3 Myths and Tips to Improve our Sleep:
As a psychotherapist, I am amazed by how many folks today are coming in with sleep issues. They have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and falling back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. During the day, this translates to increased anxiety, difficulty focusing, and lack of energy.
Sleep is a tricky thing. And it’s become trickier in our fast paced, high achieving, high tech world that is a recipe for anxiety – sleep’s enemy. The following are some tips to improve your “sleep hygiene.” That’s right. Sleep has become a huge area of study with its own fancy nomenclature.
Myth #1: I can catch up on my sleep if I don’t get much tonight.
Sorry — wrong. The body’s Circadian Rhythms work like a personal, internal 24-hour “clock.” These rhythms regulate the body’s temperature, appetite, hormonal changes, and sleep cycles. The body wants the sleep rhythm to be reasonably constant. When we miss a night’s sleep, the circadian rhythm is thrown off and we pay for it by feeling drowsy, tired, and grumpy the next day. Most likely our anxiety will be higher, too. Sadly, there is no “catching up,” rather, the body has to regulate the rhythm again which takes a few days.
Schedule your Sleep. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every night.
Myth #2: It’s so comfy that it makes sense to use my bed as a sleeping area, office area, eating area, studying area, and TV/Computer station.
Wrong, again. Psychologically, it is extremely helpful to our ability to transition to a state of deep relaxation and sleep well if our mind associates our bed with sleeping, and ONLY sleeping.
Create a sacred space. Your bed and, if possible, your bedroom, should be a warm, welcoming, comfy place that is associated with nothing but rest and relaxation.
Myth #3: If I’m tired, my brain should be able to shut off the stimulation of the day and just go to sleep.
You can probably guess the answer. Yep, sorry, wrong again. It would be great if this were true, but unfortunately it’s not.
Unplug. We cannot stimulate our brains with vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, television, computer trolling, and texting and think we can just turn it off and go to sleep. Our brain is highly activated by the stimulation and light involved in these activities. We need to stop these activities an hour or two before bedtime.
Anything else that will promote better sleep?
1. Keep your room dark when you sleep.
2. Turn your clock away from you and resist the temptation to look at the time if you wake up.
3. If you wake easily, consider getting a white noise machine.
4. Keep a notepad and pencil by your bed. If you wake up and feel you MUST remember something, write it down and “let it go” to be dealt with in the morning.
5. Make sure cold or other prescription medications aren’t interfering with your sleep.
6. Make sure caffeinated beverages are drunk several hours before you go to bed.
7. Prepare mind and body to relax. A warm bath or shower will help your body relax before sleep and soft music will nurture this state, too.
8. A glass of warm milk is helpful because it contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps induce sleep.
9. Once in bed, practice focusing on scenes or memories that are joyful/calming for you. If your attention wanders to something anxiety provoking, take 3/4 deep breaths and patiently return to those happy thoughts. You may have to practice this a lot if you’ve gotten into the habit of focusing on difficulties when you go to bed.
10. Create awareness of YOUR body’s need for sleep. It may be less or much more than someone else’s.
NOTE: Severe lack of sleep can be seriously debilitating, and we can become very depressed, suicidal at worst. If you or someone you know is dealing with severe insomnia, consult a doctor or clinician who has expertise dealing with sleep issues.