I have never been considered a “good sleeper”. When I was little, I had horrible night terrors and now, as an adult, I find that I am still having problems getting a good night’s sleep. I toss and turn and no matter how tired I am, I can’t seem to fall sleep at a “normal” time. Sleeping well has a huge impact on our mental health. Have you ever had to shut down a computer or phone in order to fix a problem? That is what sleep does for our brains. It’s a reset for better functioning. When we sleep well, we have better concentration, reduced stress, and improved memory. Along with a slew of other health benefits.
So why is it that something so important, like good sleep, is difficult to achieve for many people? There are studies that show that screen time can play a role in not getting a decent night’s sleep. I know many people, myself included, find it relaxing to play on our phones right before sleep or watch some television to wind down. But, it can be hard to turn it off when we need too. We often say to ourselves “One more episode” or “One more level of candy crush and I will go to sleep”. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. It’s so easy passing time on our phones that we forget that we have to take care of our own needs. One way to get into the habit of getting more sleep is to set a time limit on your phone, computer, and television. There are many folks that cannot fall asleep without the television on or music playing for some background noise. If you need sound to fall asleep, maybe put on a show that you are less invested in. Re-runs of a comforting show are a good option. Another solution could be to try a sound machine with calming music, or nature sounds. I personally listen to the sounds of a thunderstorm from an app on my phone every night. It has been helpful on days where I have difficulty getting to sleep.
While searching for ways to get a better night’s sleep, I found a large amount of articles insisting upon getting 30 minutes of exercise a day. For some, 30 minutes can feel like a lot. Many people struggle with finding the time, don’t know how to get started, or may not even like to exercise. I find that I am the type of person that needs a distraction when I exercise. Some people read, other people may listen to music that gets their energy flowing. For me, I find that watching a little TV makes it feel like the exercise is going faster. I try to break it down for myself. 30 minutes is approximately the same amount as one episode of television. It’s helpful for when I really don’t feel like getting motivated to exercise. Another way I get some motivation to get up and move is to reach out to friends, family or other supports. If I make plans with them ahead of time it’s hard to say that I just don’t want to when the time comes. With my friends, we like playing some exercise games to make it more fun. In one game, we write exercises down and put them in a cup and whatever we pull from the cup is the one we have to do. My advice is to experiment with different workouts and find something you actually enjoy doing and not what you think have to.
Sometimes when I lay down to sleep, it’s the first time all day where I’m not busy. I’ve noticed that’s when my thoughts start rapid firing with worries, lists things I need to get done, and overthinking about everything. Like when I thought someone was waving to me and instead they were saying hi to someone else. It’s like my brain is saying “how embarrassing that was. Let’s think about that at 2 am and not sleep because of it”. It’s hard to shut our thoughts out as we try to find peace to be able to get some rest. One way I conquer my thoughts is, I let myself think of whatever thought is bothering me for 5 minutes and I let every thought about it flood my mind. After the 5 minutes, I don’t allow myself to think about it. When the thought comes back up I say “I gave that a thought and now I need sleep more than thinking about this.” It becomes a little bit of a mantra or phrase to help me get to sleep. One other way I do this is by free writing down all the thoughts in my head and just letting it all out on paper. Once it’s all on paper, I tell myself “It is out of my head for this very moment so I can take care of myself and sleep”.
Sleep is such a wonderful way for us to take care of ourselves. Sometimes it’s just not easy to get a good night’s sleep. It can feel like an almost impossible task no matter how hard you try. When you start feeling like you’re tossing and turning, maybe turn on some peaceful sounds or music. This is a good alternative to being on our phones scrolling for hours. It’s also helpful to take some measures to ensure you get better sleep by exercising regularly. And on those days where our brains just won’t quit thinking about our worries, then allowing ourselves time to think about what is bothering us but then, when it’s time to get some sleep, repeating a phrase to ourselves when negative thoughts arise to block them out. Finding the right tools to get better sleep is different for everyone. These are just some of the strategies I find helpful in getting some extra sleep at night. Sleep well!