Improve Your Sleep

     Something that is quite common for many people is the lack of adequate sleep. Most adults in the United States do not get the amount they need on a regular basis. Good sleep is important because it affects mood, creativity, motivation, and peak intellectual performance. Fatigue interferes with memorization, concentration, and the storage of new information in long term memory. And it's not just the length of time that you are asleep that matters - the quality of sleep you get is also important because it directly affects cognitive functioning. Uninterrupted sleep leads to periods of rapid eye movement (REM) which are important to learning, problem-solving, and recall.

What can you do to improve the quality of your sleep?

*Adhere to a consistent sleep schedule: go to sleep and wake up at around the same time every day to set your biological rhythm. Don't alter your sleep schedule on weekends; doing so sets you up for insomnia on Sunday and Monday nights.

*Don't nap if you can avoid it. When you feel drowsy, get up and do something active, or do some gentle stretching to increase the flow of oxygen to your brain. If you can't refrain from napping, restrict it to 30 minutes or less, and be sure to end the rest period before 3:00 PM.

*Get regular exercise (3-4 times per week), but avoid working out too close to your bedtime.

*Restrict your intake of caffeine, including coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. Avoid consuming these within 6 hours of when you plan to go to bed.
Alcohol use leads to fragmented sleep by disrupting the sequence and length of sleep phases. Limit your consumption accordingly.

*Control the climate in your bedroom. Experts agree that cooler temperatures promote good rest. Also be sure that the room is dark and quiet. Consider using a 'white noise' machine or earplugs if your apartment or neighborhood is noisy.

*Establish a bedtime routine that includes a quiet transitional activity such as watching television, a relaxing bath, listening to music, or reading for pleasure. This can help prepare your entire body for rest. Avoid the use of close-up bright screens (laptop, phone, ipod, etc.) during the hour before bedtime.

*If you have trouble turning off your mind or letting go of your day when trying to fall asleep, try implementing a distractor technique and/or a worry management technique. Distractors include: learning a relaxation procedure (right click/'save link as' to download) and using it when first getting into bed; listening to white noise; listening to music or a recorded "getting to sleep" cd/mp3. Worry management can include routinely setting aside time during the evening to make a list of issues and tasks to tackle the next day. This can make it seem less necessary to do this while trying to sleep.

*Don't toss and turn in bed! Your bed should be for sleeping, not for anxious episodes of insomnia. If you are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and read a magazine, watch TV, or do some other task that does not require a lot of energy or attention. When you feel drowsy, return to bed and try to fall asleep again. Repeat this until you finally nod off.

*There are many reasons for insomnia. Stress can be one cause of sleep difficulties. If you continue to have problems achieving restorative sleep, consider making an appointment with a psychologist to discuss your stress management skills, or any other concerns that you may have.