Sleep, one of those words that automatically cause a warm, fuzzy feeling for most adults. As a child, bedtime signifies the end of playtime and something to try to postpone, but for most adults it signifies a time of peaceful rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, there are many individuals whose automatic feeling towards sleep is one of anxiety and stress because of having significant difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or experiencing premature awakenings.
After a few sleepless nights, and consequently tired days, you can start to worry about whether you will be able to sleep that next night. The more worried about sleep you become, often the more pressure you put on yourself to fall asleep, and then the added anxiety and tension make it that much harder to sleep. A vicious cycle can develop. For those with significant sleep difficulties, it could be months or years of spending hours trying to fall asleep, waking up several times in the middle of the night and taking an hour (or several) to fall back asleep, or waking up hours before they need to and not being able to fall back asleep at all. Having sleep difficulties can feel make you feel frustrated, hopeless, alone, and afraid of bedtime.
Unhelpful strategies to deal with the sleep difficulties may also start to develop. For example, you may start to watch the clock, and as every minute passes you get more frustrated and worried about how you will get through the next day with less and less sleep. Another common unhelpful strategy is to either sleep in or take a nap to ‘make up’ for the lost over-night sleep. Or, you may try to put yourself to bed earlier in hopes that by the time you fall asleep you can still get a decent amount of hours in before you have to wake up. You may also start to rely on the use substances or over-the-counter sleep aids.
On the one hand, there is validity to being concerned about one’s lack of sleep. Health professionals learn very early in their training the importance of sleep. It really is the foundation to both physical and emotional health. Without proper sleep, you cannot achieve optimal health. There is plenty of research showing that less than 7 hours of sleep is associated with weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, lower immune function, decreased concentration, increased pain, anxiety, irritability, interpersonal struggles, and depression, to name a few.
With so many mixed messages out there, what is the amount of sleep we should be getting? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recently published recommendations for the amount of sleep required for a healthy adult.1 The verdict: adults should be getting 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis, and young adults should be getting a minimum of 9 hours.
Psychologists have spent a lot of time conducting scientific research studies to improve our understanding of factors related to sleep difficulties and to develop therapeutic treatment protocols to help people who are suffering. One of the most successful evidence-based treatments (in other words, a treatment that has shown through extensive research to produce significant gains) is called cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Overall, 70-80% of people who complete CBT specifically targeting insomnia will improve2 by achieving better overall sleep, being able to fall asleep easier and stay asleep, better quality of sleep (i.e., more restful), and/or less anxiety or dysfunctional beliefs around sleep.
A few helpful techniques that you can practice on your own include:
- Removing all clocks in your bedroom
- Shutting down all electronics and screens at least an hour before bed
- Stopping work or avoiding any stress-inducing activity at least an hour before bed, including exercise
- Eating a light snack before bed
- Making sure that your room is dark, on the cooler side, and that your bed is comfortable
- Looking out for your sleepy signs and only going to bed when tired
- Getting out of bed if you are feeling restless for more than 20 minutes and returning only when sleepy
- Keeping a consistent wake-up time, no matter how much or little you slept that night
- Eliminating caffeine after 4-6pm
- Practicing relaxation exercises for stress reduction before bed
If sleep difficulties continue to affect you, please feel free to contact Saterra to speak with one of our associates about how we can help you.
1 Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. SLEEP 2015;38(6):843–844
Health professionals learn very early in their training the importance of sleep. It really is the foundation to both physical and emotional health. Without proper sleep, you cannot achieve optimal health.