Don’t hit the snooze: Improving your sleep habits

Jessica Hunt, LSW

Therapist at Hope Centered Counseling

We can sometimes take for granted our need for sleep. And, yet it is critical. It impacts our energy during the day, our ability to focus and concentrate, and reduces stress. These are only a few of the undeniable effects of getting a good night of rest. So how can you work toward getting this needed shut eye on daily basis?
While you may be aware of some of these suggestions, here are some practical reminders that might help you improve your sleep:
1. Follow a regular sleep schedule and prioritize getting good sleep.  You want to aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Setting your clock for the same time each day can help and eventually your body’s internal clock should help you to get up automatically at the same time each day. Resist the urge to hit that snooze button though! You also want to resist the temptation to sleep in more during the weekends or when traveling because this will throw off your internal clock.
If you need to change your sleep times then you will want to make gradual adjustments. Your body will be thrown off if you make drastic changes too soon.
2. Avoid consuming caffeine (found in soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate) later in the day. Caffeine will make it harder for you to relax and get to sleep.
3. Do not eat large meals close to bedtime because they will likely keep you awake. In addition, you do not want to drink a large amount of liquids 1-2 hours before bedtime. At the same time, some people benefit from having a light, healthy snack before going to bed.
4. Exercise at regular times since people tend to sleep better when they do. Exercise brings an array of physical and mental health benefits discussed in my prior blog post. Make sure that you do not exercise within 3 hours of your bedtime.
5. Use low lighting in the evenings. This will allow your eyes to adjust better when it is time to turn in for the night. Having a night light could be valuable for some individuals.
6. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. You do not want to wake up in the middle of the night to adjust the room if you get too hot. You want to take seasonal changes into mind and change the warmth of your blankets and sheets, as necessary.
7. Avoid taking a nap during the late afternoon or evening. It is suggested that you take naps between 1-4 p.m. Still, naps may not be helpful for everyone so take your specific needs, circumstances and schedule into consideration. If you do prefer naps, the ideal length is between 10-20 minutes to reenergize you. Set an alarm so you do not sleep too long.
8. Develop a calming bedtime routine. 30 minutes for winding down will help you ease into sleep. This may consist of reading a book, breathing, meditation, taking a relaxing bath, or listening to soothing music. You should use your bedroom only for sleeping if possible.
9. Try not to watch TV or use your computer, cell phone or tablet in the bedroom or before sleep. The light from these devices will hinder your ability to fall asleep. Exciting or unsettling shows or movies may keep you awake. Reading in bed itself could also make it harder to sleep.
10. Alcohol will not assist with sleep and even small amounts will make it difficult. You will also want to be aware of medications or other substances that could impact your ability to sleep.
11. If you are having difficulty falling asleep, allow yourself 20 minutes to try. If you are not drowsy after that, you should get out of bed and do something quiet and with little stimulation. Go back to bed once you feel sleepy.
12. To reduce worry or anxiety, you will want to hide your clock and keep it out of sight while sleeping.
There may be other strategies not discussed here that may benefit your sleep, but this be a start to improving your ability to get that quality of sleep you deserve each day.

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