Sleep is everything! It is one of the most basic and simple forms of self-care. It affects so many things, from your daily mood to your overall physical and emotional well-being. Without adequate sleep, it’s difficult to function which is why sleep awareness is so important.
A little science if I may, circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. According to sleepfoundation.org, different systems of the body follow circadian rhythms that are synchronized with a master clock in the brain. This master clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light which is why circadian rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night. When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep. When this circadian rhythm is thrown off, however, it can create significant sleeping problems, including insomnia.
So basically, if you don’t get adequate sleep at night during the dark hours, your circadian rhythm will be thrown off, which is unfortunate for all those NOC shift workers because your body is constantly fighting against you because we are not nocturnal beings.
What happens when we are sleep-deprived? Now that’s a loaded question! Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem-solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently and impairs judgment & memory. Lack of sleep can impair your ability to drive and cause health conditions since your body is not getting the restorative and regenerative sleep it needs. Lack of sleep can age your skin and inhibit your sex drive. Sleep problems may also present as symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not to mention lack of sleep can exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses.
According to Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, adequate sleep can actually reduce your risk of dementia. Although it has been known for some time that individuals with dementia frequently have poor, fragmented sleep, new studies suggest that if you don’t get enough sleep, you are at increased risk for dementia.
WHOA, lack of sleep can really cause some serious problems! So what do we do about it? How can we prevent it? Most of us have such busy lives, who has time for adequate sleep? I’ve heard people say things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” or “Sleep is for the weak”. So how do we get more of this elusive thing called sleep?
I’m so glad you asked, sleep hygiene is a great place to start! What is sleep hygiene you say, well just like any other part of basic self-care, your sleep behavior could also benefit from hygiene. Your sleep environment, afternoon and nighttime activities, coping behaviors, what you drink, what you eat and your sleep routine are all part of good sleep hygiene. Here are just a few ways to start a good sleep hygiene routine…
- Try, try, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day or as close as you can, even on weekends and holidays. This should help regulate your body’s clock (remember that circadian thing?) and enhance the quality of your sleep and wake time.
- Practice relaxation techniques before bedtime. Deep breathing and visualization of a soothing scene, listen to a guided meditation while you lay in bed with your eyes closed. Take a warm shower or bath about 90 minutes before bed. A hot bath will raise your body temperature and it is the drop in body temperature that may leave you feeling sleepy. Listen to soothing music. Drink a cup of non-caffeinated tea. Have a light snack, but avoid eating heavy meals near bedtime.
- Reduce stress. If you’re worried about getting your work done, make a to-do list for the next day to assure yourself you have enough time to accomplish what needs to get done. Once the chores that cause you to stress are down on paper, your mind is free to relax and think more pleasant thoughts
- Disconnect from devices 30-60 minutes before bed
- Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on or bring your problems to bed.
- Prepare your body for sleep…Avoid caffeine after lunch, which impairs overall sleep quality. Remember, chocolate has caffeine too. Don’t go to bed hungry or full. Avoid alcohol of any type within six hours of your bedtime. Do not smoke or ingest nicotine within two hours of your bedtime. Exercise regularly, but avoid strenuous exercise within six hours of your bedtime. Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. If you take sleeping pills use them cautiously. Always use sleeping pills as prescribed by your physician.
- Prepare your sleeping area…Remove all TVs, computers, and other gadgets from the bedroom. Use your bedroom only for sleeping and sex (if that’s right for you). The bedroom and more importantly the bed, is not a place for watching TV, eating, chatting, working, etc. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Use curtains or blinds to block out light. If noise bothers you, consider wearing earplugs or using soothing music, a fan, or a “white noise” machine to block out noise. If you are a ‘clock watcher’ at night, hide the clock. Use a sleep mask and earplugs, if light and noise bother you. Extreme heat or cold should be avoided. A hot room can be uncomfortable. A cooler room along with enough blankets to stay warm is recommended. If the light in the early morning bothers you, get a blackout shade/curtains or wear a sleep mask. If you need light, use off-light such as a night light in the bathroom or hallway. If your pets awaken you, keep them outside the bedroom, sorry Fido!
WHEW! That was a lot of information, but fear not! You don’t have to implement everything on this list all at once. In fact, this isn’t even a complete list of sleep hygiene ideas. I would recommend you start with 3 or 4 of these suggestions and keep a log of what works and what doesn’t. Try these tips for a week and if something isn’t helpful, go back to the drawing board. Remember to be patient, creating an effective sleep routine and improving your overall sleep takes time, and start living your best life, or at least feel more rested!
A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book. ~Irish proverb
Contact Good Therapy’s team of licensed professional counselors and therapists today at 630-473-3971.