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Sleep Tight: Tips for Getting The ZZZs You’ve Dreamed About (pt.1)

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by Robert Gottlieb, MA LPC

rgottleib-frameFreud once said “a prerequisite of sleep is a deliberate rejection of reality.”

In English, that basically means in order to sleep we must ignore the fact that sleep is actually a rather bizarre concept. This must be true, for where else but in sleep might someone say ‘I’m going to lose consciousness and have wacky hallucinations for the next eight hours, only to then regain consciousness feeling completely rested’…and not be thought of as needing professional help?

Yes, sleep can be a wonderful experience and is quite honestly often the best part of my day. The worries and troubles of the day are behind me. I have a brand new day ahead of me to try again. And as I lay down, I finished the second half of my one sit-up a day workout routine. Unfortunately, while this is a time set aside for recharging and relaxing, sleep does not always come easily.

If you’re anything like me, not being able to sleep is a frustrating experience marred by tossing, turning, searching for the cool side of the pillow, and general discomfort and annoyance. But just as with any self-care activity such as eating right and exercising, there are helpful and detrimental ways to go about getting the most out of your sleep.

Keep a regular sleep habit. 

Mostpeople don’t have a regular bedtime, but studies have shown that the more habitual you can be regarding your sleep schedule, the better you’ll sleep. Our bodies have a natural rhythm for sleep and enjoy routines. The more consistent you are regarding your hours of sleep, the more your body begins to learn your habits and adjust accordingly. That way when ten o’clock rolls around, your body naturally wants to sleep.

Picking a regular bedtime requires some consideration, however. The average adult requires 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night. Children and teens require even more. It’s important to allow for the appropriate amount of sleep in conjunction with your waking time. Studies also show that it is best to pick a time before midnight – people tend to get their ‘second-wind’ if they remain awake beyond midnight.

This second-wind is invaluable for college students, but for the rest of us, not so much. It can lead to frustrating and disrupted sleep. When I was in college I lived by the motto that there is no such thing as too much sleep. Unfortunately, this motto (and many other thought processes I’d adopted during that stage) was questionable at best.  There is in fact such a thing as too much sleep, and it can hurt both the productivity/energy levels of the day as well as the following night’s sleep. Some people may need more than the average adult requirement of 7.5-8 hours of sleep, where others might need less than that. There’s a fine line in determining what time is best for you and holding to it, and it can be difficult to balance. Oversleeping can lead to unrest throughout the day and wreak havoc on your internal clock, which may take awhile to reset. Rather than trying to “catch up” on weekends, the best way to make up for lost sleep is to  avoid confusing your internal clock and simply continue with your regularly scheduled sleep habits.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not possible to make-up for lost sleep by napping or getting some extra sleep the following night. In fact, napping can often be a cause of a poor night’s sleep. Unless naps are a part of your routine and you’ve worked them into your nighttime sleep schedule, for adults, irregular napping can alter your internal clock. Falling asleep at night becomes more difficult and less restful. If you need to nap during the day, make your naps short (20 minutes or less), sweet, and early in the day to avoid sleeping within eight hours of your normal bedtime.

Your sleep schedule isn’t the only thing that could be hurting your sleep – excercising, bedtime snacks, or even your pets could be standing in the way of a good night’s sleep. In the second part of this article, I’ll share how these ther factors affect your sleep and what you can do about them.