bed, take some time out to slow down before you lie down. Doing so means you’ll use your bed to sleep rather than as a place to try and de-stress. This should take about 20 minutes and can be anything from meditating to reading to praying.
Step 3: Taper Off Your Sleep Meds
Most people try to stop their sleep aids cold turkey, but tapering off of them by slowly reducing the dose is a much more effective way to stay off of sleep aids. Stopping a sleep medication suddenly can send you into insomnia because your body is used to having the drug start sleep. Slowly lowering the dose gives your body time to take control of your sleep and makes it less likely that you’ll have trouble sleeping once you stop your medications.
Start this taper after 10 days of going to bed later and using a reverse power hour.
- Week 1 and 2: Take half of your usual medication dose.
- Week 3: Cut the dose in half again, so that you’re taking one quarter of the original dose.
- Week 4: Take that quarter dose every other night.
- Week 5: Take the quarter dose once every three nights.
- End of week 5: Stop the medications all together.
Make sure you talk to your doctor before changing any of your medications.