Let’s Talk About Sleep!
By: Veronica Stang, Registered Provisional Psychologist
I realize that sleep has become a luxury for many due to busy schedules. We’ve all had those nights; tossing and turning, getting up in the middle of the night for a snack, checking the clock at 2am – then again at 2:03 when it felt like three hours had passed. Then you start doing math at 4 o’clock in the morning and telling yourself, “If I fall asleep at this exact moment, I will still get 3 hours and 15 minutes of sleep”, but you have already started subtracting the seconds that you are still awake. For some people, this dreadful experience only happens on occasion; for others, it is a nightly sparring match with the sandman.
I frequently discuss with clients the importance of good sleep and how to improve both quality and quantity of sleep. Take a moment to reflect on the following things to yourself: how many hours of undisturbed sleep do you get? Is it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or wake up? What is your nighttime routine? Typically the responses I get are fairly negative. The most common problem is not being able to fall asleep and stay asleep. Consider some of the following do’s and don’ts to improve your own sleep:
- Have a consistent nighttime routine
- Exercise daily
- Have a consistent time to go to bed and wake up (even on weekends, within reason)
- Go to bed only when you are tired
- Get out of bed if you can’t sleep
- Get regular exposure to sunlight
- Set aside time throughout your day to problem solve, worry, and plan (i.e. think about all those things that keep you up at night)
- Do something relaxing before bed (meditate, read, take a bath)
- Consider your physical environment (bedroom darkness, temperature, mattress comfort and noises)
- Spend too much time awake in bed
- Watch television, eat, play video games etc. in bed. Your body becomes conditioned to what you do in bed
- Have multiple naps or long naps during the day
- Exercise late in the evening (if it energizes you)
- Have caffeinated drinks in the evening
- Have large meals late at night
- Be in front of screens late at night: this can impact our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms influence bodily functions including our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release (such as melatonin for sleep), eating habits, digestion, and body temperature
Why is sleep so important?
- Cell regeneration
- Restoring energy
- Consolidating memories
- Strengthening our immune system
- Increasing blood supply to muscles which promotes growth and repair of tissue and bones
All of these processes assist with our daily functions such as learning and emotional regulation.
NOT enough sleep is linked to conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Based on all of the benefits it provides, it is easy to see why sleep is important for everyone. With that being said, I work with many children and individuals with chronic pain. These populations are in need of additional sleep in order for their bodies and brains to heal, restore and grow; however, they often struggle to attain even the requested minimum. I cannot emphasize enough how important sleep is for mental and physical health, especially within these vulnerable populations.
I encourage you to adapt some of these strategies into your own lifestyle. I know sleep can be a frustrating endeavour, but try not to become discouraged. It will take trial and error to discover what works best for you. Good luck and sweet dreams!