One of the most common complaints that I hear from clients in therapy is that they have trouble sleeping. This can be for a wide variety of reasons, but regardless of the cause, poor sleep can cause a host of other problems such as irritability, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression and low energy and motivation among many others. While sleep needs can vary from person to person, we all need consistent good-quality sleep in order to function well in life. Below are some of my top tips to improve sleep:
1. Narrow Down the Problem: Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Some people struggle with both of these but others just one or the other. Answering this question can help guide you in coming up with a plan to solve it. While both of these are problematic, they often require slightly different approaches, so breaking this question down is a good place to start.
2. Practice Mindfulness: In my work as a therapist I would say that most people who struggle with sleep suffer from anxiety and find that their worries are what keep them up at night. If this sounds familiar, try using some deep-breathing exercises and mindful meditation to calm your mind and relax your tense body. Mindfulness entails noticing your thoughts and worries and letting them pass through your mind, rather than trying to fight or suppress them. Doing so allows you to more easily put aside your worries so that you can get some good sleep and deal with the problem in the morning.
3. Keep a Notepad Next to Your Bed: Lots of people tell me that when they finally get into bed at night, all the things that they need to deal with pop into their mind and that they worry that they’ll forget them again as they did in the day prior. My suggestion is to write those things down! This way, you know that you won’t forget and you won’t spend all night mulling those items over in your mind. Keeping a notepad at your bedside makes this easy, as you can simply roll over, jot your note down and get back to sleep.
4. Beware of Blue Light: Lots of people tell me that they fall asleep watching TV or playing something on their iPad nearly every night. I am guilty of this one too, and so I can understand the appeal of crawling into bed after a long day and binge watching your favorite show. As relaxing as this might be, electronic devices such as TVs, iPads and cell phones emit blue light that gives off energy. Have you ever felt exhausted but found that your mind was still racing with energy? That may have been the affect of blue-light energy. While technology is advancing in this area, it’s still something important to keep in mind. My recommendation is to turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed and to try reading a book as part of your wind-down routine.
5. Establish a Bedtime Routine: While it may be tempting to come home from work, throw on your sweats, grab something to eat and climb into bed, not having a bedtime routine is a sure way to disrupt your sleep at night. Whether it includes a hot shower, a cup of tea, a relaxing facewash or lighting a candle, choose a wind-down plan that works well for you. Try using the recommendations made earlier in the article and integrate those into your chosen routine where possible, and be consistent.
Practicing good sleep hygiene and creating healthy habits are essential steps to establishing restful nights of sleep, followed by happy and productive days ahead. While it isn’t always easy to make changes like the ones outlined above, the effort is usually worthwhile when you wake up feeling refreshed!
By Kira Batist-Wigod, LCSW