• Change Your Sleep; Change Your Mood

    Trouble sleeping?  Take a look at your sleep hygiene.

    Have you been having a difficult time getting to sleep at night? Maybe you’ve been under a lot of stress at work or you just can’t seem to turn the volume down on your worrying mind. Studies have shown a significant association between insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep through the night) and depression. Individuals who are depressed are likely to be experiencing insomnia and vice versa. Insomnia has also been found to be a predictor of subsequent depression and to increase the risk for the development of an anxiety disorder or substance dependence. Perhaps more interesting has been the discovery that treating insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often leads to a significant reduction in the severity of depression and other mental health problems, such as PTSD, and substance dependence.

    For CBT therapists, an important first step in treating insomnia is to provide psychoeducation regarding “sleep hygiene”. To be clear, the term, “sleep hygiene,” isn’t a reference to washing your hands or brushing your teeth before hopping into bed. Rather, it’s about creating habits around bedtime that can have an important impact on your ability to get to sleep when you want to.

    While the lucky people who don’t have difficulty getting or staying asleep may not need to worry about their sleep hygiene at all, for the rest of us, making a few changes to how we approach bedtime can be extremely helpful.

    Here are a few general guidelines to consider:

    • Remove electronic screens from the bedroom (yes, including your phone and TV).
    • Turn off the TV and stop scrolling on your phone at least 30 minutes before your planned bedtime. This is really important, because the blue wavelength light emitted by these screens is similar to natural light in stimulating us to be more alert, which is not what you’re needing when trying to prepare for sleep.
    • Develop and adhere to a relaxing bedtime routine. This might include activities such as taking a shower or bath, changing into your pajamas, practicing meditation, listening to mellow music, and reading (preferably not on a blue screen).
    • Avoid all caffeinated beverages in the evening. This point and the next one may be common sense, but are worth stating.
    • Avoid napping in the late afternoon and evening.
    • Try to maintain a consistent bedtime and waking time.
    • Reserve the bedroom (or at least the bed) just for two activities: sleep and sex. The point here is to strengthen the association in your brain between being in the bedroom and drifting off to sleep. (Think Pavlov’s classical conditioning!)
    • On that note, if you have been in bed for 30 minutes or so and aren’t feeling sleepy, don’t stay in bed. Instead, relocate to a comfy spot – maybe a couch – in another room (if possible), where you can engage in a relaxing activity (not screen related) for a while. When you notice yourself feeling sleepy, then you can return to the bedroom and give it another try.

    Making just a few changes to how you’re approaching bedtime and your sleep environment can make a huge difference in getting your mind and body back into the habit of stress free sleep.