Healthy Sleep Habits

Tossing and turning. Cannot fall asleep after laying down. Frequent waking. Stress and worries on the mind. Early waking.

These kinds of sleep difficulties can greatly impact an individual’s sleep quality which can lead to issues with one’s mood, ability to function the next day, and ability to concentrate. Sleep is important to your mental health, physical health, and safety. So how can you improve your sleep quality?

Establish a bedtime

Having an established bedtime is important to ensure that you are getting enough sleep (infants: 12-15 hours per day; toddlers: 11-14 hours per day; pre-school children: 10-13 hours per day; school-age children: 9-11 hours per day; most adults: 7-9 hours per day, although some may need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours per day). This helps to regulate your body’s “internal clock.”

Be consistent

Once you have established a bedtime, stick to it! Even on weekends. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.

Create a healthy sleep environment

Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing. Also, make sure the environment is not too warm and not too cold.

Limit bedroom activities

The bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. Other activities, such as eating, studying, working, and watching television should not be done in the bedroom. Also, remove all electronics, such as televisions and computers.

Create a soothing pre-sleep routine

Your body needs time to shift from your daily activities into sleep mode. Spend approximately one hour before bed doing a calming activity, such as reading, taking a bath, or practicing relaxation exercises. Creating a pre-bedtime routine will ease the transition from wake to sleep. Avoid stressful activities, such as work and discussing emotional issues. If your mind will not quiet and continues to race about your worries, try writing down the problems on your mind and then put them aside before laying down.

Sleep comfortably

It is important that one feels comfortable when sleeping. Make sure the mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive.

Lay down to sleep when truly tired

Lying awake when you are not able to fall asleep can be stressful. Instead, get out of bed and go to another room. Engage in a relaxing, quiet activity (such as reading or listening to calming music). Keep the lights dim. When you begin to feel tired return to bed to fall asleep. Similarly, if you wake during the night and are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes. Get out of bed and out of the bedroom to engage in a relaxing activity. Return to bed when tired.

Be cautious of napping

For some people, napping is a regular routine in their day. Napping may be problematic though if you notice issues falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. It is better to keep naps short and earlier in the day. Late day napping can impact your body’s “internal clock.”

Eat light evening meals

Eat dinner several hours before bedtime. If needed, eat a light snack before bed if you are hungry.

Exercise

Exercise can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, if it is not too close to your bedtime. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed. Exercise stimulates the body which helps activate your brain to be alert. This is great, except when you are trying to fall asleep.

Avoid electronic devices

Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Electronic devices emit a light that promotes wakefulness. Additionally, engaging in an activity on an electronic device increases brain activity which is the opposite of what should be happening before sleep.

Avoid chemicals that interfere with sleep

Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals significantly impact sleep. Avoid caffeine and nicotine for four to six hours before bedtime. Alcohol may help one to fall asleep but it will increase the number of awakenings a few hours after one falls asleep. Limiting alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime can help to improve one’s quality of sleep.

If the above tips do not help to improve your sleep quality, do not hesitate to seek professional advice. There may be other explanations, such as a sleep disorder, that is impacting your ability to get quality sleep. A professional can help to identify the proper diagnosis and treatment to help improve one’s sleep quality.

 

Stress Management

Stress can be a negative or positive event. For example, beginning a romantic relationship, starting a new job, and moving are all stressful events.  There are a variety of types of stress, such as relationship stress, work stress, and environmental stress. Stress can be emotional or physical. What may be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. Every person will react to stress differently. One person may be able to adapt successfully whereas others may develop long-term emotional difficulties. Stress tends to trigger the fight-flight-freeze response. However, most everyday stressors do not require fighting or fleeing.

Stress can influence the way we think, feel, and behave. It can make it difficult to attend to tasks, concentrate, or recall information. Stress may impact your mood which often leads to anxiety, irritability, nervousness, or sadness. The quality of our work and interactions with people can also suffer when experiencing stress. Sometimes, stress may cause people to experience sleep difficulties or experience changes in their eating and drinking behavior.

Stress can also make a person sick. There are a variety of direct physiological effects on the body, such as damage to the heart and the development of ulcers in the stomach. Stress can also have a direct cognitive and behavioral effect, such as memory loss and becoming easily distracted. Secondary effects of stress include exacerbating illness and delaying recovery.

Below is a list of some signs of stress:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest Pain
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed

After acknowledging and recognizing signs of stress, there are several strategies that can be used to manage and to deal with stress.

Be proactive! Plan ahead and attempt to anticipate problems. Apply time management techniques in order to manage schedules and develop structure and routine.  Plan self-care time in advance.

Express yourself! Whether it is through writing, journaling, singing, or dancing. Discover what form of self-expression helps you to express your emotions and help you to understand the emotions you may be experiencing.

Engage in social activities! Seek out friends and nurture your social relationships. Healthy relationships can provide support and provide a safe space to talk about stressors.

Exercise! Engaging in physical activities produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. Endorphins can also help to improve the ability to sleep which can also help to reduce stress, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration.

Explore nature! Go for a hike or walk in a natural environment. If you are not able to go outside and explore nature, objects or pictures of nature can also have a calming effect.

Make time for hobbies! Set aside time to engage in activities that you enjoy, such as reading, doing an art project, doing puzzles, playing games, or playing a sport.

Take a break! Plan some downtime. Perhaps use this time to meditate, practice yoga, pray, or listen to your favorite music.

Use humor! Watch a funny television show or read a newspaper cartoon. Laughter can be a great form of short-term stress relief. It can lead to increased endorphins and aid in muscle relaxation.

Remember, stress management does not need to take a lot of time. Five to twenty minutes may be more than enough to help one to manage stress. If you’ve taken steps to control your stress but symptoms continue or if you’re not sure what is the cause of the symptoms, see a medical doctor or consider seeing a mental health provider. Mental health providers can help to identify sources of stress and provide new coping tools to manage the stress.

Additional Stress Management Strategies:

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: a technique that helps to relieve tension.
  • Guided Imagery: a strategy that uses imagination and breathing strategies to promote relaxation.
  • Deep / Belly Breathing: a technique that involves deep abdominal breathing that helps to release stress
  • Mindfulness: a practice involving active, open attention on the present without judgement.

Mindfulness: Frequently Asked Questions

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice based on Buddhist meditation techniques, which was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present moment, including thoughts and feelings, without judging them good or bad. It involves living in the moment and being aware of the experience. Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to what is happening now, in the present moment.

Who can use mindfulness?

Anyone can do mindfulness practice and everyone can benefit from mindfulness strategies. Find ways to cultivate strategies that work best for the individual. Even children and adolescents can practice mindfulness with some modification to the exercises or strategies.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques can effectively reduce symptoms in many health conditions including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health including:

  •  Relieve and lower stress
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase body awareness
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Improve regulation of emotion
  • Improve regulation of attention
How can I begin practicing mindfulness?

Begin by setting aside time to practice. That’s it! After setting aside some time and space, begin to observe the present moment without judgement. If the mind wanders, as it will, return to the present moment. Do not judge yourself when the mind wanders. Recognize that your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back to the present moment by focusing on the breath.

Keep in mind that mindfulness takes practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin. It is normal for the mind and thoughts to wander during any mindfulness exercise or strategy.