by Heather Tippens, LPC
The impact of daily and chronic stress has been linked to disturbances in sleep. Many people report sleep disturbances including insomnia, restless and interrupted sleep while experiencing periods of stress or undergoing change. Frequent nights of unrestful sleep can lead to changes in mood including irritability, fatigue, increase in anxiety and depression and cognitive impairments in concentration, attention and forgetfulness.
Factors attributed to stress that can disturb our sleeping patterns include worry and the tendency to become excessively ruminative. It is common to experience distress directly related to the inability to achieve restful sleep. Increased self-pressure to get a good night’s rest can further impair a person’s ability to obtain a restful night’s sleep, increasing worry and frustration.
Those who struggle with insomnia often develop maladaptive strategies in an attempt to get more sleep. There is a tendency for people to spend more time in bed by going to bed earlier, getting out of bed later or napping throughout the day to increase the opportunity to achieve more sleep. However, this creates a disconnection between trying to sleep and the actual ability to sleep, enhancing awake time and arousal.
- To improve the ability to sleep at night, consider these nine suggestions.
- Try to reduce the amount of time spent in bed when not sleeping. Avoid daytime napping by engaging in activities during the day.
- Establish a regular sleep and awake schedule, even on the weekends.
- If you are having difficulty falling asleep, do not lie in bed for longer than 20-30 minutes. It is easy for us to enter into a cycle of worry. It is best to get out of bed to engage in a relaxing and distracting activity, such as reading or watching TV.
- Avoid alcohol and stimulant use, such as nicotine and caffeine, especially later in the day or early evening. Large amounts of caffeine can also increase levels of existing anxiety.
- Exercise is not recommended right before bed, as an immediate response to exercise can be an increase in energy. However, regular exercise can alter how quickly one can fall into a deep sleep and the length of time spent in deep sleep.
- Avoid eating or drinking an excessive amount of fluids before going to bed. These can lead to frequent awakenings throughout the night.
- Avoid engaging in non-sleep related activities in bed or in the bedroom. You may begin associating the bed with these activities and not with sleep. Establish a quiet, relaxing bedroom environment by removing unnecessary sound or light sources. Consider switching out the sound of the TV for a white noise machine. Also, ensure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature.
- Establish a pre-bedtime ritual to relax, unwind and decompress from daily stressors (consistency is key).
Tippens, a licensed counselor at Pinehurst Neuropsychology, can be reached at 910-420-8041 or visit www.pinehurstneuropsychology.com