Sleep-related problems such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg affect 70 million Americans. Research has suggested that insufficient sleep can actually be damaging to the cells of the brain. So, this year make a resolution to sleep not only to sleep more but to sleep better.
We all need sleep to live; and to live healthy, it is necessary to get regular routines of sleep. Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep is determined as much by our daily activity as well as the number of hours of sleep that we get.
It is important to be aware of our sleep and wake cycles and the effect that light has on these as a start. Especially in the winter months when we have less exposure to light, the brain chemistry can be altered making us feel more fatigued.
There are a few things we can do to jumpstart our internal engine.
- Upon waking, open the shades or step outside for a breath of fresh air and some natural light rays.
- During the workday, get outside and take a short walk, getting fresh air and light exposure again.
- At night, it is suggested that the use of an iPad, cell phone or other technology ends at least an hour before bedtime since the blue light emitted tends to interfere with sleep cycle. The advantage is that this same light increases alertness during daytime hours, except while walking or driving.
If we are sleep deprived, it becomes more difficult to lose weight, eat healthy or exercise; therefore, sleep is central to wellness. Regular exercise of only 30-minute duration makes for less sleep problems and can actually deepen the quality of our sleep. Good nutrition combining protein and carbohydrates are a helpful means of activating the brain toward healthy sleep.
If racing thoughts at night are a problem, do some slow, deep breathing. To start, practice breathing more slowly, more deeply, and more rhythmically. When you want to fall asleep, breathe in this manner and say to yourself, “I am off duty” (if you are off duty in fact). Give yourself a friendly reminder that “…these issues will have to wait and I will deal with it tomorrow. Now it is time to fall asleep…” Say to yourself, “I am falling asleep” over and over again, breathing deeply. Focus your attention on your breathing as you say, “I am falling asleep.” If your mind wanders or chases the sleep, notice that it wandered and gently bring the mind back to your breathing, focusing over and over again. It does take practice. Even if your conscious mind tells you, “oh this is really dumb, it won’t work…” keep practicing; it will work.
Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.