There are many variables that may contribute to the maladaptive behaviors and emotional states of people.
Physical ailments, poor nutrition, and defective coping mechanisms can all contribute to the overall mental state of a human being. However, one of the most commonly explored sources of irritability, mood dysregulation and lack of concentration is sleep or lack thereof. Placing mental health concerns aside, for any person whether they be infant, child, adolescent or adult, sleep is imperative to the normal functioning of every system within the body.
If an adequate amount of sleep is not achieved per night (seven to nine hours), the individual is at risk for a higher level of anxiety and depressive symptoms, poor immune functioning, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, impaired cognition and weight gain.
The list continues, as there truly is no benefit of limited sleep.
The time that should be dedicated to adequate sleep, is usually consumed by work, family obligations, school, stress, or sleep disorders. If we know that we have limited control of the demands of our day-to-day life, then it is imperative to maximize the amount of time we do have to dedicate to sleep when the time comes to wind down for the evening.
How do we do this?
The most important aspect of this is to implement the changes that are necessary to yield a positive long term result.
That means, changing a habit that may be comforting, familiar and easy in the short term, but that may have a negative overall consequence over time. The best way to do this is to evaluate your current bedtime routine and figure out what works best for you.
Recognize and accept that your bedroom is an area primarily designated for rest and relaxing.
All other activities, such as homework, use of back-lit products (iPhone, iPad, etc.), interacting on social media, playing video games, etc., should not occur in the same place that you sleep.
The goal is to condition your brain to associate your room with decompressing and shutting down for the night.
If you are consistently stimulating your brain in the same area that you expect it to fall asleep with ease, then achieving a restful sleep state will prove to be more difficult.
Try these nighttime approaches to help you create a bedtime more conducive to sleep:
- Aim for a time to be in bed that allows for at least seven hours of sleep.
At this time, all lights and electronic devices should be turned off. This will allow you to remain consistent in your sleep routine as well as condition your body to sleep and wake when the time comes.
- Create a pre-bedtime routine to include your nighttime hygiene responsibilities and possible preparation for what you may need in the morning.
Avoid any foods or drinks that might have caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, frozen yogurt, some breakfast cereals, etc.). Furthermore, this might be a good time (if need be) to check your electronic device one last time for the night. This should occur at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Place your electronic device on the opposite side of the room and set to “do not disturb” or “silent.”
Often times, we find ourselves looking at our phones before we close our eyes for the night. This abrupt stimulation will make it more difficult to fall asleep in a timely fashion. If you use your electronic device as an alarm clock, placing it in a different location will also require you to get out of bed in the morning to acknowledge the alarm.
- Many people, once they are in their bed, have difficulty controlling their thoughts.
To combat this frustrating occurrence, keep a small notebook at your bed side to write down the concerning thoughts. The act of dispelling the concerns from your mind and on to a piece of paper can be calming. If this does not work, auditory sleep aides such as white noise or classical music apps can be useful.
These are just a few helpful hints to improve your approach to sleep.
With school starting, it might be beneficial to implement this new sleep schedule as a family so that everyone is adjusted to the more regimented routine.
If you remain concerned about your lack of sleep, or the sleep pattern of a loved one, please discuss your concerns with your primary care physician.