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Sleep Tight: Tips for Getting the ZZZ’s You’ve Always Dreamed About (pt. 2)

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by Robert Gottlieb, MA LPC

In the first part of this article, I discussed the importance of keeping regular sleep habits.However, your sleep schedule isn’t the only factor that affects the quality of your sleep. Here are several other things to keep in mind when searching for a good night’s sleep:

Don’t do any strenuous exercise right before bed.
Being exhausted isn’t the same as being tired. When your body is exhausted from exercise you may fall asleep, but it will take time for your muscles to catch-up with you. It’s best to avoid vigorous exercise for two-three hours prior to sleep. However, this doesn’t include relaxing workouts such as Yoga or Tai-Chi – this type of exercise is actually quite beneficial for sleep.

Avoid eating or drinking too much before going to sleep.
You’ll dodge digestive issues, nighttime trips to the bathroom, and consuming ingredients such as stimulants which disrupt or delay sleep. It’s best to avoid drinking water for two hours before bed, and if you must snack, stick to foods with natural sedative properties: milk, nuts, bananas, yogurt, crackers, or bread. Avoid foods with high fat content, caffeine (coffee, chocolate, pop, and teas– even if they claim to be decaffeinated), alcohol (it may put you to sleep intitially, but leads to restless/shallow sleep, waking up in the night, and disturbed dreams), and nicotine (it has the same properties as caffeine).

Retrain your pets to sleep on the floor.
Having pets in bed can be cute but also disruptive – they move around and spread dander, which may interfere with your breathing.

Accustom your brain to seeing the bedroom as a place for rest and sex only.
Using your bedroom for work or other activities conditions your brain to associate the bedroom with distractions or stress-producing pastimes. Should you find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep because of distractions or anxiety, it might be helpful to keep a notebook by your bed. You can write down your concerns and  tuck them away until the morning.

Keep electronics out of the picture.
Research has shown that the light emitted from televisions, iPads, computers, phones etc. disrupts your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate sleep. These activities stimulate your brain and delay sleep. Studies show that it’s best to stop using electronic devices for at least an hour before trying to sleep. If you can’t sleep, avoid turning on electronic devices or doing stimulating activities like cleaning or working. Instead, settle down with a non-physically strenuous activity which normally makes you drowsy (reading old literature works well for me).

Create a sleep-friendly environment in your bedroom.
Two common sleep distracters are noise and light. Before you turn-in, gradually dim the lights and remove yourself from distracting stimulants if possible. This is a natural way to slowly transition your body from the flurry of daily activity to winding down and preparing for sleep. It’s best to keep the bedroom dark, but if this environment proves uncomfortable or makes you anxious, a small dim light out of your direct line of sight works too. Ideally silence is golden, but there’s always the inevitable sounds of creaking, faucets dripping, dogs barking, and cars driving past to disrupt sleep. If this is the case, cover up the distractions with some white noise – a fan, noise machine, or soft music works.

There is no secret, sure-fire way to get a relaxing and rejuvenating night’s sleep. Each one of us is unique, and different techniques affect people in different ways. These strategies and techniques will work well for some and not so much for others. If you’re still having trouble sleeping despite your best efforts, the problem may be coming from other physiological or psychological concerns needing to be addressed. Consider getting help from a physician, or a therapist – one of the members of our team at Stenzel Clinical would be more than happy to help you.