Good sleep…we all want it, but for some, we just can’t seem to get it. Some have difficulties initiating sleep and some struggle to sustain it throughout the night. There are others who also cannot obtain satisfying sleep. Not only can sleep deprivation impact our health, but it can significantly impact our mood, causing or contributing to anxiety and depression. Daytime activities can be impacted by consistent sleepiness, trouble with concentration, irritability, and heightened emotions. Simple daily tasks, such as cleaning up your child’s spilled cup of milk, can seem like a much greater challenge. If your sleep troubles are the result of a known medical or psychiatric condition, options should be discussed with your doctor. However, the following are some suggestions to help you overcome sleep difficulties:
· Create a sleep schedule. Regardless of how much sleep you actually got on a particular night, wake up at the same time every day. Avoid sleeping in on weekends even if you are able to. Also, avoid daytime napping as it partially satisfies your sleep needs and weakens nighttime sleep. If you must nap, keep it to less than an hour and before 3:00pm.
· If you can’t sleep, get up. If you lay in bed and try to sleep but it doesn’t come after about 20 minutes, get up and engage in something mundane or dull. Laying in bed for longer can lead to frustration and anxiety about not being able to fall asleep and worrying about how you will be or feel the next day. Avoid looking at your phone or television as the light from the screen can be more stimulating. Reading is a good option. Try getting back to bed only when you feel sleepy.
· Bed is for sleeping. Try to use your bed only for sleeping. Watch t.v. or read on a couch or somewhere other than your bed. You want to enhance the association between your bed and sleep.
· Monitor your thoughts. Try not to plan, worry, or problem solve while you are trying to fall asleep. These mental activities can be arousing and anxiety provoking. Turn your mind to more neutral thoughts such as visualizing calming places.
· Limit caffeine and alcohol as both can make it harder to get a good night of sleep. Caffeine, a stimulant, can stay in your system for hours after consumption. As for alcohol, although a drink or two may leave you feeling more drowsy and ready for sleep, it usually causes more broken and less refreshing sleep.
· Exercise. Improving your fitness level or even including moderate exercise into your daily life can lead to better deep sleep at night. You may find that you have more energy after exercising, which is helpful in the morning through early evening. However, avoid heavy exercising right before bed as it may make is harder to fall asleep.
· Watch what and when you eat. If you are having trouble falling asleep at night, try to avoid eating large, heavy meals close to bedtime. Have dinner earlier and if necessary, try a light bedtime snack. Milk, cheese, or peanut butter are good options as they may bring on drowsiness.
· Conditions of your room. You want your room to enforce sleep. Keep the temperature low and minimize light and noise.
Finally, monitor your expectations about sleep and how you should feel. The average person needs 6-8 hours of sleep at night, but this is not a true fit for all. Some need more and some need less. Find what is appropriate for you. Now, if you feel you have always been consistent in your amount of sleep time but are still feeling more tired than usual, there is a natural process we need to understand. Throughout the night, our sleep goes through multiple stages from dreamless light sleep and deep sleep to active dreaming (REM). These stages cycle through the night. As we age, we tend to spend less time in the deepest parts of sleep; therefore sleep may be noticeably less restorative. Therefore, we need to accept that we may never bounce out of bed in morning with the energy of a child. Hopefully this acceptance can lead to less anxiety or frustration around sleep.
Maintaining good sleep hygiene is just one way to help control anxiety. If you are a mom and interested in learning more about gaining control of anxiety please explore the Moms With Anxiety Group at the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy. This is a small, confidential, and supportive group that meets to explore and discuss skills to cope with anxiety or stress related to being a mother and balancing all that comes our way.
Dr. Andrea Tesher, Psy.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, specializing in the treatment of adults with anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, difficulties regulating emotions, relationship problems and women's issues.