GO TO SLEEP! That’s what you’re inner voice is telling you as you check your iPhone to see another hour has passed. It’s 3:00 am and you can’t shut your brain off. If this is you then keep reading because I may have a couple pointers to help you turn your FFFFF’s into ZZZZZ’s. It’s called sleep hygiene and it’s often glossed over in doctors appointments.
Sleeping is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our anxiety, replenish our immune system, reset our brains, and improve our overall health. Practicing good habits before bed can increase your chances of getting to sleep and staying asleep. According to the Mayo Clinic there are 6 steps to good sleep hygiene:
- Stick to a sleep schedule
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink
- Create a restful environment
- Limit daytime naps
- Include physical activity in your daily routine
- Manage worries. While some of these steps are easily attainable others (like managing worries) are not as easily accomplished.
Setting a good sleep schedule can put you in a good “rhythm” so to speak. Your brain releases melatonin when you are ready to fall asleep. This chemical (the same one you can get at Ralphs) regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It’s release is triggered by darkness and it’s important to have it released around the same time each night. If you go to bed one night at 3 am and the next night at 10 pm you can confuse your brain and you’ll end up waking up too early or too late.
Diet and exercise are great for your body but they are also important for your brain. When you exercise not only do you release natural endorphins (feel good chemicals), but you also take your focus off daily worries. This is also the secret to accomplishing step #6, managing worries. If you can get in a regular exercise habit and eat the right food, you’ll be able to manage stress much better. This will leave you thinking more clearly and it will prevent you from ruminating before you fall asleep.
Limiting daytime naps can be hard for some people. If you work from home (many people these days) or have long breaks, this can be even more challenging. Try not to take multiple naps during the day if possible. Sleeping later in the day or closer to the time you go to bed can make it hard to fall asleep at night.
Arguably the most important step is creating a restful environment. This means limiting visual exposure to blue light (cellphones, laptops, tv) before you fall asleep. Lights, colors and motion can stimulate your brain and make it harder to shut down when you’re ready to sleep. The best environment for sleep is a cool dark room with minimal noise. Having ambient background noise is ok or using some sort of meditation or sleep story app can be helpful. Try to shut the TV off and put your cellphone down about 30 mins before your target sleep time.
If all else fails contact a health care practitioner. Chronic sleep issues can be a sign of something more serious like sleep apnea, endocrine issues or other serious health conditions. For the most part sleep is fixable one way or another.
Let’s beat your anxiety and depression together.