By: Erica K. Cieri, LCSW – Therapist and Trainer at Made to Thrive
Have you ever seen a little kid fall asleep at the weirdest times? In the middle of a meal, a fireworks show, even on the toilet? There is almost no limit to where kids fall asleep.
Don’t you miss that? As kids we don’t seem to think about sleep at all. Or if we do, we try to avoid it to get the last few minutes of freedom outside, a few last minutes of a TV show, or the last bite of a popsicle. But sleep came, whether we wanted it to or not. I remember the first time I thought about sleep was high school. As a senior, I was attending classes, doing homework, and training with the crew team all while applying to colleges. Sleep was hard to come by. As adults, sleep can feel so elusive. Stress alone can keep us tossing and turning. But sleep is especially hard when you are dealing with a compounding issue like anxiety. In fact, unless sleeplessness is caused by a medical condition of side effect to a medication, anxiety is the most likely culprit.
We need sleep.
When we think of basic needs, the phrase “food, water, shelter” is what first comes to mind. But what we have to add to that is sleep! It is VITAL to our health, both mentally and physically. Do you know what happens when you don’t sleep for more than 3 days? You can start hallucinating! Not good.
Anyone who has had a bad night of sleep knows that it impacts your concentration, your ability to focus, and your moods. What chronic sleep deprivation can do is impact your physical health through increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and play a role in weight gain. What a lack of sleep does is make you unstable, both physically and mentally. It makes you shaky, light headed and can give you headaches. Mentally, when you deal with anxiety, it can be a viscious cycle. Anxiety keeps you awake, lack of sleep makes you more anxious, which keeps you awake…and so on.
I know I need sleep, now how do I get it?
There are so many ways you can improve your sleep. Here are a few of my go to tips for improving sleep.
1. Prioritize sleep. You run into a friend you haven’t seen for a while. She looks great! You ask her what she’s doing differently. She tells you that she has been exercising almost every day. “I always said I never had the time” , she says. “But then I made my schedule and I fiercely protected that time.” When someone who has successfully started a habit, they often tell you that they just had to prioritize that time and not let anything else steal that time away. The same should be true for sleep!
Schedule yourself a bedtime, and set your alarm for a time to wake up. Then protect that time fiercely. Try not to let other things creep in, like one more peek at your social media feed…Try and maintain that sleep schedule, even on the weekends. This will help your body stay in routine and have a natural cue to get to sleep.
2. Do what your doctor tells you. Ask any primary doctor and they will likely give the same tips and tricks for sleep that we all know (but often ignore). Or check out the wikihow article here.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed
- Don’t use your bed for anything but sleep…and, well, you know. Don’t read, watch TV, or do work in your bed. This will help your mind associate your bed with only sleep
- Limit screen time before bed. Keep your phone in another room, if you can. Science continues to prove that electronic light messes with our natural sleep cycles [insert citation here].
- Listen to music or soft talking, such as a TV show or podcast, that is barely audible. This can sometimes distract your brain enough to go to sleep.
- Give yourself at most thirty minutes to fall asleep. This is another way to tell your mind it’s time to sleep in the long term. If you are still struggling to sleep after half an hour, get up out of bed. Take a little walk, have a light snack (apple, glass of milk), or even try reading an uninteresting book. When you start to feel sleepy, get back in bed and try again.
3. Calm your mind. We’ve all been there. You wake up at and your brain decides this is a perfect time to worry about all of the things on your to do list for the next day. You glance at the clock and it’s 3am. Anxiety kicks into high gear as you worry about not getting enough sleep the next day.
Don’t catastrophize. No, you may not get the best night’s sleep. In fact, you may get very little sleep at all. And yes, that will make tomorrows tasks more difficult. But it won’t be the end of the world. You’ve gotten through days where you haven’t slept before, and you can do it again. Reminding yourself of this can help you to stay calm and keep you more relaxed.
If you find you can’t fall asleep due to anxious thoughts, keep a notepad by your bed. Jot down the to dos that are swimming around, keeping you awake. Sometimes just committing something to paper reassures your brain that it doesn’t have to remember it and can provide a sense of peace.
*Keep in mind that most relaxation techniques you use to combat your anxiety during the day can also be used to help calm your mind at night ( Deep breathing, mental imagery, distraction, etc.).
4. Ground yourself. Sometimes getting out of our own head can be all we need to fall asleep. Stop focusing on your thoughts and instead focus on your body. What can you feel? Do you feel the coolness of the sheets? Do you feel your head on the pillow? Can you feel your shoulder on the bed? Do you feel your hip on the bed? What can you smell? Taste? Hear? Focusing on these senses can help us escape the spiral of anxious thoughts and fall asleep.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
These are just some of the techniques there are to try and regain your sleep again. It takes effort, and maybe they won’t work every time (so try another!), but it is SO worth it. Getting enough sleep makes you feel more in control, makes your emotions easier to manage, improves your overall health, and helps you think clearly. Really it just makes life better.
Sleep well, friends.
Are there any tips and tricks that you’ve used to get to sleep easier? Please post them in the comments below.
If you find you are still struggling to regain your sleep, please make an appointment with us today by clicking here.
Erica K. Cieri, LCSW is a therapist and trainer at Made to Thrive in Williamsville, NY. She specializes in working with kids, teens and college students dealing with anxiety, behavior problems, tough relationships and difficulty managing their emotions. She collaborates with her clients to develop strategies to manage their current issues, but also to discover long term how to find peace. Erica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.