“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
How many times have you said this to either yourself or to someone close to you as you are downing your fifth cup of coffee? With so many demands on us, from running the kids around, working a 40-80 work week, to daily household tasks, it is not surprising that we often do not get a good night’s rest. By the time we have accomplished our daily activities, decompressed from our day, and started thinking about what is on the schedule for tomorrow, it is time to get up and start all over again. Sleep is one of the activities we devalue in order to get more out of our day. In fact, we fool ourselves into thinking that we are able to function or just “make it” without sleep.
However, poor sleep can seriously impact our mental and physical wellbeing. It is well known that poor sleep hygiene can lead to an inability to focus, attend, and concentrate; as well as lead to forgetfulness, poor judgment, and being accident-prone. When we have a lack of sleep we are sluggish, unmotivated, and have a harder time controlling our emotions. Chronic sleep loss can also impact our physical wellbeing and put us at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Oftentimes we are likely to attribute our bad mood, fogginess, or lack of initiative to other things going on in our life such as stress, relationship or family issues, or employment problems.
Improving and maintaining good sleep habits is a simple way to regain control over many of the troublesome emotional, physical, and cognitive problems that we experience in our daily lives. Here are some basic tips to improving your sleep:
- Food & Drink. Avoid stimulants including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol as well as heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Napping. Do not sleep in the daytime as it can disturb your regular sleep-wake cycle.
- Exercise. Regularly practice relaxing exercises (e.g. yoga, stretching) before bed that can promote sleep.
- Habit. Create a stable bedtime ritual that allows you to unwind for the day and tells your body it is time for sleep. This can include writing down worries for the day, light reading, a television program, or listening to calming music. All the while reminding yourself that you are “slowing down” for the night.
- Calm. Avoid emotional triggers before bed such as arguments, dwelling on issues, or attempting to fix stressful situations. You may want to write a “reminder” list for the next day’s tasks you want to tackle. Allow and tell yourself to let go for the day.
- Bed. Use your bed only for sleep. It should not be used for television viewing, reading, or other activities. To help with this you should remove anything in the bedroom that is a distraction from sleep.
- Survey. Take a good look around your bedroom. Is it relaxing, dark, quiet? Does your bedroom promote sleep?
- Awake. If you are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes (or wake up and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes), then focus on sections of your body and notice any tension and let it go by using words or images that promote warmth, relaxation, and heaviness. If you are still unable to sleep, calmly, and quietly get out of bed, and engage in a quiet and relaxing activity (e.g. listening to calming music) in a dimly lit alternate room until you feel drowsy and are able to go back to bed.
- Thoughts. Find one simple word (e.g. “bee”) and with as little movement as possible of your mouth repeat this word over and over. If you have specific images stuck in your mind then find a familiar image (e.g. a jagged circle or spiral or the outline of a fence or house) and with your eyes closed, slowly track the outline of the image. You may notice intrusive thoughts at times and you should simply acknowledge them and return to the task at hand. These two skills can help block out intrusive thoughts and images and help restore sleep.