Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

The best preachers deliver the messages they most need themselves :).  That’s the principle behind this week’s post…on sleep.  I’ve definitely fallen off the wagon in this area of life and so perhaps by writing about healthy sleep habits, I will jump-start my own process back to the land of nod.

According to the CDC, more than a third of Americans do not get enough sleep on a regular basis!  Clearly, I’m not alone.  First – what do they mean by “enough”?  The general guideline for this study is 7 hours per night.  Interestingly enough, geography, race/ethnicity, employment and marital status all seem to affect the odds of healthy sleep.  Those of us here in the Southeastern US for example, are less likely to hit the 7 hour standard.  But why?  What are the factors making this such a widespread issue?  The culprits tend to be longer work hours as well as longer commutes to work which push other aspects of life into the wee hours.  Shift work (now more prevalent thanks to a global economy) wreaks havoc on the sleep-wake cycle.  Finally, most everyone is entertaining themselves on some sort of screened device late into the night, despite the fact that we have well established the harmful effects of blue light from those devices on the body’s production of melatonin – our sleep hormone. This is especially common for those living in high stress situations.  For many – the additional factors of chronic illness, medication side effects and sleep disorders come into play.  All of this adds up to a major concern: consistent sleep shortages contribute to heart disease, obesity, depression, lowered immunity, type 2 diabetes and other ills!

No matter the cause, developing healthy sleep habits is part of the cure.  In my work with clients, I always assess quality and quantity of sleep.  If we find deficiencies, I encourage my clients to consider changes in their sleep habits as adequate rest is absolutely necessary for fueling whatever work we are trying to do in therapy.  What does that look like?  Here are the guidelines I usually work with.  Adjustments are made to align with each person’s unique situation so discuss these with your doctor to create a plan that works for you:

  • Do not get into bed except when it is time to sleep.  Our beds often become associated with work and we need to retrain our brains to associate bed with sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine four hours before bed (this includes chocolate).
  • Avoid naps during the day until your sleep-wake cycle has been established.
  • Set an alarm for one hour before bed as a daily reminder. When it goes off, cut out all screen activity (TV or computer).
  • Eat a small snack of complex carbs.
  • Drink a cup of warm milk or Sleepytime tea.
  • Dim the lights – consider putting your bedroom lamp on a timer to automatically dim each night.
  • Shower, get ready for bed, etc.
  • Journal the concerns of the day.  This allows your brain to ‘let go’ of these issues.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Read relaxing material.
  • Turn lights out at the same time every night.
  • Consider use of a white noise machine or earplugs.
  • Use a relaxation exercise to quiet the central nervous system.
  • If you lie awake for 20 minutes, get out of bed and do some other quiet activity in dimmed lighting until you feel sleepy – repeat as often as necessary – do not lie awake for endless amounts of time
  • Wake up every morning at the same time. Do not use a buzzer-type alarm which has been shown to kick off an adrenaline rush (not how you want to start your day).

It takes at least two weeks of consistency to see a change in sleep quality so once you’ve developed a routine that works for you – stick with it for the long haul.  When you consult with your doctor, ask about nutritional changes/supplements that can help improve the quality of your sleep.  Do your homework to learn as much as you can.

I hope these suggestions will bring improvement in this vitally important area of your life. Check back here for a report on my progress in the coming months!  I’d love to hear from those of you who make changes as well 🙂

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