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8 Tips for Better Sleep

Updated: Sep 5

Sleep is such an important part of both our physical and mental health. Many clients who come to therapy with mental health problems also present with sleep disturbance. It can be a vicious cycle, as sleep deprivation negatively affects our mental health, and mental health issues can make it harder to get quality sleep.



Here are eight suggestions for creating a healthier sleep habits:


1. Start with a relaxing sleep ritual.

Our bodies and minds are fond of routine. Creating and regularly implementing a relaxing bedtime routine can signal to your body that it's time to get ready for bed. You might incorporate an evening stroll, night-time stretching or gentle yoga, meditation (I love Calm's guided sleep meditations!), and/or a bath or warm shower. Start your routine about 60-90 minutes before your ideal bedtime.


2. Eliminate light stimulation for at least one hour before bed.

Our circadian rhythm determines when our body will be primed for sleep. Light sources and electronic devices emit blue light, which can be disruptive to your body's natural circadian rhythm. Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin (a hormone that prepares your body for sleep), thus negatively impacting both the quality and quantity of sleep. To combat this, turn off your lights (and get off electronic devices!) at least one hour before bedtime.


3. Exercise.

Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep you get. It can also stabilize your mood and decrease anxiety levels, which can help quiet your mind in preparation for better sleep. Aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise per day, 5 days a week.


4. Maintain consistent sleep and wake times.

Consistent sleep and wake times strengthen your body's circadian rhythm. Back to our minds and bodies being fond of routine, a consistent sleep time provide a natural cue for your body that it is time to wind down.


5. Avoid napping (or at least set boundaries!)

I know-- this is my least favorite sleep suggestion! I personally am fond of napping, but I also understand that it can get in the way of night-time sleep quality. Short naps (20-30 minutes) are not as likely to interfere with night-time sleep. Longer naps or naps that are later in the day (after 3pm) might create difficulty getting to sleep at night.


6. Create a calming sleep environment.

The ideal sleep environment is cool, calm, and quiet. Set the stage with your senses! A dark bedroom is best for sleep. Some people find white noise helpful in drowning out bothersome noises. Others find aromatherapy to be relaxing, particularly calming scents like lavender. Avoid things like falling asleep on the couch, and be aware of other interruptions (sleeping with pets or children can make for broken sleep).


7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.

Alcohol reduces REM sleep, so it is best to stop drinking at least 4 hours prior to bedtime. Caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep. Limit caffeine consumption to a max of 300-400mgs per day, and avoid consumption in the late afternoon and evening.


8. Avoid prescription sleep aids.

You can develop a tolerance to sleep aids; the longer you take them, the less likely they are to be effective. They can also leave you feeling groggy and "off" the next day (which I've seen can then trigger caffeine use during the daytime). Melatonin supplements, on the other hand, are generally safe for short-term use. Unlike with many sleep medications, you are less likely to become dependent on melatonin or suffer the "hangover" effect.


Trying to implement all these changes simultaneously would be unnecessary and overwhelming. Instead, write down which areas you struggle with. Choose one that you think would be easiest to make improvements in, and get to work on that this week! Once you've gotten that new habit under your belt, move on to implementing another change. It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing, and you don't need to do it all at once to see results.


Check back later this week for an additional post on how to quiet your mind for a better night's rest!


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Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.

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