Legend says that when you can’t sleep at night, it is because you are awake in someone else’s dreams. Although that is a charming tale, experiencing temporary or ongoing changes in sleep can take a toll on your ability to enjoy life and feel your best. This year’s Sleep Awareness Week is March 11th-17th, and it is a good time to take a moment to assess the quality of your sleep. The most common sleep problem that people experience is insomnia, defined as difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. This is often brought on by the many stressors we experience every day. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” or habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis, can often be the key to sound sleep and sweet dreams.
The following list of symptoms from the Cleveland Clinic indicate you might not be getting an adequate amount of sleep: · falling asleep while driving · struggling to stay awake when inactive, like when reading or watching TV · difficulty paying attention or concentrating · performance problems at work or school · often hearing from others that you look sleepy · difficulty with your memory · slowed responses · difficulty controlling your emotions · needing to take naps almost every day
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are easy steps you can take to establish good sleep habits. First of all, there are several things to be avoided in the quest for a good night’s rest. A nap often seems like a practical solution to daytime sleepiness after a restless night. However, the National Sleep Foundation says that napping does not make up for inadequate sleep. Furthermore, they advise that a nap to enhance alertness should not exceed 30 minutes. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime is also helpful, as is ensuring moderation in the use of alcohol. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep more quickly, it can also “disrupt sleep in the second half of the night when the body begins to process the alcohol.” Bedtime snacks should be light and free of carbonated beverages and heavy, spicy foods to reduce the risk of heartburn or indigestion that disrupt the sleep cycle.
Other things that are beneficial to quality sleep are exercise and exposure to natural light whenever possible. Ten minutes of daily aerobic exercise, like walking or biking, preferably outside in the daylight, is all it takes to promote better sleep. Having a regular bedtime routine that is pleasant and relaxing is essential and helps your body recognize that it is time for sleep. A comfortable, cool sleep environment, free from light and electronics is ideal.
Although many sleep problems are temporary and can be managed with changes in routines, if you are having a particular problem with sleep that goes on for a period of time you might want to consult with your doctor, a sleep specialist, or bring it up to your therapist.
Sources: What is Sleep Hygiene? – National Sleep Foundation – Sleep Disorders: When to Seek Help – Cleveland Clinic
Learn more about the author of this post: Marsha Brock, LCPC