Good quality sleep is one of those things that most people take for granted… until they don’t have it anymore. Poor sleep quality leaves you feeling less than your best the next day. Which increases the likelihood that you’ll make mistakes at work, get in a fender-bender, a spat with your partner, or just anything that amounts to having a crappy day.
Imagine having back-to-back weeks or even months like that?
Bad sleep impairs your attention, concentration, and decision-making abilities, which, in turn, makes you irritable and stressed out. So it’s no surprise that problems sleeping at night are a symptom common of many mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. It’s one of the first questions that our therapists ask new clients. And helping improve the quality of sleep is often the first steps of therapy. It lays a good foundation for clients, building up their emotional stamina for deeper work in therapy.
Why Sleep Gets Messed Up
Disruptions to your routine, like travel, shift work, pulling all-nighters, eating or exercising late in the day, etc. can lead to sleep problems. Same with major life changes like – a new baby, a death of a loved one, upcoming marriage, ongoing divorce, change of job, or job loss.
Clean up your sleep hygiene.
Sleeping like a baby is all about having good sleep hygiene – which is a fancy way of saying good habits. Here are a few things that you can do to to get better sleep. And it all starts before you ever get in bed.
- Stay away from caffeine, sodas, chocolate, black or green teas, nicotine, alcohol, or vigorous exercise 4-6 hours before bed. If you exercise, it’s better done in the mornings.
- Limit naps to 20 minutes or less, or skip them all together.
- Spend time in natural sunlight. Get up from your desk and eat lunch outside on a bench. Or stretch your legs with a quick walk around your office block. Sunlight entering your eyes and hitting your skin send messages to your brain which help regulate your body’s internal clock.
- Establish an evening routine to help you wind down from your day. Maybe it’s having herbal tea, having a soak in the tub, meditating, tidying up the kitchen, or picking out your clothes for the next day. Or some combination of all of the above. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself:
- What helps me relax?
- What’s something easy that I can do tonight to make life easier for myself tomorrow morning?
- Keep your sheets crisp and fresh. Change them at least once per week. Some research suggests that light colored bed sheets (e.g. white or cream) improve sleep. Go figure…
- Use lavender linen spray on your pillow and bed sheets. Or consider an aromatherapy machine with lavender essential oil in your bedroom.
- Avoid screens 30-45 minutes before you get in bed. Yes, that means no tablets, smartphones, laptops, or TV. In fact, if you have a TV in your bedroom, consider removing it. If you like background noise, get a white noise machine or one with natural sounds. If reading before bed is part of your routine, then invest in a black and white e-reader like the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Glowlight. Dim the lights 30-45 minutes before bed. This helps tell your body’s internal clock that it’s time to prepare for sleep (e.g. producing the biochemicals in the brain and body that support sleep).
- The 3 S’s. Use your bed for: Sleep, Sickness, and Sex. That’s it. Nothing else. If working from your bedroom is your only option, try to setup a separate table and chair in your bedroom. This helps create a mental boundary between your work space (when your mind is supposed to be active) and your sleep space (when your mind is supposed to relax and unwind).
- Same time, the same place. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, even on weekends. Yes, it sucks, but while you’re trying to get your sleep back to normal, that’s just the way it has to be.
- Make your bedroom as dark and cold as possible. And keep water on your nightstand.
Once You’re In Bed…
Don’t lie in bed awake for more than 20 minutes. Get up and out of bed and do something really (REALLY) boring and get back in bed as you start nodding off (you know… like you used to in the back of your history class…or was that just me?). Repeat this process as many times as needed. It’s also important that you don’t turn on any bright lights or use any LED screens.
The Morning After
No matter how little you slept, don’t change anything about your routine the next day. Get up at the same time and go about your plans. Yes, you’ll probably be exhausted, but don’t reach for that second cordatido or extra latte. Increasing your caffeine intake the following will only interfere with your ability to sleep the following night and worsen the problem.
Hopefully, these tips get you back to sleeping like baby. But if they don’t, our therapists would be happy to help you. Call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 15-minute Clarity Consult .