Sleep – What is it good for?

by Michelle F. Moseley, MS, LCMHC, NCC (she/her)

Quality sleep is elusive to many. From the ongoing pandemic to the 24-hour news cycle to the pressure to be available at all times to meet both personal and professional demands, many aspects of our daily lives seem to almost honor if one is sleeping less and doing more. However, a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate issues from physical pain to mental health concerns to reliance on substances, including caffeine, to make it through the day. Read on for a few tips and tricks that may assist with improving your quality and/or quantity of sleep.

Preparing for sleep from the morning onward. For many, the choices made throughout the day can influence the ability to sleep well at night. Keeping a morning routine – that is, awaking at near the same time each day, getting yourself moving, and exposing yourself to sunlight – can help regulate your internal rhythms so that you are better able to sleep at night. Nourishing your body throughout the day helps keep your energy levels steady, decreasing the likelihood of a ‘mid-day slump’ and the desire to nap. Incorporating movement that you enjoy into your day, from gardening to playing with pets to going for a walk or run, can help release physical energy so your body is ready for rest when evening comes.

Setting the mood. If you have the ability to control the setting of the room where you sleep, you may want to consider how the temperature and/or light level is impacting the quality of your rest. Many folks find it most comfortable to sleep in a room that is slightly cool, which allows them to cozy up with a blanket. Some may prefer to utilize curtains that block all light because they find they sleep best in total darkness. You may also want to experiment with using a fan or another form of ‘white noise’ to circulate air or block out sounds.

Put the electronics to bed first. You may be aware that electronics emit blue light, which signifies to our brains that it’s time to be awake. The constant influx of information that comes from many social media apps also provides the message that our brains should keep engaging. Yet, how many of us end our days scrolling on our phones? To allow your brain to quiet itself and prepare for rest, consider turning off electronics and putting away phones/tablets at least 30 minutes before you desire to be asleep.

Quieting the mind. You may find that your body is tired, but your mind won’t stop working when you lie down for sleep. Some folks find it helpful to keep a small notepad and pen by their bedside in order to jot down any thoughts or tasks that come to mind as they’re attempting to sleep. You also may find it helpful to focus on something that is just distracting enough to keep your mind from wandering, yet not so stimulating that it keeps you awake. Ideas include listening to a sleep meditation, counting backwards from 300 by 3s in your head, doing a body scan as explained below, or reading a book that is only moderately interesting.

Calming the Body. You may be someone who finds that your physical body hinders you from getting quality sleep. Pain, tension, or restlessness can all make sleep challenging. It may be helpful to do some quiet stretching or yoga prior to heading to bed to help calm your body and work out any tension. You may also find benefits in doing a body scan, as mentioned above. After you have prepared yourself for sleep and lie down, begin by focusing on your toes and feet and noticing any tension or pain you may feel. Focus on releasing that feeling and relaxing your feet – some find it helpful to visualize the tension leaving their bodies. Continue to do this as you move up your body – lower legs, knees, thighs, buttocks and pelvis, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, hands, arms, shoulders, and into your face and neck. Spend time focusing on each area, noticing any tension or pain, and concentrating on releasing those feelings. You may even fall asleep before you make it all the way to the top!

Be aware that poor sleep can also be a sign that something else is awry. If you have made an effort to improve your sleep routine and the quality and/or quantity of your sleep has not improved, it may be time to seek a professional who can work with you to address your specific concerns. There may be a physical reason for your sleep difficulties, which your primary care provider can assist with treating. You may also choose to seek out a licensed professional mental health therapist who can assist with treating things such as stress or depression which may be contributing to your sleep troubles.

Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC (BHA) is a comprehensive mental health practice with experienced licensed therapists and a Board-Certified Child/Adolescent and General Psychiatrist available to assess and treat general mental health and substance use concerns. If you are interested in speaking with someone regarding sleep problems, or seeking assistance with other emotional and behavioral health concerns, please contact us at 919-292-1464 to schedule an appointment, or find more information at our website www.behavioralhealthcareassociates.org.