Why sleep is important and sleep tips to help
Sleep is a fundamental part of both of your physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is linked to several negative health effects such as decreased cognition, lower athletic performance, increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, higher risk of depression, poor immune function, and increased inflammation.
Despite the importance of sleep being a widespread topic, many adults have trouble with sleeping. Between 10 and 30 percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia (Bhaskar et al., 2016). Demographics also play a factor. Women have a 40 percent higher risk of lifetime insomnia compared to men (Mong & Cusmano, 2016). Single parents, working adults, active duty service members, and employees in production industries all report receiving insufficient sleep as well (NCHS, 2014). If you are currently struggling with sleep, you are not alone.
Although not a substitute for therapy, we hope that the sleep tips outlined in this blog post can help if you are struggling with sleep issues.
Sleep tips from psychologists
- Go to bed when you are sleepy
Our first sleep tip is to go to bed when you feel sleepy, not tired. Being sleepy means that your eyes are starting to close and you are ready to sleep. Being tired on the other hand, simply means you are fatigued and lack energy. If you often find yourself lying down to sleep but fail to do so, it may mean your body is tired but not yet at the point of sleepiness. Be mindful of how sleepy and tired feel differently for you both in the day and evening.
- Reduce blue light exposure
Our second sleep tip is to reduce blue light exposure at night time. Blue light tricks your brain into believing it is still daytime and therefore reduces production of melatonin, or your body’s sleep hormone. We recognize that it is probably unrealistic for most people’s lifestyles to completely avoid screens at night. Instead, try wearing blue light glasses, installing a blue light filter on your laptop or computer, setting your phone to night mode, and dimming any bright lights several hours before going to bed.
- Do not clock watch
Another sleep tool is to not watch the clock. We all know the frustration of being unable to fall asleep, checking the clock, and doing mental math of how many hours of sleep we are getting. You are not alone if you do this. However, clock watching can increase your anxiety which in turn only makes it harder to fall asleep. We want to reduce things that increase anxiety while in bed. Instead, try putting the clock in the drawer of your nightstand where you cannot see it. Resist the urge to check your phone when you are trying to sleep as well.
- Try a worry block
Sleep tip number four is to use a worry block. If you lie in bed and tend to worry, try to implement a worry block where you worry at a certain time during the day. Pick the same time each day and the same place to worry. Set a timer and allow yourself that entire time to worry. You can start with setting a timer for 15 minutes, and if that doesn’t feel like enough, then increase the time. If a worry pops up at night, you can write it down and say “I’ll worry about it during my worry block” and allow it to escape your head for the time being. You can write the worry you have down in a notepad that you keep next to your bed.
- Try to wake up around the same time every day
Another helpful sleep tip is to try to wake up at around the same time each day. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm syncs with sunrise and sunset. Being consistent with sleep times can help your sleep quality in the long-term. Our bodies thrive on routines. Additionally, irregular sleep patterns can have a negative effect on your natural circadian rhythm and affect your melatonin production, ultimately leading to trouble falling asleep. Although it may take a few weeks for your body to adjust to a regular wake schedule, it will ultimately become accustomed to it and allow you to sleep better and longer.
- Don’t stress about getting 8 hours of sleep
Our final sleep tip is to not stress about getting 8 hours of sleep. We hear this golden number everywhere and tend to believe that we must be getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night. However, this is just an average and not what everyone needs. You may need more or less. Try to listen to how your body feels to determine what the best amount of sleep is for you personally. Listen to how sleepy you feel during the day with certain amounts of sleep.
Life gets in the way and sometimes we can’t get enough sleep while other times we are more relaxed and can sleep more. When you are more stressed it is common for sleep to be impacted. Worrying about a magic 8 hours can just make things worse. We imagine there are times where you slept less than 8 hours and were ok! If you worry about getting enough sleep, know that therapy can help target these beliefs and reduce your worry.
Using these sleep tips
It may seem overwhelming to implement all of these sleep tips into your daily routine at once. To make the transition easier on you, try to incorporate just one of the sleep tips into your life. Keep it up for a few weeks and then add in another one. Over time, the initial sleep related changes will become a habit and adding in new ones will become more natural. If you feel that any of these sleep tips are not right for you, feel free to omit them from your routine. Do what feels best for you and your lifestyle at this moment in time.
Therapy for sleep
We hope that our six sleep tips for better sleep are helpful to you and your sleeping patterns. If implementing the above sleep tips did not work for you or you feel like you could benefit from therapy for sleep, do not hesitate to reach out to us and schedule a consultation.
If your sleep struggles have been going on for some time, it is likely that therapy with someone who has specific training in insomnia would be beneficial. Our psychologists specialize in a range of issues, including insomnia and other sleep troubles. In therapy for insomnia, our licensed psychologists are able to use CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) which is a research supported approach to improve insomnia.
Thank you to Rumi Petrova, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness intern, for help with this blog post