Tell me about your nighttime routine is something I often asked clients. It’s partly because I am genuinely curious how they wind down after a typical day, but also because many of my clients have difficulties falling or staying asleep. Sometimes those difficulties are secondary to depression or anxiety, not being able to pull away from the heaviness or calm those racing thoughts; other times it’s the things we believe to be true about sleep that are the reason we have trouble falling easily into it.
People say you should get 8 hours of sleep. First of all, who is people? The Man? When did we start trusting some unknown entity over our own bodies, staring at an alarm clock hopelessly watching the time pass? I think it’s time we stick it to the man and journey on a quest to find our magic sleep number (i.e., the time you need to sleep each night to feel rested, not the unrelated mattress brand).
The anxiety of watching it become later and later at night knowing that you have to wake up at 7 am and it’s impossible for you to achieve “the full 8 hours” is an unnecessary stressor. This unrealistic expectation gets in the way of your mind and body truly relaxing. I’m not saying eight isn’t it for you, it might be, and I wouldn’t want to be my own version of the man making you think that eight hours is wrong. But feel free to play around a little bit on your days off. Leave the alarm clock off and track approximately how many hours it was between when you got into bed and when you naturally woke up. Repeat the experiment a few times for consistency. Bring the alarm clock into the experiment! Adjust your wake-up time 30-minutes before or after you normally wake-up and see if there’s a difference and then continue to adjust accordingly.
While you take your time figuring out how much sleep you really need, here are some tips I usually bring up when the main trouble is falling asleep:
Establish a routine and stick to it.
Use the bedroom only for sleeping.
Don’t use it to do homework or other activating and possibly anxiety-provoking situations or your body may create an association between those experiences and your bed, therefore making falling asleep more difficult.
Trust your body and get into bed when you are sleepy and get out if you are unable to sleep.
If you are lying in bed either at the beginning of the night or after a middle-of-the-night wake up, get up and out if it’s been 20 minutes. Lying in bed can create an association between that activity and wakefulness. By getting up out of bed and changing positions, your body will have an opportunity to relax.
Another common question is: What do I do if I wake up in the middle of the night?
During your 20-minute grace period, try some grounding exercises (try and find things in your room that match certain colors or letters of the alphabet, engage in deep breathing, pull up a memory and engage your five senses). Once you’ve given it a good try, get out of bed and out of your room if possible. Do not reach for the phone! Blue light is super stimulating and will bring your brainwaves into alertness. Turning on the light can be confusing for your body in general, so I always suggest that kids have a tap light or a little flashlight they can use if they need to get up and go to the bathroom at night. Don’t look at the clock either because chances are, you’ll feel some sort of way about what time it is and how much time you have left to fall and stay asleep. The clock = too much pressure = stress = no sleep.
To listen to me talk more about sleep, check out Episode 2 “Sleep” from the Sunday School Show on 610 ESPN radio on October 21, 2018 at https://610espn.com/podcasts/the-sunday-school-show/
There is a ton of interesting and helpful information discussed throughout the podcast, but if you wanted to fast-forward, I’m featured at 24:12!