Count the Sheep and Go to Sleep…

By Jamie Edwards, LCSW

As an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) therapist that also focuses on holistic approaches, I often talk to clients about the importance of sleep. I have been interested in sleep ever since I learned in my high school psychology class that our sleep debt can accumulate up to two weeks after a bad night of sleep. The CDC has gone so far as to classify insomnia as a health epidemic. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep costs the U.S. 66 billion dollars a year in healthcare and loss of productivity expenses. This is not including all the personal losses, such as increase in pain, decrease in mood and focus that can result from a lack of sleep. Following the tips listed below can set you on a path to a good night’s sleep and better mental and physical health:

Have a consistent sleep schedule. Your brain works on routine and will get used to the more consistency you give it, including when it comes to sleep. This means that whatever schedule you come up with, you should try to stick to it even on the weekends as much as you can. If you have trouble with this, set an alarm that you can wake up to and don’t use the snooze.
Make your bedroom a haven for sleep. You spend lots of time here so you might as well make it conducive to sleep. First, invest in a good mattress. If you are still using the same one you had in college, it might be time for an upgrade. Firmer mattresses are generally better for your body. Check your pillows – are they the right amount of firmness, would memory foam be a better fit for you, do you need a pillow in between your knees, etc.? Try reducing the light in your room and using a consistent sound (like a sound machine) to drown out any excess noise.
Create a going to bed ritual. Winding down before bed can help train your brain that it is time to go to sleep. Stick to activities that are relaxing, like reading, yoga, or meditation. Make sure to stay away from visual stimuli – like television or computer use – at least 30 minutes before bed, ideally an hour is best.
Decrease alcohol and caffeine intake, especially close to bedtime.
Exercise regularly up to a few hours before bed.
Do not use your bed for other activities. If you ever studied for a test or exam on your bed and discovered hours later that you fell asleep, this is because your brain is used to sleeping on your bed. To keep this intact, avoid other activities that your brain could associate your bed with.
If you can’t sleep for more than 15 minutes, don’t stay in bed. Typically when we are very focused and anxious about getting to sleep, it makes it that much harder. So get up and do something else, like read or listen to music. Avoid visual stimuli as that may keep you up longer.
Use a sleep app. Apps like Sleepbot and Sleep Cycle monitor your sleep at night by detecting your motions and sounds. In the morning it will wake you up during your lightest sleep cycle (you give it a 30 minute window) from a variety of relaxing alarms you can choose. Statistics and data will be waiting for you about how you slept and can give you insight into what may be blocking your sleep.
Get a sleep study. A sleep study, sometimes called a polysomnogram, is a non-invasive way to determine if you have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or narcolepsy. A sleep study focuses on your brain wave activity, leg movements, heart rate, and breathing during sleep using electrodes and sensors that are attached to your head by a sleep technologist. In addition, the sleep technologist monitors your sleep throughout the night. I myself have gone through a sleep study and was diagnosed with restless leg syndrome. For me the study and results were a relief, as I was able to learn there was a physical cause behind my struggles with sleep, and from there I was able to discover how to manage it better.
Seek therapy.  You may be having trouble sleeping because your mind is actively trying to work through issues that are causing you anxiety or distress, or maybe there is a deeper cause that you need to explore. Here at InnerVoice Psychotherapy and Consultation we are committed to helping you sleep better, so contact us if you are seeking such answers.