Guest Author - Dr. Jonice Webb
Do you live a rushed, stressful life? Do you over-book yourself, and then stay up late trying to get it all done? Is it hard to fall asleep at night because your mind is racing? Do you awaken in the middle of the night with a hundred worries flying through your brain? Or do you too often awaken in the early morning, unable to fall back asleep?
If so, you are not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, 50 to 70 million adults suffer from some type of sleep disorder. 30% of American adults don’t get enough sleep.
On top of all of this, Science Magazine recently published a study which reported yet another new finding about the importance of sleep. Researchers found that sleep is a way for the brain to purge itself of waste products which are thought to cause diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In my psychology practice, I have been asked for help on a tremendous variety of sleep problems. While every individual is different, I have found that there are ten basic principles which, if followed, will either cure or greatly help most sleep problems.
• Avoid having caffeine any later than 7 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine stays in your system for 7 hours.
• Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning, or as closely as you can come to it. This puts your body into a rhythm which it will eventually tend to follow on its own.
• Prioritize your eight hours of sleep. If you are well-rested, you will be more productive during waking hours, making up for the time “lost” asleep.
• Do not look at or watch any electronic device – this includes smartphone, computer, TV, for at least one hour before you go to bed. Research has shown that electronic devices stimulate the brain for wakefulness.
• Do not eat for one hour before going to bed.
• Establish a regular bedtime routine. Adults’ bodies, like children’s, are triggered to start shutting down when the routine begins at night.
• If you awaken in the night, do not look at the clock. The time doesn’t matter, and when you start thinking, “Oh no, it’s only 2 a.m.,” it wakes up your brain even further.
• The process of falling asleep involves essentially shutting off your conscious brain. The best way to do that is to stop all of your thoughts. To do this, lie in bed quietly and follow these steps:
1. Picture a giant, white movie screen in front of you, filling your entire field of vision.
2. Focus all of your attention upon the blankness of the screen. Keep your mind blank of all thought; as blank as the screen in front of your face.
3. Then begin to count from 1 to 10, quietly within your own head.
4. As you count, picture each number on the screen; each number a different color and against a different color background.
5. If your mind strays or starts to have thoughts, bring it back immediately to the screen, and continue the count.
6. If you come to 10 and you’re still awake, keep going.
7. If you truly keep your focus on the screen, before you know it, you will be asleep.
• Never turn on a light in the middle of the night.
• Don’t take naps unless absolutely necessary. They throw off your body’s need for sleep at night, and mess up your body’s sleep rhythm.
These tips may sound difficult to follow. The reality is, it’s difficult to change a habit of any kind. Sleep habits are especially hard to change since they tend to get entrenched by happening night after night over a lifetime. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change your current habits. If you are motivated, you can do it.
And better, higher quality, plentiful sleep will increase your brain health, brain functions, energy, and productivity.