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What is Sleep Hygiene and How Can It Improve Sleep?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

Are you one of the many individuals who struggles to get adequate sleep? The hullabaloo of the modern-day lifestyle along with robotic and mechanical work routine has deprived many people of their ability to sleep soundly. They feel anxious, stressed out, and even depressed. As result, they become insomniac as their sleep hygiene gets adversely affected. Now, what exactly is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene refers to the environment and many other factors that contribute to ensuring a good night’s rest. Sleeping less than or more than the required number of hours may aggravate preexisting mental and physical health issues.

How stress affects your sleep

Stress caused by any number of circumstances can rob you of your inner peace. If stress persists, you may soon find that your once-restful sleep is one of the first things to be affected. Enter: sleep hygiene, or the practice of mitigating insomnia associated with mental health disorders. What factors are involved in sleep hygiene, you might wonder? Aside from stress, our environment, eating habits, and general behavior can determine the kind of sleep you will have. For instance, if you consume food that is high in sugar or drinks that are chalked full of caffeine, you may find it difficult to fall asleep. Likewise, if you nap during the day, your internal clock may become disrupted, leading to less restful sleep at night. Many factors can affect sleep. Consequently, you may encounter issues with concentration, motivation, and even mood.

 Coping with sleep problems related to mental health issues

Mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety can cause substantial sleep problems, which can in turn, impact daily functioning. So, what can be done to cultivate healthy sleep hygiene in the midst of life’s stressors? Let’s take a look at some of the practices that may help:

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

In order to ensure quality sleep, it is important to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Remember, our minds and bodies are relatively flexible and will eventually become accustomed to any routine we wish for them to follow. If you find that you are a night owl and are wide awake until 3:00 AM, you likely developed these habits over time. The same can be said for going to bed and waking up at a more reasonable hour: it will simply take time and patience. 

Set up a conducive sleeping environment

Sleeping in a room that has bright lights and loud noises will likely not allow for peaceful, uninterrupted rest. If you have noisy roommates or a partner who snores, try purchasing ear plugs or playing a white noise app on your phone. Turn any lights off and consider investing in blinds or curtains that block out any street or sunlight. Finally, consider limiting your screen time. Blue light from TVs and phones can be just as detrimental to your sleep cycle as the lights in your bedroom. 

Practice deep breathing and meditation

Those pesky ruminating thoughts that keep you awake at night can be managed through breathwork and meditation. When we focus our awareness on our breath, taking slow inhales through the nose and soft exhales through the mouth, we encourage the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the heart rate. Similarly, meditation encourages the brain to focus on the present moment, thus drawing its awareness away from any anxious thoughts. Indeed, these steps will lead to the promotion of peaceful sleep and mental calm. 

Adopt healthy habits

When we eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly, and maintain close connections with loved ones, we improve our overall health and wellbeing. Consequently, this can lead to better nights’ rest.

Journal

 A relatively quick and easy way to unwind and relax is through journaling. Keeping a daily thought log or gratitude journal can be incredibly cathartic. If you are someone who frequently ruminates during bedtime, consider writing your thoughts out and see just how your worry shifts, changes, and ultimately, improves.

Seek professional help 

Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been proven to aid in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. If the case is severe enough and therapy alone does not seem to improve insomnia, a psychiatrist may choose to prescribe medication.

If you or someone you know is struggling to get restful sleep at night, reach out to our intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling to get paired with a Chicago therapist today!

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