Not all nights are as easy as hitting the pillow and passing out cold. Most of us tend to keep ourselves so busy or engaged from the moment we wake up that we distract ourselves from the stressors we have been accumulating throughout the day. Turn that distraction off and past or future oriented worries can quickly pop into our minds.
Our worries can take us on quite a journey. Maybe it's the worries about tomorrow's presentation or the to-do’s that didn’t get finished today. Other times our minds start to wander aimlessly towards big questions like “what if I’m alone forever?” which can easily lead to an hour or more of tossing and turning. We all know the next steps:
[√] Get frustrated
[√] Look at clock or phone
[√] Initiated anxiety about how late it is
[√] Begin feeling more restless and alert
Does any of that sound familiar? Be assured that you are not alone. While this is a completely normal and common experience it does not mean you are doomed to have trouble sleeping forever. Fortunately, we have a good understanding of why people fall in to this lack-of-sleep trap.
Make sure your bed is associated with sleep, not worry. Try to update your daily to-do list well before getting into bed or, if possible, even before entering the bedroom. Maintaining a to-do list helps you let go of the need to remember all of the errands or activities you have on your next day agenda. Also, try your best to talk to yourself with positivity and self compassion instead of repeating negative thoughts like “I’m not ready for tomorrow’s presentation”. We need to challenge ourselves to talk to ourselves with the same optimism and kindness we would convey to a friend. Completing these activities earlier in your evening routine also helps disconnect the thoughts of those future to-do's from the task at hand - sleeping.
Evaluate your routines. It is critical to evaluate the amount of time you spend in bed. If you find that you are someone who does a lot of “hanging out” in bed after you get home it probably isn’t helpful for your sleep. If your space allows it, try to remove all activities from the bed other than sex and sleep. That means cutting out TV, reading, and scrolling through social media in bed. Those are all things that can be done in another room or space. By disconnecting these activities from where we rest, our mind will better associate our bed with sleep rather than alertness.
When it comes to routines we also need to assess whether we are giving ourselves enough wind down time to help our body’s realize it’s time to get sleepy. Are you getting into bed too early, leading yourself to struggle to fall asleep? Do you go straight from your laptop / phone to your bed? It is very important that you give your body some wind down time, at least an hour without screens, work, or exercise where you can give yourself a shower and attend to your self care needs.
Start now. It's not too late to make meaningful change now, no matter how many nights it has been since you remember having restful and restorative sleep. Small changes can be made and with that commitment to change sleep can improve. There is no doubt that quality sleep is important and can have a large impact on both physical and mental health. So start with taking an inventory on your approach to sleep and your routines, and skip the pseudo-sleep schemes like that fancy lavender pillow spray.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.