Habits for Healthy Sleep

Think back over the past week: How has your sleep been?  Sleep is a necessary and often elusive part of every human being’s life. Approximately  50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from disordered sleep, impacting daily functioning and negatively affecting health and longevity (NHLBI, 2003).  People may experience sleep difficulties due to many factors including inconsistent bedtimes and wake-times, poor sleep hygiene (not creating an environment conducive to sleep) or overall mental well-being.

Have you ever gotten into bed, physically tired but unable to fall asleep because your mind keeps chattering?  Or perhaps you wake up in the middle of the night, attempt to return to sleep and are greeted by the same racing thoughts.  Thoughts about the future, the past or just your current “to-do” list can stand between you and a restful night sleep.  Sleep is important for our overall health. Missing out on the restorative properties of restful sleep can have short-term and long-term effects including depressed mood and poor memory or concentration (Dinges et al., 2005).

Despite the prevalence of this issue, problems with sleep are easily treatable.  There are simple changes you can make to create a healthy environment for sleep.

  1. Wake up and get out of bed at the same time every day whether you have good or poor sleep.
  2. Go to bed when you are sleepy, but not too early. Long periods of time in bed will lead to shallow, broken sleep. You should spend only the amount of time in bed that you actually need for sleep.
  3. Get up when you can’t sleep. When you are unable to sleep, get up and go to another room until you feel sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly before returning to bed. Get up again if sleep does not come on quickly.
  4. Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. Do not read, eat, watch TV, etc. in bed.
  5. Avoid daytime napping. Napping, particularly in the late afternoon or early evening, may interfere with your night’s sleep.
  6. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  7. Create a buffer zone. The “buffer zone” is a quiet time prior to bedtime. During this time, you should do things that are enjoyable and calming. This is a great time for visualization, mindful breathing or other relaxation exercises.
  8. Don’t worry, plan, etc. in bed. If you are worrying, planning or can’t shut off your thoughts, get up and stay up until you can return to bed without these mental activities interfering with your sleep.

Jackie Henry, PsyD

Jackie Henry, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist in private practice specializing in the evidence-based treatment of anxiety disorders and mood symptoms related to life transitions in Inver Grove Heights, MN.