Getting Back to the Basics of Mental Well Being: Sleep

If you are like me, you may have a tendency to over complicate things. It does not help that all of us have within reach a little hand held computer (that some people actually make phone calls on) that allows us to fall into the rabbit holes of endless research. I recently googled, “how to be mentally healthy” and received 95,100,000 results in .56 seconds. If we are struggling with depression and anxiety and try to seek answers online for help, 95 million results can be incredibly overwhelming. Which one actually works? Which one is an elusive waste of time and money? If we weren’t feeling discouraged before we started searching for answers, we may certainly be after researching all of these options. So many of the self-help books, ideas and products being marketed really come down to the same principles, each with a different slant. Unfortunately, at times, we mistake the idea’s level of sophistication for its ability to actually make a meaningful impact on our well-being.

SLEEP

We are often inundated with often times overt, but usually subvert messages that to get adequate sleep means that we are not ambitious enough. Sleep is often identified as lazy, indulgent or a “treat.” We get messages that if we are putting our sleep as a priority, we are not as ambitious or as driven as our peers. We could not have gotten it more wrong with this line of thinking as it pertains to sleep. Research tells us that getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night can lead to: memory issues, mood changes, weakened immunity, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, trouble with concentration and memory, high blood pressure and weight gain. How can we be productive, ambitious, centered and mentally well with these additional complications mixed into the challenges of life? If we want to feel better, we have to make sleep a priority. We have to protect this time for ourselves and not consider it an indulgence, but as necessary as the oxygen we need to survive. Just like we cannot build a house on a foundation of sand and expect it weather a storm, we cannot build an emotional healthy life on a sleep deprived foundation.

Getting a good night’s sleep is sometimes easier said than done, but here are some ideas to pursue:

  • Have a consistent bed time and routine, that is free from any electronic devices two hours before bedtime (electronic devices emit blue light, which has been found to be disruptive to sleep).
  • Have a dark room for sleep, with lower temperature and comfortable bedding.
  • Avoid naps, as napping can be incredibly disruptive to sleep routines. It may take a couple of miserable days without having that nap to make up for the poor night’s sleep you had prior, but in the long run, it is worth it to establish a better routine.
  • Avoid large meals and alcohol before bedtime, limit exposure to caffeine after 12:00 p.m. Again, a couple of days without that mid-afternoon caffeinated pick-me-up might feel brutal, but think long run here.
  • Get physical exercise during the day, preferably earlier in the day.
  • If you wake in the middle of the night and cannot fall back to sleep, after 5-10 minutes, try leaving the room and sitting in a dark room or reading a book (no electronics or internet during this time).
  • Get sunlight during the day.
  • Stay calm if you cannot sleep. Do no engage in such activities as worrying about how much less sleep you are going to get or predict how tired you are going to be the following day.
  • If you have racing thoughts or inability to relax at night, listen to a yoga nidra guided meditation (there are great options on www.youtube.com) or use a meditation app designed for sleep.

Tried these tips and still can’t sleep? Maybe it is time to speak with your medical provider about pharmacological options. And above all, do not give up. If it were easy to establish a healthy sleep routine, everyone would just do it. Think of these steps as an investment in future well being!

Good luck and happy sleeping!

Take good care, Sarah

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