Stepping Up Your Sleep Game

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We’re back for week six! How have you been doing? Let’s recap. So far we’ve reviewed the following steps in moving through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug

Take a moment and reflect upon which you’ve been rocking, and the ones that could use a little oomph. There’s no shame when you’re trying something new. If you’ve been struggling, no time like the present to recommit!

Sleep is one of the most important parts of being a human. We need sleep in order to think, grow, learn… basically in order to human. There’s a lot of great information on the National Sleep Foundation‘s website.

We all know sleep is good for us. So why is sleep so difficult for so many people? It’s estimated about 35-40% of Americans struggle with sleep issues. That’s nearly half of us.

Let’s talk about Poor Sleep and how to overcome it in order to further our journey through (and eventually out!) of depression.

Poor sleep is any one (or combination) of the following: difficulty falling asleep, nighttime wakings, non-restorative sleep, or short sleep times. For the sake of our depression conversation, we’ll also include over-sleeping. Surely, physical conditions can make sleep more difficult. And, the worse a mood is and the more stressed you are, the worse your physical conditions. It can be a cycle.

Not getting proper sleep is detrimental to your well being. When you are sleep deprived, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases due to a process of increase inflammation, increase sympathetic nervous system, cortisol, and disrupt your vagus nerve (which controls the connection between your brain and major organs, as well as whether you’re anxious or calm).

It’s important to understand your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, aka your sleep/wake cycle, is like an app running in the background of your brain. It is responsible for understanding time and functions in 24 hour cycles to help you be alert when you need to and sleep when you need to. Part of it is naturally occurring, but part of it is triggered by the environment. For example, when it is dark your brain is triggered to feel sleepy. The average person feels the sleepiest times between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm (hence, the after lunch lag). If you’re all caught up on sleep, you won’t notice the swings as much.

Since some of your circadian rhythm is environmentally triggered, you have some room to make improvements. Here are some tips to trick your body into getting the sleep it needs. You might notice they are similar to the steps you’ve already taken!

  1. Avoid naps, if possible, for now. If you have an afternoon slump, drink a big thing of water and take a walk.
  2. Reduce caffeine and keep it before noon so it has time to get out of your system. Careful of too much dark chocolate at night!
  3. Exercise during the day so your body spends the energy it needs to sleep well. Stretching before bed can be helpful for restless limb issues.
  4. Unplug at least an hour before bed. Melatonin production begins when it gets dark, and the light of electronics can disrupt this. As it gets closer to bedtime, allow the lights to dim some.
  5. Create a consistent waking and sleeping routine. 
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Shoot for falling asleep within the same 60 minutes each night. Staying up and sleeping in late can disrupt your cycle.
    • Consistent bedtime routines are key. Do the same relaxing things in the same order each night. Color, read, journal, or take a bath or shower. You know you’re consistent when your dogs know it’s bedtime before you say anything, because they know what it means, for example, that you’re filling your water glass.
  6. Body scans are particularly helpful for falling asleep, as are progressive muscle relaxation meditations. You can also listen to sleep stories (bedtime stories for adults) on apps like Calm.
  7. Sleep in a room that is dark, quiet (noise makers are helpful for blocking out environmental sleep disrupters), and cool.
    • Pro Tip: if your room is messy, it might help your sleep to clean it first!
  8. Do not sleep with electronic devices on or where they can flash and wake you. If you need sound to fall asleep, try sleep stories, podcasts, or audiobooks. Something that doesn’t disrupt your brain’s ability to produce melatonin and put you to sleep.

As an adult, you should get between 7-9 hours of sleep. The younger you are (under 18) the more sleep you need, up to 18+ hours a day as a newborn. Everyone is individual, but if you are functioning on 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night, you’re not functioning. That little sleep triggers stress hormones in your body and makes everything else more difficult, including recovering from depression. If you’re sleeping more than 10 hours each night, you may need to look at whether you’re getting enough exercise, nutrition, etc. See if you can wake up an hour earlier and get your body going with a shower, walk, or meditation.

If you sleep little and try to get more, you might find that you feel groggy in the morning. That’s because of sleep debt. The sleep you don’t get accumulates. Think of your sleep like a checking account. In order to spend energy, you need to deposit energy. If you don’t deposit sleep, you get bounced checks and overdraft fees. Keep up the more sleep for a few weeks and then see how you feel before you give it up.

I get a lot of feedback from people that struggle to shut their minds down at bedtime. Yes. You are not alone. Even I struggle with this sometimes. Try the tips above, specifically unplugging an hour before bedtime, getting daily exercise, and trying a meditation to help you fall asleep. If you find yourself stuck between not quiet awake and not quite asleep as you ruminate, get up. Go get a glass of water, hit the restroom, sit on the floor and stretch. Try not to turn on any lights if you can help it.

  • Pro Tip: Visualizations can help calm the thoughts. I envision my mind as a white board. I spray it down, then wipe all the thoughts away. Sometimes I have to spray my white board several times and really clean in the cracks. I’ve had other people envision chalk boards (my mind goes right to nails on a- I can’t even type it!), paintings, turning off a mental TV, turning the page of a book, etc. Come up with some visualization to help you clean up your mind.

Ultimately, your brain needs to be at optimal functioning in order to recover. It needs meditation, nutrition and water, checks and balances, quiet time, and sleep. It also needs social interaction, which we’ll talk about next week.

You can do this. Recovery from depression is possible. You have the beginning basics to care for your body. It’s time to do it. Especially when you don’t want to or can’t find the energy. Even if you turn the TV off for an extra 20 minutes, color for 5, or meditate for 2.

Whatever steps you take are steps. Your commitment and gentle effort can get you to a life that works for you. If you need extra help, reach out.

Take care,

D

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