For many years, I presented at national and international professional conferences. The majority of my workshops and presentations were on my rather singular approach to restoring healthy sleep. Very simple and startling shift in priorities for therapists. Instead of working on whatever was the reason clients sought therapy, offer to help restore sleep before working to resolve the anxiety or depression that has a client seeking therapy. Just offer. If a client wants to focus on their concerns first, of course you work with them with all good skills and expertise. If a client understands the potential of restored sleep to lessen the impact, then brilliant, help them improve their troubled sleep first. Then, and only then, discover what remains of distress or discomfort.
Disturbed sleep is a symptom of many psychological conditions that result in people seeking help. And bravo to each and every person that seeks help.
So my thought is - why not take care of sleep first - first - then see what remains of distress from depression or anxiety or other disturbing conditions.
Establish and maintain a bedtime routine that includes minimizing exciting stimuli;
avoid caffeine after lunch;
avoid smoking, drinking, exercising and heavy meals at least 2 hours before sleeping;
avoid ‘sleeping in’ and afternoon napping;
and limit activities in the bedroom to sleep and romance.
If these front line suggestions are enough then good for you. And if they are not, then it is time to move along to more specific strategies.
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The art is in establishing a routine that both soothes and comforts. Approaching bedtime offers the opportunity to unwind, reflect on and put away events of the day, and care for the body.
Stop all vices at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Stop eating 2 hours before bedtime.
Dr. Pepper has made enough money with their 10 2 & 4 pitch. Give back the 4 o’clock and possibly the 2 o’clock as well. More simply put - restrict caffeine.
Stop rewarding yourself in the middle of the night, i.e. no computer, work, books, hobbies, or cookies and ice cream. Obnoxious distasteful activities only.
Stop watching, listening to or reading the news at least an hour before bedtime.
Stop taking naps, disco or otherwise, until regular sleep is thoroughly reestablished.
After dark the bed and bedroom are for sleep supporting activities only. Use the rest of the house for everything else.
If not asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something unrewarding for approximately 15 minutes, then begin sleep eliciting routine again.
Start turning down the lights at least an hour before bedtime.
Hot tea is your new best friend the last few hours of the evening. Decaffeinated.
Develop and protect routines that comfort and soothe. Avoid rigid rituals.
Journal about letting go of resentments and recognizing specific areas of and for gratitude.
Review what you have accomplished. You are tired for a reason.
There will always be more to do tomorrow. Rest up.
Many tips and strategies focus on the last hour or two before the desired bedtime. There are additional times of the day that can contribute to more successful sleep.
The simplest one is the first 30 minutes you are awake in the morning. Go ahead and greet the day face on. Get yourself outside. If you don't have a dog to walk, pretend you do. Walk yourself in the morning sun for at least 15 minutes. At the very least, take your morning beverage out to your backyard or balcony. There is some very fine sleep science to support this strategy. Your mind and body become more fully awake which helps to reset your Cicadian cycle. A crisper, in-sync Cicadian cycle in the morning encourages and supports a cleaner transition to sleep cycles in the night.
Daylight is best spent on what is actually important. Late into the night, when fatigue prevails is the least successful time to manage what really matters. You know, late at night, that you are not able to resolve important concerns. Do not ignore that quiet wisdom.
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Forget all the urgency on how sleep benefits the brain and the body. It does and just forget about that for a minute. When you move early, when you move well - your brain is happier. Period. When your brain is happier earlier in the day - your body is equally happy to follow suit. Which means being tired and ready for sleep at the end of any kind of day is just so much easier. A busy day with simple routines into the evening creates restorative and sustaining sleep.