It’s that time of year again – Daylight Saving Time (unless you are lucky enough to live in Arizona or Hawaii where they do not observe it). It’s amazing how disruptive a one-hour shift can be to our sleep routine.
Solid, restful sleep is a gift that we don’t truly appreciate until it’s gone. In our younger years, we take for granted the ability to quickly fall asleep and stay there, despite alarms, parents’ pleas, or bright morning sunshine. As adults, there are countless things that interrupt our natural sleep cycle — stress, children, pain, hormones, time changes — and quality sleep becomes elusive.
Restorative sleep is a vital component of health and deserves our full attention. During sleep, the body repairs muscles and tissues, releases human growth hormone, and replenishes energy stores for the next day. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is especially important for organizing neural networks that play an essential role in memory consolidation and learning.
Disrupted sleep also has a significant effect on our mood and quality of life. Sleep problems have a bidirectional relationship with depression, being both a symptom and contributing factor to the development of this disease.
It is no secret that poor sleep makes us irritable and grumpy, so what can we do to improve it?
Healthy Sleep Habits
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including the weekends. A sleep schedule not only helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle but also reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
To establish a schedule, select the time you want to wake up. Regardless of when you go to bed, wake at the designated time.
The first few nights, you might sleep fewer hours than you like, but keeping your morning routine consistent will help your body more quickly adjust to the new schedule.
Move your body
Daily exercise improves both sleep quality and quantity. If you want to rest better, physical activity will help.
Spend time outdoors
Light also plays an important role in rest by helping to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. During the day, ensure adequate exposure to natural light by going outside or opening the blinds in your house. At night, keep your bedroom as dark as possible by eliminating all unnecessary light sources. Insufficient darkness can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Limit screen time
If you have sleep difficulties, remove electronic devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones from the bedroom. Research reveals that the blue light from screens suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, making it more difficult to fall and remain asleep.
It is best to turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed. You can spend this time reading, meditating, listening to soft music, or writing in a journal.
What if I Can’t Fall Asleep?
Anxiety and stress can make it difficult to fall asleep. Before going to bed, put your mind to rest by journaling any lingering or troubling thoughts.
Pay particular attention to your self-talk. If you are engaging in negative thinking before bed, such as “I never sleep well”, “I’m not going to fall asleep”, or “Nothing helps”, this will only increase your anxiety.
Challenge your self-defeating thoughts by asking yourself:
- Is there a possibility that tonight will be different than previous nights?
- What have I done today to increase the likelihood that I will sleep better tonight?
After emptying your mind of unhelpful thoughts, you can calm your body using relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or visual imagery. For more specific details on these techniques, please see this article.
“Many things — such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly — are done worst when we try hardest to do them.”
Despite your best efforts, if you have not fallen asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and engage in a screen-free, calming activity. When you find yourself yawning and feeling sleepy, return to bed. If you don’t fall asleep within twenty minutes, get up and do the whole process again.
When you limit the time spent lying awake in bed, you associate the bed with sleeping rather than tossing and turning. When you establish a clear association between bed and sleeping, you will find that you fall asleep faster when you get into bed.
What if I Can't Stay Asleep?
When you wake in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check the time. Time checking is disruptive because you begin to internally calculate how many hours you have left in the night. When you start thinking about the time, this triggers anxiety which activates your body and makes it difficult to return to sleep.
If you wake unexpectedly, without looking at the clock, simply try to go back to sleep. If you are unable to quickly return to sleep, try progressive muscle relaxation or cognitive distraction techniques.
After roughly 20 minutes, if you are still awake, get out of bed, move to a different room, and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Do not force yourself to remain in bed if you are awake, as this will only frustrate you.
Poor sleep is a call to action. It takes time to create a healthy sleep routine, but with practice, you will sleep better.
What steps can you take tonight for a better tomorrow?
Originally published on ConqueringCognitions.com. Please follow me on Newsbreak for more articles on healthy living, self-care, and personal growth.