Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

Sleep is the most important factor that we tend to overlook and vital for all aspects of one’s health. Everyone would all love to have seven to nine peaceful hours of sleep each night. However, that is not always the goal within our fast-paced society. It’s ironic that as an infant, there is so much importance on sleep and regulated sleep and then as adults we put more value on the waking hours and how much we can accomplish. Sleep has mostly been associated as a physiological concern and within psychotherapy we are focusing on the psychological components sleep can impact and how to improve your sleep hygiene for better mental health.

Sleep is essential for our immune system function successfully to repair itself and to combat illnesses. Chronic sleep deprivation can create even more health concerns, fatigue, impact recovery from injuries, and create overall distress. Specifically, causing inflammation and weight gain. This can in turn impact our overall moods towards feeling angry, irritable, increase anxiety, and cause less productivity.

It is essential to assess sleep patterns and consistency of sleep within psychotherapy. The breakdown within psychotherapy is to work on what may be causing the distress at night and focusing on creating a healthy sleep hygiene or routine. Specifically, utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to aid in understanding sleep behaviors and implement behavioral interventions for stress management. One specific example is to compute a “sleep diary” for a week; which entails what time you lay down, get out of bed, and any known disturbances that may have occurred. This can provide a guideline and “sleep efficacy score” for patterns and where to focus on creating behavioral changes. Providing psychoeducation on your Circadian rhythm is beneficial for consistent sleep, which mirrors your internal body clock. It is beneficial for you to have a set wake time to adjust for consistency as your circadian rhythm is based on light, dark, and melatonin. Our bodies will release Melatonin when darkness occurs, so taking a supplement may not be necessary if a consistent routine is formed and administered.

Therapy can start the dialogue for creating better sleep habits and setting up a sleep routine. Ideally, we want to feel relaxed both physically and emotionally to fall asleep and stay asleep. One key area to focus on is quieting the active mind, it is normal to have ten to twenty minutes to allow yourself to drift off to sleep. Avoiding TV or electronic stimulation, as the light exposure can alert your brain and create difficulties towards feeling relaxed. Here are a few exercises that are helpful to add to your sleep routine. The first is to relieve body tension through a clench and release technique in correlation with controlled breathing. This entails starting from your head with inhaling and clenching and exhaling to release the tension down to your feet. By letting your whole body clench up and release tension it is easy to find the inner peace to be ready for sleep. If the mind is what is keeping you up, a great exercise is to allow a set time for “worry time.” This could be writing out what is creating worry or preparing your day for when you awake the next day. The worry time is to allow the worry to be released to combat rumination and then be turned off before falling sleep.

Professional athletes make sleep hygiene a priority as a focal part of their training. Whether it be with daily naps, a specific sleep schedule, or traveling to ensure efficient sleep. Even though we may not be professional athletes, we can learn from the importance of performing at our best requires efficient sleep. Making it a priority and not just something to catch up on over the weekends. Naps can be beneficial in fifteen to twenty minutes increments. Ideally after lunch to restore attention and reaction time, sure, this may not be realistic in our daily lifestyles but an area to stay focused on to create a sleep routine where you are able to wake feeling well rested and hopeful for a productive day.