Next to breathing, sleep may be one of the most necessary things for our bodies. So many of my clients report chronic and deliberating problems with sleep. There are many internal (worry, depression, stress) and external (kids, shift work, poor sleep habits) issues that contribute to our sleep difficulties. And unfortunately many people take sleep for granted, thinking they don’t need it or don’t need as much as they think.
Here are a few of the effects of sleep deprivation I’ve experienced or my clients have reported:
Reduced ability to cope with daily life stress
Weight gain or increased difficulties with weight loss
Health problems including increased risk of heart problems
Even psychosis – many individuals have written about their personal experience with sleep deprivation and psychosis, a quick google search will produce results including a YouTube series I have not watched.
Needless to say sleep is important and sleep deprivation is detrimental to our overall well-being and functioning. There is good reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
On a personal note, difficulties sleeping is something I have been well acquainted with throughout my life. At various times in my life it has been difficulty falling asleep, other times it has been restless sleep with multiple nighttime wakings. Recently, I was experiencing very restless, not rejuvenating sleep and I felt the effects on my mood, my sense of resilience to handle everyday stress, my emotions and quite frankly my likable-ness (if that’s a word). I was able to get things back track and noticed an immediate improvement on these areas including increased energy and coping.
So what helps us get better sleep? Be aware you won’t like all my suggestions.
Establish a healthy bedtime routine
Think about babies and children. We help them from a very young age to have a bed time routine. Perhaps it is a warm bath, followed by putting pyjamas on, a story with some milk, a cuddle and a tuck in good night. If this routine is followed night after night then the baby/child begins to associate the routine with sleep and can even become drowsy as the routine is happening because it has become a trigger for the brain “ahhh that’s what we are doing, getting ready to sleep”.
When did we lose the idea that we needed a bedtime routine? Was it when we were teenagers and our sleep cycles shifted? Post secondary school when we stayed up late partying, ummm I mean studying and writing papers? Was it when we had babies of our own and we were tired and worn out? Whenever it was, it’s time to get it back.
So how do we establish a healthy bedtime routine? (some of this is what you may not like)
Some tips for good sleep hygiene/routines
It starts with having a schedule and sticking to it, for the most part NO MATTER WHAT!! Of course I know that weddings happen, date nights happen, life happens- I’m not suggesting you never have a life but at least until you have developed a strong association it is important to stick to a schedule to train your brain. That means going to bed at the same time at night. Getting up at the same time in the morning.
Tips to establish that routine:
- Start to wind down ½ hour prior to bedtime
- Winding down means no electronics!! Yep they are stimulating to the brain and don’t help you to shut off.
- Yes that includes the TV in your bedroom!!
- Limit alcohol, particularly close to bedtime
- Exercise during the day
- Create a sleep environment taking into consideration light, comfort, noise. Work with these things to create the right balance for you
- Perhaps most importantly create a pattern of 3-4 things that you will do every night as part of the good sleep routine and as a way to train your brain. That may include a bath, brushing your teeth, stretching, yoga, meditation, counting what you are thankful for, listening to relaxing music a warm glass of milk. Sometime soothing and something you can do on a regular basisCreating a routine will help to train your brain to get to the “ahhhhh that’s what we are doing, we are going to sleep”. One thing that I have found particularly helpful for this is a sleep meditation. This meditation I only use when I want to sleep and my brain almost immediately says to me “ahhh that’s what we are doing, going to sleep” and I fall asleep in minutes. One to try is here http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22
What about those nights that I fall asleep but can’t stay asleep?
Many of my clients and myself have found the following helpful:
- Block or remove the clock in the room- so that instead of waking and thinking “oh no it’s already 4:00 I only have 3 hours left to sleep”, “now it’s 4:30”, etc you are not disturbed by the clock
- Leave your phones and computers in another room so you are not tempted to check
- Practice taking ten deep breathes while repeating a mantra in your head about sleep (“I am getting restful and rejuvenating sleep”, “I can sleep well”, “My body and mind love sleep”), instead of going through your to do list
- If you can’t stop thinking then sit up and write out your thoughts, telling your mind that you promise you won’t forget about the list, that you will pick it up tomorrow and deal with it then
- If you have to go to the washroom- go the first time, instead of waking 3 more times in the next hour thinking you have to pee 😉
If you have any tips for getting to sleep or getting better sleep – please share!! Thanks and have a good nights sleep.