Restful Sleep, Happy Brain
Sleep is restorative. It heals us. It grants our brains and bodies needed downtime for recovery from the stress and demands of our waking hours. Our circadian rhythms (our sleep/wake cycles) regulate core components of our human selves. And beyond all of sleep’s mechanical importance to our bodies, a good night’s sleep feels amazing; how good it feels to drift off to sleep and awaken refreshed!
If you are living with bipolar disorder (manic depression), depression, anxiety, or any other brain-related disorder, a good night’s sleep is particularly important. But really, sleep is an essential component of healthy living for all of us. Our bodies and brains need eight hours or so every day to rest, detoxify, repair damage, and process information without the input of additional sensory, intellectual, and emotional stimulation. We need daily downtime.
When we lose sleep, our bodies and brains pay the price. Sleepless people make more mistakes and get into more car accidents. Sleep deprivation increases obesity and other metabolic disorders. And for people living with psychiatric disorders, lack of sleep brutalizes their already overtaxed brains.
Unfortunately, in our busy world, prioritizing sleep is often associated with weakness. Over-achievers proudly proclaim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” as if that’s a good thing, a badge of bravado. Contrary to this modern-day superhero version of the Puritan work ethic, a rested body is more creative and productive and … healthy. In fact, the brain often does some of its best work in its sleep! Just think of the many times you woke up with the solution to a problem that had you stumped during your waking hours or with the clear-eyed realization that a worry or problem was not nearly as monumental as it seemed when you were exhausted.
But getting a good night’s sleep regularly requires some effort on your part, and it helps if you have a routine along with some practical techniques for falling and staying asleep. Following are the do’s and don’ts of getting the right quantity and quality of sleep followed by a few additional techniques you can try.
- Try to get to sleep and wake up around the same time every day.
- Sleep at least seven hours per night — most people need more.
- Allow some “de-stim” time before bed without close-up screens like phones and computers. (The light from such screens stimulates the brain.)
- Take any sleep medications as prescribed and when prescribed.
- Keep the room a comfortable temperature for you.
- Darken the room as much as possible.
- Drink caffeine after mid-day.
- Take stimulant related medications or other substances after mid-day.
- Exercise vigorously within a couple hours of bedtime.
- Drink alcohol right before bed — it helps you fall asleep but then you wake up a few hours later.
- Use your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex.
- Use a meditation or relaxation app for a few minutes before resting.
- Recruit people you live with or sleep with to help with your sleep goals.
- Reduce high stimulus content before bed, such as the news or intense conversations.
- Stop any work-related activities at least an hour before bedtime.
- Read or listen to audio books to help you drift off to sleep.
If you are struggling to maintain a regular sleep pattern, or you notice any sustained changes in your sleep such as needing a lot more or a lot less sleep, speak to your doctor and therapist about this so you can work on solutions.
Tip: CBT-i Coach is a Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) sleep management app created by the Veterans Administration that teaches about sleep and offers some specific cognitive behavioral strategies to reduce insomnia. It is free, and anyone can use it. Try it out yourself or ask your doctor or therapist to look at it with you. You can find CBT-i Coach on the iTunes or Google Play app store.
If you are still reluctant to accept my advice, then I suggest you sleep on it. You will make a better decision in the morning.