Improving Your Quality of Sleep
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stress levels, I have heard that more and more people are experiencing sleep-related issues. Though the pandemic has caused many of these issues, there are a handful of other reasons why you may be experiencing restless nights:
- Alcohol and drug use
- No exercise
- Excessive screen time
- Poor sleep hygiene (napping, routine, etc.)
- Learned conditioning
- Sleep expectations/cognitive distortions
- Illnesses or pain
- Restless Leg Syndrome
So, why is sleep so important, and what function does it serve in our life?
Sleep empowers an effective immune system.
Solid rest each night strengthens our body’s defenses.
Sleep heightens our brain function.
Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory and decision-making.
Sleep enhances our mood.
Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression.
Sleep improves our mental health.
Besides depression, studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Sleep improves our relationships with others.
Ever had to apologize for something you said or did, and blamed it on poor sleep? Though we own our actions and words, sleep deprivation plays a role in rational thinking and behaviors.
Here are some great sleep tips for a more restful night:
- Commit to improving your sleep. If we are not purposeful or fully committed, it will be much more difficult to improve both the quality and quantity of sleep.
- Stick to a healthy sleep routine
- Agree that your bed is only for sleeping and intimacy
- Improve your relationship with your bed
- No daytime napping
- Limit total time in bed
Here are sleep tips to practice prior to going to bed:
- Set your bedtime based on your wake-up time
- Set your wake-up time the same EVERY DAY
- Set your bedtime the same EVERY DAY
- Commit to daily exercise (but not two hours before bedtime)
- Improve your diet (avoid sugars, stimulants and heartburn inducing foods)
- Check-in with your doctor for your annual physical
- Work on improving your relationships with your family and friends
- Improve your sleep environment – dedicate your bedroom for its intended use: sleep or intimacy
- Evaluate your mattress, pillows and sheets
- Set up a routine to wind down from your day (within two hours prior to bedtime). Consider the following:
- Light and relaxing music
- Reading (but not in bed)
- Water/non-caffeinated drinks (not too much) / tea
- Gratitude journal
- List of things to look forward to tomorrow
- Warm bath/shower
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Read something motivating, inspirational or compassionate
Tips for the Evil Hours
We all know the evil hours! These are the hours in the middle of the night where sleep is nowhere to be found. If you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep, try the following:
- If you’re awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed
- Don’t get angry at your bed. This just makes the situation worse. Anger triggers adrenaline and your fight or flight system.
- Remake your bed
- Declutter your bedroom
- Remove the clock
- Do something “boring” that helps pass time
- Whatever you do, DO NOT get on your phone/iPad/computer
After implementing best sleep practices, if you still cannot sleep, you may need an intervention. In these circumstances, you should consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). Working with a CBT-I therapist, you may do some of the following:
- Sleep logs – This is to identify patterns in your sleep habits (remember the importance of routine)
- Sleep restrictions – This limits the time in bed strictly to those hours you are asleep. So, if you are only getting four hours of sleep a night and you have to get up at 6:00 a.m., the therapist will begin by setting your bedtime to 2:00 a.m., then move it to 1:00 a.m., then midnight, etc. This should only be done under the supervision of a certified CBT-I therapist.
- Evaluation for Rx’s (do not take over the counter sleep aids) – You will be referred to your medical provider or psychiatrist to have your medications evaluated for best results.
- Sleep study (for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders) – You would spend the night at a “sleep lab” and your sleep will be monitored for breathing, snoring, brain activity, etc.
- Alleviate thinking errors (cognitive distortions) – We behave according to our beliefs. If we continually tell ourselves negative messages about ourselves and our poor sleep, we probably are not going to sleep well.
- Setting positive affirmations about self – Poor self-image, confidence and low self-esteem leads to depression and anxiety. Both of these conditions are contributors to poor sleep and wakefulness.
If you have any questions regarding your sleep or stress management, please be sure to check in with one of our behavioral health specialists during your next appointment with Community Health Alliance.
I hope you have a great day and an even better night.
By: Patrick Rogers
Director of Behavioral Health Services