Hurry Up And Sleep! Hurry!

Summer heat and longer daylight hours often mean the loss of an hour or two of sleep a day. Add onto that the end-of-school frantic rush, and the loss of school-related bedtime/awakening routines, and you can easily find yourself staggering through your days in a sleep-deprived fog. It’s a good time of year to remind ourselves how crucial rest is for your body (and sanity!). A Doc Gurley Mixed Message Award goes to this otherwise wonderful article about the importance of sleep. It contains a nice review of all the (science-based) serious problems that can occur with too little sleep – but then ends with the statement “Anxiety over not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.” Ahem. Are we tossing and turning yet? However the good news is that the article does contain some realistic, practical tips for how to improve your sleep. Here are a couple more that also might help you regain the rest you could be losing this time of year:

Sleep Tips

1) Get a habit. For most people, sleep is purely a habit. If you don’t believe me, just try turning your pillow 90 degrees one night and see how hard it is to get to sleep. That’s how sensitive our sleep-habits are. But realizing that sleep is mostly just a habit should make getting to sleep a bit less stressful – if you’re setting out to improve your sleep, you’re making a new habit, which can take about three weeks to solidify. You can cut yourself some slack, even as you strive for absolute consistency in how/when you sleep. If your summertime or travel schedule messed up your habit, you’ll know you will start over again re-establishing it. So how do you form a good sleep habit? Set yourself a three-week-sleep goal and during that time, always wake up the same time every day. That’s right, I said wake up. Waking up helps set your body clock as much or more than the going-to-bed time – which should also be a stress reducer. Sure, you want to be in bed at the same time each night, but trust your body – if you don’t go to sleep right away the first few days, give yourself some time. Just waking up at the same time will help re-set your body clock.

2) Cut out the screen time. We get a lot of our information (in fact, pretty much all of it) these days from “screens” – that includes TV, computers and even games. It is really important to minimize screen time prior to bed – for yourself and your children you should have a rule of absolutely none for an hour before bed. This tip is not one you hear about much – but it’s really an effective way to improve your chances of going to sleep. Screen time stimulates your brain in ways that are exactly the opposite of helping you go to sleep. What to do instead? Try (okay, I know it sounds old-fashioned) reading. But shoot for reading something peaceful – not that gripping new novel you’ve waited months to buy. How about listening to music? Puttering around the house? Sharing something nice from each other’s days? When you cut out the screen time, you may discover just how jazzed you are by it – and discover how hard it’s become to even sit still. That’s an important lesson to learn about how we humans are wired.

3) No caffeine after lunch. Those of us who are caffeine addicts like to pretend that caffeine doesn’t really affect us. However reality tends to disprove that desperately-held justification for imbibing after lunch. The same holds true for alcohol – which disrupts everyone’s ability to REM (rapid eye movement). Alcohol can make you awaken early, or, cause you to awaken feeling exhausted, even though you slept. Don’t believe me? Try cutting caffeine/alcohol out for three weeks and see how much better you’re sleeping at the end. But don’t, in classic addict fashion, drink WAY more caffeine before lunch – the total amount can also affect your sleep (not just the timing of it). And if you’re chugging alcohol early to compensate for not getting it later, that sounds like a sign you could have a problem…

4) Learn about CBT. This sleep article doesn’t expressly state this fact, but everyone should know that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is every bit as effective, maybe even more effective, than sleeping pills – with no side effects, no risk of addiction/dependency, and no decreased effectiveness over time. Unfortunately, there is also no mega-profit margin from pushing it, so it doesn’t show up in the media as much as ads for sleeping pills and articles that suggest you get a prescription “see your doctor.” So how do you get CBT? First, ask for a referral if you have insurance coverage. Second, if you don’t have insurance, look for community classes, or even consider paying out of pocket – it’s well worth the price for tools you can use to help you get a good night’s sleep for years to come. Finally, if you’re on your own and don’t have other options, learn about CBT yourself and try following CBT approaches. It’s not as good (or as well studied) as getting therapy, but probably much better than suffering each night.

5) Stamp out the macho insomniac culture. If you hear yourself, or your friends, bragging about how little sleep someone got last night, give yourself (and possibly them) a gentle reality check. Getting a poor night’s sleep should not be a source of pride. In your home, ask yourself – are your kids listening? What is the message that’s being given to them? With rising rates of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure (all linked to poor sleep), perhaps we ought to be bragging out how much sleep we got despite all the demands on our time, instead.

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