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January 2011



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By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

For you the idea of sleeping well might be as far-fetched as a unicorn sighting. And in our productivity-driven society, sleep is usually the first thing to get sacrificed.

So many of us believe we need to focus on our priorities that we forget sleep is actually one of them.

“Prioritizing sleep is important to overall health and quality of life,” said Mary Rose, Psy.D, clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.

Here are 14 ways you can improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.

  1. Go beyond the eight-hour rule. We often hear that eight hours is a must. However, it’s actually an average, and you might need more or less to function optimally, according to Allison T. Siebern, Ph.D, a clinical instructor and sleep specialist at the Sleep Medicine Center at the Stanford School of Medicine. Interestingly, it’s not uncommon for Siebern to see patients at her clinic who sleep five to six hours and whose family or friends are worried that they’re not getting enough sleep. But in reality, “The individual has no daytime impairments, feels optimal during the day, has slept this amount of hours most of their adult life and if they try to stay in bed longer to sleep they don’t.” The takeaway? Pay attention to the amount of sleep that’s best for you.
  2. Stop trying. Many people try to force themselves to fall sleep, especially if they have insomnia. However, because sleep is a biological process, Siebern said that it can’t be forced. In fact, “oftentimes short-term strategies of ‘trying to achieve’ sleep may actually maintain insomnia in the long-term.” Instead, focus on rest. Siebern suggested engaging in an activity that helps you relax, “rather than doing something with the expectation that it will put you to sleep.”
  3. Don’t compensate for sleep loss. According to Siebern, avoid trying “to ‘catch up’ on sleep by going to bed earlier or staying in bed later than [you] typically do when the insomnia is not present.” That’s because “this can work against how sleep is regulated and can lead to more frustration.”
  4. Take inventory of your habits. There are some essential rules for sleeping well such as keeping a “routine, with regard to a set wake and sleep time,” and “finding ways to relax at least one hour prior to bedtime,” according to Rose.

    And then there are the rule breakers, which sabotage your sleep. These include drinking caffeine before bed, working in bed and watching TV in your room. If this sounds familiar, try to banish these sleep stealers.

  5. Understand that sleep changes. Bad habits aren’t always to blame — even if your sleeping problems are recent. “Our sleep needs and the quality of our sleep changes over time,” and we “may become more sensitive to disruption at different times in our life,” Rose said. Many factors can trigger this, including age, hormones, (e.g., menopause), illness, injury, stress and environmental changes, she said.
  6. Cultivate healthy habits. According to Rose, there are various ways you can “build your sleep drive,” such as avoiding naps, exercising during the day and keeping your room dim at bedtime.
  7. Zero in on daytime worries. We tend to take our daily troubles to bed with us. If you’re experiencing anxiety during the day, it’s likely that this angst is affecting your sleep. “Many of my patients have daytime anxieties with work and their families which they have not resolved in the daytime,” Rose said.

    At first, though, your worries might not be so obvious. “Often patients report that they are thinking about unimportant things while trying to sleep — but when they reconsidered and monitor their thoughts more proactively — they often discover that larger issues they have not yet resolved are at play,” she said.

    So try to dig deeper to “identify and manage worrisome thoughts that may be magnifying nighttime anxiety and inability to wind down.”

Read in Full: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2010/14-strategies-for-sleeping-better/

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