“I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.” Jorge Luis Borges (read from a client’s t-shirt)
Sleep is a daily topic in my psychotherapy office and a problem for many people. Without enough good quality sleep we don’t function well. Sleep is essential to our well-being, but all too often we try to get by without enough of it. Inadequate sleep produces problems with mood, cognition, and health. We all know that sleepy people are groggy, forgetful, irritable, listless and accident-prone, but it is even more serious than that. Research shows that lack of sleep can cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, memory problems and obesity. Inadequate sleep is linked to serious diseases including breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart disease. Several studies have linked a deficit in sleep to a significantly shortened life span.
Sleep problems take many forms: poor sleep habits, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and poor sleep quality.
The easiest problem to solve is poor sleep habits. Good sleep habits include the following:
1. Schedule enough time for sleep each night –7-8 hours depending on your personal need–and go to bed at approximately the same time most nights.
2. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.
3. Avoid napping.
4. Sunlight and exercise during the day can improve sleep at night.
5. Establish a bed time routine that allows for winding down and signals sleep for you.
6. Stop using electronics such as television or computer an hour before bedtime.
7. Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room. Use earplugs, white noise machines, fans, blackout shades or whatever you need to create the best sleeping environment for you.
If you have good sleep habits and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep long enough, you may need help from a doctor to determine why you can’t sleep and what the best course of treatment is for you. You might have a medical condition, a mood disorder, or a sleep disorder that can be diagnosed and treated.
Solving a sleep problem can make you feel like a new person. One of my clients found that by adjusting her schedule to get just 45 more minutes of sleep each night she has energy to do something fun when she gets home from work and get through her after-work chores each day without a struggle. Another client was diagnosed with sleep apnea and now sleeps with a C-Pap machine. He had been falling asleep at work and having memory problems and now feels alert and on top of things throughout the day.
I often have clients who are suffering from feeling tired all the time, but don’t think they can do anything about it, or they believe that finding a solution is hopeless or too hard. I want to encourage you to think of sleep as something you need in order to sustain an acceptable quality of life, something worth prioritizing up there with food and shelter! It’s a problem well worth solving even it takes awhile to figure out.