We all know a good night’s sleep is important, so why is it elusive to so many of us? According to USA statistics, nearly 70 million people have a sleep disorder, 30% of adults experience short-term insomnia, and 10% of people have persistent insomnia.
Humans need 7-10 hours of sleep a night, but on average we are getting less than seven. Lack of sleep can impact your mood during the day, level of productivity, and may lead to so many other devastating health consequences. So what is keeping us up at night, and what can we do to get better sleep?
There are numerous reasons as to why we may not be sleeping well, and it’s impossible to cover them all in one blog post. However, there are some main culprits that we will look at in this blog, as well as what we can do to create better sleep habits and improve sleep hygiene.
Anxiety and Fear
It may seem obvious, but most people who struggle with anxiety also have a hard time sleeping. The anxiety can be related to trauma, health issues, finances, or relationships. At night, in bed, we are alone with our thoughts, and when those thoughts are spiraling out of control and we find ourselves ruminating on the things that we are fearful of, it is no wonder we will not be catching those zs.
You may have a hard time initially falling asleep because you can’t stop worrying or obsessing about different things. Even if you are able to fall asleep, you may sleep very restlessly, tossing and turning constantly because your mind can’t truly rest.
If this is you, you are not alone. There are many strategies you can put in place to help your mind calm down and be able to deeply rest. At the end of the day, make a to-do list of the things you have pending for the next day or the week. Try to avoid over stimulating things before bed such as suspenseful TV shows or scrolling through the news on your phone. Instead, practice mindfulness and do something relaxing, or read scripture before you turn in for the night.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Nobody wants to cut out caffeine or alcohol, but if you want a good night’s sleep, the evidence is pretty clear that you must– or at least reduce it significantly or have it only on occasion.
Caffeine is a stimulant and interrupts your natural circadian rhythms. Drinking it in the afternoon or evening can significantly impair your sleep, so if you need to have it, try to stick to consuming it at least four hours before bedtime. Also limit how much caffeine you are drinking, as too much can also tax your adrenals which will cause additional sleep-wake cycle issues.
Alcohol is a bit trickier and has a lot of misconceptions around sleep, as some people actually try to use it as a sleeping aid. They may claim it helps them sleep better– which it can initially, but ultimately it impairs the quality of your sleep throughout the rest of the night.
Alcohol may also lead to depression or make it worse, learn more about it here. Since alcohol has so many other negative health benefits as well, it’s best to steer clear of it in general, or only in moderation. Similar to caffeine, if you want to have a drink, have it at least four hours before bedtime.
Many people struggle with sleep due to health issues such as hormonal imbalances or sleep apnea. If you have a health condition that prevents you from sleeping well, you may need to focus on healing your overall condition first, since poor sleep is a symptom of a larger issue.
Although practicing good sleep habits can help in this scenario, it will not fix the underlying condition that is causing you not to sleep well. For example, if you have sleep apnea, the problem is the way you are breathing (or rather not breathing); therefore we encourage you to discuss the different options to address this problem with your doctor and/or a specialist.
Health conditions can definitely make sleep more complicated, but they don’t have to be a lifelong prognosis for poor sleep. Focus on what you can do to get better.
Lack of Routine
Finally, one of the biggest culprits when it comes to poor sleep is simply a lack of a sleep routine– meaning you are not waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day. When you don’t have a consistent sleep routine, your body’s circadian rhythm gets thrown off and you won’t get the quality or quantity of sleep that you need.
Life gets busy and it can be hard to get up and go to sleep at the same time. There are a multitude of reasons we may not have a good routine such as having a job with inconsistent shifts, having to get up with your baby multiple times in the night, or even just losing track of time.
Try to create the most consistent routine you can within the bounds of what you can control. If you have a constantly changing work schedule, see if there is some kind of pattern you can find (i.e. your shift is always over by 8pm at the latest, so you could set a 10pm bedtime). Build a routine that works for you and stick with it.
Healthy Habits and Spirituality to Improve Sleep
Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to improve our sleep if we are willing to take it seriously. Among such things as creating a wind-down routine, avoiding screens at least 1 hour before bed, and keeping the room as dark and quiet as possible.
There are also strategies to help your mind be more at ease at night. Consider three things at night that went well during the day or that you were able to work on. This can also take the form of self-reflection of gratitude during the day and at night.
Studies have shown that practicing spirituality can help you reduce your anxiety and depression. To improve sleep you can integrate prayer at night as a soothing practice. Instead of letting your mind wander about fearful situations as you fall asleep or when you wake up in the night, direct your thoughts towards God. Prayer and journaling are effective ways to externalize your worries about the problems you can’t control.
When it comes to sleep, there are many factors that can impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. Nevertheless, sleep is a pillar of our physical health that impacts our mental health. Take action on identifying what is the root of your sleep problem. At Florecer we can help you integrate your Christian faith into your treatment for depression and anxiety in order to improve your sleep.
The Expanded DBT Skills Training Manual, Copyright © 2017 by Lane Pederson
Published by PESI Publishing & Media PESI, Inc 3839 White Ave, Eau Claire, WI 54703