By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Do you have good sleep skills?
How did you learn to get a good night sleep? If you are like many of us, the sleep skills you learned taught you how to have insomnia, bad dreams and a host of other sleep issues.
When you are young you do not want to go to sleep. Many children resist sleep and bedtimes with a vengeance. What you may have been taught, by example if not by words, was that sleeping was a punishment and staying awake as long as possible was some sort of reward for becoming that mythical creature we all aspire to become “an adult.”
Sleep, too many of us, appears to be the result of doing and going until you wear yourself out and then you drop into an exhausted state of unconsciousness that passes for sleep. What gets missed in this equation are the many benefits of getting a good night’s sleep and how you develop the skills to have that restful sleep. One name for sleep skills is sleep hygiene.
The benefits of being a good sleeper.
Lots of good things happen to you when you sleep. Memories get consolidated and stored. Poor sleep reduces your ability to remember things and make sense of the world around you. A well-rested person is more alert and finds it far easier to “pay attention.”
During the day your brain does a lot of work. Even if you are engaged in a physically demanding endeavor you mind still consumes a lot of calories thinking about and directing all the other things you do. Your brain consumes somewhere between 20% and 25% of all the calories you use every day. Burning all those calories creates a lot of waste.
Most people understand that more exercise means more waste products. You eliminate the waste and you feel better. Exercise more and if calories taken in stay constant, you can expect to lose some weight. Wastes accumulated in your brain get cleared out at night while you sleep.
Poor sleep and you end up with a “trashy” mind which has difficulty with focus, concentration, and creativity.
Sleep skills can be learned.
Being a good sleeper is a matter of choices you make. There are secrets to most things in life. A good teacher or coach can show you how to improve your game. You can learn how to be a better, more rested sleeper by learning and then practicing a few basic sleep skills. Here are a few of the basic sleep skills.
To sleep, you need a cool down period.
Between running around and falling asleep give yourself some time to decompress. Most people go and go and then leap into bed expecting to fall right to sleep. You need some cooldown time. Stop activities thirty to sixty minutes before bedtime. If you do any exercise do the slow mindful type not the strenuous kind in those last few minutes.
Unplug from electronics. Those bright lights hitting your eye condition you for more awake time. Reduce the light. Relax and get yourself in the state to sleep.
Avoid stimulants at bedtime.
Do not drink coffee, tea, energy drinks or other stimulant beverages in the afternoon. Pay attention to the last one you had and see how this impacts your sleep. Some people can drink coffee late in the day and still sleep, others are more sensitive and even coffee at lunch will impact their sleep.
Train your brain to expect to sleep in bed.
Our brains quickly associate places with the thing you do there. Do not abuse the bed. Lounging around in bed reduces the sleep-bed connection. Use the bed only for sleep and sex. Your brain can connect sex with lots of locations but it won’t connect sleep with standing up. Do not confuse the default setting in your brain by expecting it to stay awake and social media surf one time while another time you ask it to sleep in bed.
Clear your mind of worries before going to bed.
Use whatever practice works best for you to clear out the problems and worries from the day before trying to sleep. Pray and turn the worries over to your higher power, journal out those thoughts. You may be able to call someone and talk about your concerns before bedtime.
Empty your head of things you need to remember to do in the future. Writing this down can help get them off your mind.
Have a set bedtime and a time to get up.
It can be hard to adjust to changes. Sleep is no exception to that rule. If every night you hit the sack at a different time your brain does not know when to let you get sleepy. Set a constant time and do your best to stick to it. People who stick to a wake-up time even on the days off find that their body adjusts and lets them know when it is time to sleep.
If you have different times for getting up and going to bed on the weekend it makes it more difficult to switch back and forth. The result may be waking up at the right time despite staying up late. Many people create a sleep deficit over the weekend.
Avoid daytime naps.
Taking daytime naps results in not being able to sleep when bedtime comes. Staying up till your tired can leave you exhausted the next day. Over time these daytime naps shift your schedule and can make it harder to switch back when you have to stay awake for the full day.
Develop a bedtime routine.
Running around frantically at bedtime wakes you up. You need a routine to let you wind down and get ready to sleep. Having a pre-bed routine reduces those last-minute things that need to be done and keep you up late.
Create a comfortable sleep place.
Dark sleep places help you sleep. Look for ways to reduce stray light. Turn off the electronics. Screen light tricks your brain into thinking you need to stay up a bit longer.
Do you sleep better when it is quiet? Do your best to curtail ambient noise. Earplugs work for some. If you prefer noise to drown out other sounds around you look for something that will not be diverting your attention. Background music may be helpful in managing the sound environment.
Cool temperatures help get the body ready for sleep. In hot climates or in the summer mouths coolness may be at a premium. If you don’t have or can’t afford air conditioning opt for a fan or fans that move the air over you. Feeling cooler at night than you did while awake will increase the chances of a restful night’s sleep.
Weed out life factors – shift work or recent stressful events.
Shift work can alter your sleep cycle. Some people can adjust while others never seem to. If you work when others sleep and sleep when others are up you will need to look for ways to accommodate that schedule. Some of this will be environmental things like darkness and consistency.
If you find that stress, anxiety or trauma is impacting your ability to sleep, consider counseling or other help in reducing that stress. Mindfulness or meditation training can help.
Those are some thoughts on developing good sleep skills. Have you found any other things that improve your ability to sleep?
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