By Jen Kohlenberger
You get home from work. You cook dinner. You eat your dinner on the couch while watching your favorite show. You promised yourself you’d only watch one episode, but what’s the harm in watching one more? Next thing you know, you wake up at 1am on the couch, still in your work clothes and totally disoriented. You drag yourself off the couch, maybe take your shower, brush your teeth, get in bed, and…. you can’t fall asleep because now you are wide awake.
At this point you’ve missed your optimal brain rest window from 10:00pm-2:00am and you’re just hoping you can get back to sleep to get a few hours in before your alarm goes off.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so much easier to fall asleep in times and places that we aren’t supposed to, and so difficult to fall asleep at the right time in our own comfortable bed?
People have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on themselves regarding sleep. As we lay in bed (or sometimes even before we get to bed) we may have thoughts like:
- ”I have to fall asleep by _____ o’clock to get enough sleep, or else I will be exhausted tomorrow”
-”What if I don’t wake up on time and I’m late?”
-”What if I have a bad dream like I did last night?”
-”What if I have a panic attack in my sleep again?”
-”Tomorrow is going to be a stressful day”
-”I know I’m going to have to get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night”
-”What if something bad happens while I’m asleep”
Sound familiar? While we can’t control the thoughts that pop in our head at night, we can control other things that contribute to our bedtime experience. By eliminating bad habits and replacing them with good habits, we can surely improve our sleep.
Bad Bedtime Habits
Let’s look at some common bad habits and some ideas to help curb these behaviors.
1. Using screens before bed. This includes phones, tablets, computers, and TV screens. Screens are bad before bedtime because they are stimulating. Screens emit blue light which reduces production of melatonin, delaying sleepiness. Also, depending on what you’re looking at, the content may be thought provoking or even disturbing, causing cognitive arousal. (Yes, you True Crime before bed people, we’re talking to you!)
Try Instead: Reading or Guided Imagery
Reading and guided imagery have been shown to decrease stress and de-stimulate the brain.They reduce worry and allow for longer and more restful sleep.
In situations when you cannot eliminate screens completely, another way to reduce the effects of blue light from your screens is to set blocking filters on your devices.
2. Drinking alcoholic, caffeinated, or high sugar drinks before bed. While drinking alcohol at night may help you fall asleep, research suggests that it makes it much more difficult to stay asleep, and causes restlessness. Caffeinated and sugary drinks have a negative impact on sleep, both because of diuretic effects– more trips to the bathroom– and stimulation. Studies show that consuming caffeine even 6 hours prior to bedtime can impact your sleep.
Try Instead: Drinking Chamomile tea or Tart Cherry Juice.
If you need to replace your usual comfort beverage with something more conducive to sleep, try a non caffeinated tea or tart cherry juice, which is rich in melatonin.
3. Heavy conversations before bed. Sometimes, even when we try to avoid them, heavy topics of conversation or arguments come up at night time. While the issue may need immediate attention, chances are, late at night, when parties involved are both emotionally and physically tired, is not the optimal time to resolve the issue.
Try Instead: Finding Temporary Resolution.
While arguing it out before bed isn’t good for sleep, neither is going to bed harboring anger. So what can we do? Perhaps finding a common ground where the parties involved feel comfortable enough to “sleep on it” and continue the conversation the next day when they are rested and “fresh” is the best solution. Knowing that your emotions are being validated and setting a better time to revisit the issue should help alleviate enough of the pressure and distress to allow for some sleep in the interim.
4. Racing thoughts about work, school, relationships, etc. Sometimes you do all of the right things before bed, but you still lay wide awake with thoughts racing. This one is tough because thoughts aren’t usually intentional. But while you can’t control them being there, you can control how you respond to them. The worst thing you can do is lay staring at the ceiling allowing the thoughts to consume you.
Try Instead: Journaling.
There’s something about writing thoughts on paper that is incredibly freeing. It’s as if, quite literally, the thoughts are moving from your brain down through your arm and hand onto the paper. Writing out your thoughts will have greater impact than simply thinking through them because it requires a deeper level of processing. Getting them out on paper helps you gain clarity, helps you prioritize, and also gives you an opportunity to shift focus to things that are positive and write those out as well.
Sleep is tricky and if you continue to struggle with getting restful sleep, there may be a more serious issue going on. Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you need help, please contact us.