I’ve always been one of those people who sleeps hard. Once I’m there, I’m off to some other place quite far from reality. But sleeping deeply doesn’t mean I always know how to get the best quality sleep. There are a lot of other factors at play. I’ve struggled with maintaining a sleep schedule, settling my mind so that I fall asleep, and going back to sleep once I’m jolted out of an REM cycle.
But sometimes it’s hard to know what works in this imperfect, modern world. When it comes to quality sleep, the most important factor is addressing what lies beneath the surface.
Why sleep is important?
Sleep is so important to our healthy because it helps us synthesize what we experience in our days. It rests our minds, grapples with our memories, and helps our bodies restore themselves so they can recover. Not getting adequate sleep over a long period can negatively impact many systems in the body and eventually, we may suffer health problems because of it.
Habits that may affect sleep.
Sleeping can be affected by so many things including:
- How much water we drink
- Screen time
- Sleeping with our mouths open
- Stress and anxiety
- Our sleep/wake cycles being out of sync with our bodies natural rhythms
- Medical issues
When talking to a professional about sleep, it’s important to first rule out any medical conditions Approaching mental health concerns from a let’s work on some of these things and see if you notice any changes in your sleep along the way.
Stress and trauma have a big impact on sleep. Interestingly enough, the sleep issues one experiences (like difficulty going to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early) seem to be specific to each unique person.
How is trauma is relevant to sleep?
PTSD related to a traumatic event might look like: intrusive flashbacks when trying to wind down, nightmares, or struggle to feel safe enough when going to bed. It’s important to acknowledge that this is the body reacting to trauma and trying to work through it. In therapy, we work on the trauma piece, and we can work on tuning into safety that is available to us.
Social disconnection during the pandemic has caused family of origin challenges, breakups, and isolation from friends. Therefore many have felt such anguish, grief, loneliness, anxiety, and even depression as a result of social disconnection—this totally can keep us up all night in despair.
To speak to anxiety and restlessness specifically, we want to clarify that anxiety and restlessness are physical responses to some kind of stimuli (like internal emotional stimuli or experiences).
We can also use our bodies to channel that mobilization energy and discharge it physically by proactively addressing these concerns. If it helps, moving the body with walks or exercise (preferably not near bedtime since you do not want to interfere with your sleep by getting active) can be incredibly soothing.
You might even imagine that the more you move the more that anxiety moves out of you (that’s why going for hikes or long walks can be incredibly soothing). You might release the intensity even by moving more intensely too. In this way, our bodies give so much to us—information when somethings up (if we are willing to listen) as well as avenues for release.
Sleep hygiene practices.
Different things work for different people, but some common sleep hygiene practices that can help include:
- Clearing your head by keeping paper and pen on your bedside to jot down whatever is on your brain and put it aside
- Taking time to unwind at a certain point in the night (like 9 pm) by putting away all screens, turning the lights down low in your place, setting a soothing scene with essential oils, doing nighttime routines to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule. What I have seen and heard in my experience is that we would ideally fall asleep before midnight and sleep between seven to nine hours, but again each person has to find what works best for them
- Using an eye mask to reduce ambient light while falling asleep and morning light that may wake you up (as well as added accountability with bedtime phone use)
- Reading before bed, listening to boring podcasts or audiobooks so that the mind has something to focus on that allows it to wind down
If you’re like me who find it hard to fall asleep at night, try some of these sleep hygiene practices and maybe one or all of them will help you to get a better sleep. Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together — it’s an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.