Healthy habits for the New Year; pt. 3: Sleep

Sleep is crucial to be fully functioning and effective in everyday life.  Too much sleep isn’t good and not sleeping enough isn’t good.  Oversleeping can be just as problematic as insomnia, and it actually has many of the same effects as insomnia.  Sleeping too much can also be a sign that something is wrong either mentally or physically.

A rule of thumb is to figure out what length of time is optimum for you to sleep and aim for that time.  You absolutely must figure out how to be truthful with yourself and accurately estimate the length you need.  Try to think of a time when you’ve had good, uninterrupted sleep at a time when you feel mentally and physically healthy.  What you want to do is figure out, during that time-frame, when you would naturally awake and feel refreshed.

You do yourself a disservice if you over or underestimate the number of hours you need; the vast majority of people will need right around 8 hours.  Don’t try to be eccentric or different and act as though you need much more or less.  More than likely you need 7 — 9 hours.  Many times people let “sleep debt” sway their opinion on how much “basal sleep” they need.  You want to keep aiming for you basal time every night, and eventually your “sleep debt” will disappear.

Many focus on too little sleep, especially those suffering from insomnia.  If at all possible do not take sleep aids, they normally have bad side effects and can actually make your insomnia worse in the long run.  Instead, make a true commitment to change habits that could be leading to your insomnia.  Long term insomnia is not good for your health; physical, mental, or spiritual.

General Sleep Hygiene

  1. Pick a fixed bedtime and awake time, and follow it even if you are off of work
  2. Avoid sleeping/napping during the day. If you have to take a nap, limit it to 30-45 min.
  3. Alcohol should be avoided 4-6 hours before your set bedtime
  4. Caffeine should also be avoided for 4-6 hours prior, and limit yourself to 2 cups a day. (Things like chocolate also have caffeine and should be avoided)
  5. Avoid heavy foods 4-6 hours prior
  6. Don’t exercise within 2 hours of trying to sleep
  7. Do exercise during the day, with at least some of it being outside
  8. A cool room (not cold) is more conducive to sleep
  9. Use relaxation techniques before bed
  10. Try to designate waking hours to “worrying” and not to carry it with you to bed. Making lists for things to deal with/think about the next day, and then plan to do what needs to be done BEFORE laying down to sleep, esp. a few hours before.
  11. Try to have a pre-sleep ritual. Taking a shower, reading for a bit, etc…
  12. If you can’t sleep for around 20 min, get up, go into another room and do something like reading until you are sleepy again.
  13. Sleep in as dark a room as you can stand. Television isn’t recommended, and if you need something to fall asleep to, try radio instead.
  14. Your bed is for sleeping and sex, try not to use it for anything else like watching TV or reading.

Psychological factors

  1. Loneliness, stress, and depression can add to insomnia.
  2. You also don’t want “rewarded” for insomnia; for example, increased attention.  So, try to avoid posting about it on places like Facebook and/or Twitter just to get a response from others, or to show how late/early you are up.

Milton H. Erickson once said to make sure your alcoholic is sincere in wanting to quit, or else it will do no good to try to help.  The same is true of insomniacs; if you are not sincere in wanting to change your sleep patterns, you will find all manner of excuses and rationalizations to avoid changing bad habits.

Give yourself time to establish an actual new pattern.  It can take up to 30 days, for example, to completely modify your sleep schedule.  As to when you should wake up, there are many advantages to waking early, but the important thing is to be honest about the outcome of your day; meaning if you deal with people on a regular basis through the day, you should probably stick to a schedule to be fully rested with the mainstream.

You may want to stay up late, but if you have to be at work at 8 am, that isn’t going to be a healthy choice.  Make the commitment to follow the healthy sleep hygiene points above and do it consistently.

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1 Comment

Filed under Health, Psychology

One response to “Healthy habits for the New Year; pt. 3: Sleep

  1. Ahh, sleep is one thing that I definitely need in the new year. I have found that on my days off from work, even if I don’t try to wake up at my usual time, I do anyways. I agree that it is best to stay in a routine with sleep. Constantly changing your sleep schedule makes you feel much more tired. I will be traveling out of the country in a week, so I am sure my body will be confused by that time difference!

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