Is “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” your morning mantra? Do you find yourself feeling tired, even after a night’s sleep?
Sleep is a major and often invisible factor in how we feel about ourselves and relate to others. In this fast-paced culture, we try to fit in as much as possible at night, making it hard settle down when bedtime comes around. You might tell yourself that it will be different tonight, that tonight you’ll get to sleep early—but you still find yourself online, texting, reading, or watching television until the wee hours, maybe as an attempt to feel more connected or to relax after your day.
My therapy clients talk about wanting to feel energetic but being stuck in a daily grind of work, errands, or taking care of others. Staying busy has become the enemy of a good night’s sleep. Experts recommend the average adult get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night. For those who are sleep deprived, you may need even more to feel rested.
The following are the tips I share with my clients to help get that precious slumber:
- Design a soothing nighttime routine. Watching a violent crime series like Law and Order does not constitute a soothing ritual. A calming routine may include 30 minutes of journaling, restorative yoga poses, meditation, reading for pleasure, self-massage with scented lotion, or a bath. Have a ritual you do every night so that your body can depend on that time to unwind.
- Create a calming sleep space. Avoid having a pile of things to do, like work projects, on your bedside table. Those tasks may stimulate you to think or plan, which will make it hard to relax after your day. Remove all clutter from your bedroom whenever possible. Your bedroom and bed should be primarily for sleeping and sex.
- Napping is a no-no. Avoid daytime napping if you suffer from insomnia. Even though it seems like a good idea to nap when you are exhausted, it may impact your body’s natural sleep rhythms. You want to be as sleepy as possible at bedtime. Some specialists recommend you eliminate daytime naps altogether.
- Schedule worry time. If you have anxious thoughts before sleep, put a notebook by your bedside table where you can make a list of your worries. It is rare that trying to solve problems before sleep results in brilliant ideas. When you return to those worrisome thoughts, gently remind yourself, “It’s on the list, I can worry about it tomorrow.”
- Eat a little something. Before bedtime, experiment with having a bit of a carbohydrate and some protein, like an apple and cheese or a small serving of cereal and milk. Look online or talk to your doctor to learn about how foods that contain tryptophan can help bring on drowsiness.
- Limit your intake of substances like caffeine and alcohol. Many of my tired-out clients tell me that an after-dinner coffee doesn’t affect them. Even if you can fall asleep, substances like alcohol, sugar, tobacco, and caffeine affect your body and mind’s experience of the five sleep stages. We need each of those stages to feel physically and mentally restored.
- Ask your primary care provider about sleep medications that could help or whether you may have a medical condition that impacts your sleep. Sometimes a short course of sleep medications can help to interrupt your cycle of worry-induced insomnia. A Chinese herbalist or acupuncturist can often help fix a sleep problem.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. For most, doing exercise late at night sabotages your body’s natural desire to sleep. Figure out what amount of exercise at which time of day helps you sleep by keeping track of how many minutes of exercise you did and how many hours of sleep you got that night. Watch for any patterns that emerge.
- Get help to figure out what you can and can’t change if you can’t let go of work stress or conflict at home. You might have tried every tip, but still feel keyed up or anxious when night rolls around. In those instances, it can be helpful to talk with a licensed therapist, who can help you get to the root of your problems and create a realistic plan to resolve them.
- Don’t give up! Try a few of these tips at a time to find a combination that works. Those precious hours of sleep will ultimately help you become more present in your waking hours with those you love.
© Copyright 2011 by Lisette Lahana, LCSW, therapist in Oakland, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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