Sleep Skills – Sleep hygiene

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sleep

Child sleeping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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?

You might want to take a look at other posts on:

Sleep

Dreams and Nightmares 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Sleep and Mental Illness connection

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sleep

Child sleeping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Does poor sleep cause mental illness or does mental illness keep you from sleeping?

There is a huge connection between mental health issues and insomnia. This fact has been recognized for a long time and its recognition has been built into most of the diagnostic codes.

Some recent studies are making mental health professionals question if have gotten the connections right. Could be there are more connections between sleep and good mental health than we thought.

Sleep disturbances are a diagnostic feature of Major Depressive Disorder. Typical depression includes the inability to sleep. Depression with atypical features is characterized by excessive sleeping. Clients might describe this as hibernating in bed. But depression is not the only mental illness in which sleep features play a role.

Bipolar disorder requires a period of mania or hypomania for diagnosis. One key feature of the “mania spectrum” is needing less or very little sleep and being able to function on reduced sleep. I don’t recall ever reading about a “mania spectrum” but the variability of the way clients report manic-like symptoms is making me think that there is a continuum of manic symptoms just like the continuum of other disorders.

There are specific sleep disorders but as a counselor and therapist, I don’t believe I have ever been called on to work in that area. Most sleep disorders are seen as more medical problems. It is only when a lack of sleep or excessive sleep begins to affect someone’s overall mental health that we counselors get to talk with them.

One health concern has become that increasing weight, the epidemic of obesity it has been called, can cause poor sleep. So we need to wonder if inactivity, excess calories and weight gain are harming our mental as well as our physical health.

There is also a connection between poor sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) Nightmares, as well as daytime intrusive memories, are considered symptoms of PTSD. We probably should observe a distinction between bad dreams and nightmares. With bad dreams, people do not awaken until the morning and may or may not have detailed memories of the dream. Sometimes others around them are aware they had a bad dream even if the dreamer is not aware.

Nightmares are much nastier creatures. They are characterized by strong negative emotions and frequent “awakenings” from the dream. People who have nightmares are much more likely to remember them because they keep waking up.

We also know that having nightmares will prolong the symptoms of PTSD. In a previous post, I wrote about the way in which nightmares play a role in maintaining PTSD symptoms. Nightmares and dreams, good or bad dreams are strongly connected to spiritual, religious and cultural values. Some people also see nightmares as warnings about the future and as a source of intuition. Given that past experiences are a basis for dreams and that what happened in the past may happen again, dreaming about worries would seem to be a normal phenomenon.

What if we have this all backwards? Could a sleep disruption be a cause of mental illness rather than a symptom or a maintenance factor?

One study of veterans of the Iraq war looked at the relationship between insomnia and PTSD. Now this is just one study so the results are preliminary and more studies may not get the same result, still, the results were surprising.

What they found was that for these veterans the insomnia came BEFORE the PTSD symptoms. Insomnia 4 months after returning from deployment predicted the development of PTSD symptoms at 8 months post-deployment (Wright, Et al., 2011.) It seems likely that an increase in anxiety resulting from being in a risky situation could cause sleep disruptions and the result, much later, would be episodes of mental health problems.

Their suggestion and there was a lot more to this study was that sleep functioned as an emotional regulator. So insomnia may be both a symptom of, and a cause of, mental illness. An increase in insomnia predicted who would develop depression as much as three years later.

Good self-care, including a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep hygiene has long been an integral part of relapse prevention in substance abuse. We are also seeing that relapse prevention is an important part of mental health recovery.

What if sleep changes could be an effective predictor of mental health relapse? In what ways might we be able to improve our sleep and thereby improve our mental health?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Treatment for teen’s risky behavior

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Teens

Teenagers.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

An amazing discovery in the treatment of risky teen behavior was reported over the last several weeks. It went largely unnoticed by most mainstream media.

Furthermore, one single treatment has been shown to have high efficacy in treating teen risky behavior. It is extremely inexpensive and can be obtained and applied without a prescription. The treatment, while often resisted by teens with high-risk behaviors, has been shown to not only be effective under a wide range of conditions but to treat a large number of undesirable teen behaviors at a very minimal expense.

In a startling report, two researchers for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia found after studying data for over 12,00 U. S. high school students that a single deficiency coexisted with a huge increase in teens risky behavior. While the government report was reluctant to say that this deficiency was the cause of risky teen behavior, they speculate that this one key ingredient might reduce overall risk-taking in teens significantly.

Unfortunate this key ingredient cannot be prescribed directly because it is not USDA approved for over the counter sales and is, in fact, available without a prescription. This one single item, not yet patented by a drug company, is available to almost all U. S.citizens for free.

High School students who were deficient in this one key item, and almost 70 percent of our teens were deficient, were almost two times more likely to be smokers. A continued deficiency if this ingredient, reported being necessary for happiness, resulted in a 50% increase in marijuana and alcohol use.

Long-term deficiencies in this factor were correlated with a huge increase in teen sexual activity. That was surprising since we most often have studied added factors that might cause an increase in sexual activity. Not many people would believe that a deficiency in a single ingredient necessary for life might increase the sexual activity of teens.

But wait – there is more, this deficiency doubled the risk for a suicide attempt. It was also related to getting into physical fights and being sad and hopeless. Kids who had this deficiency were also likely to be overweight, get less exercise and generally have a less healthy lifestyle.

So what was this deficiency? And how can we supplement teen’s lives to overcome this insufficiency?

The deficiency was a lack of sleep! Sleep deprivation was significant in kids with all these problems. And the one simple cure was more sleep!

Now teens will resist sleeping more, especially sleeping during the night. It appears that most teens are truly nocturnal creatures. More than one adolescent who was brought in to the psychiatric facility has confided to me that they rarely get much sleep at night. An increasing number of kids have T. V.’s and computers in their bedrooms. Many are online texting friends or playing games until close to morning. They have to set alarm clocks to wake up and even then they often can’t quite get it together in the morning.

Eventually, a teen who stays up most of the night finds they can’t function in the daytime. They are at risk to fall asleep at school, cut class or just plain be grouchy and get into fights and other negative behavior.

So it just might be that one thing a parent might do to improve their teen’s life is to make sure that child is getting enough sleep, even if that means restricting electronic avoidance of sleep.

Be careful if you teen has been avoiding sleep on a regular basis. If you suddenly try to take away their electronic addiction your teen may go into electronic withdrawal. During withdrawal from electronic sleep avoidance teens have been known to become grouchy, throw things break things, swear or even threaten to harm themselves or others. In extreme cases, you may need professional help to get the teen back on a night-time sleep schedule. But if your teen is having difficulties in life you just might want to examine their sleep habits and see if more sleep might improve their mood and behavior.

More sleep might improve your mood and emotions also. What do you think?

Till next time. David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.