Sleep can be allusive when you are anxious, depressed or in the throes of PTSD. This article summarizes some of some of the common that I provide clients that make sleep eee-easy, easy like Sunday morning (cue Lionel–there’s always a soundtrack in my head).
Remember, as when making all change, keep it simple! Life is complicated enough–don’t make healthy changes a part of your overwhelm. Choose one or two items to tackle and then (here’s the key!!!) stick with them for a couple weeks. Let it become a habit. Learn how to make it easier over time. Evaluate after a trial period (sometimes evaluation means going back to the old way of being for a short time). Notice the difference this new habit makes. Is this something that you want to make a permanent part of your daily rituals?
Here’s some ideas to consider*:
- One of the best keys to a good night’s sleep is to wake at a regular hour every day and, upon waking, expose yourself to early morning sunlight for the best and most effective reset to circadian rhythms. Could you possibly sit in a window with your cup of tea? Or better yet, take a walk, grabbing some early morning exercise? How can you work this into your schedule in a doable way?
- Along the lines of circadian rhythms, avoid blue light for 1-2 hours before bedtime. Blue light disrupts the regular dark/light cycles that help produce melatonin. Common blue light emission sources in your household include TVs, phones and computers, but also include your low energy light bulbs. Start dimming and reducing the number of lights that you have on before bedtime. If you have a personal device, stop using it two hours before bedtime. Turn things off if at all possible, but if not possible, know there’s some “work arounds.”
- Apple’s ios 9.3 upgrade has a setting that dims blue light emissions at sunset according to your time zone, so make sure you have your latest update!
- Also, if you absolutely cannot avoid using a screen, consider investing in a pair of blue blocker glasses to wear in the evenings, which you can order for relatively cheaply from Amazon.
- Reduce the use of small screens, like personal devices, overall. Certain muscles in the face, when engaged, induce related emotional states. For example, you have probably heard about the impact of a smile on neurotransmitter levels and activation of mirror neurons. Now what do you imagine the impact of a squint or a frown might be? As you furrow the brow ridge to reduce glare off a screen or to see the small print, anxiety levels can increase, and we all know what anxiety does to sleep.
- Enjoy regular, vigorous exercise daily, but nothing strenuous within 4 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t eat close to bedtime.
- Don’t drink within 1 hour of bedtime. Even though we think a little wine helps us relax, eventually it creates a rebound of stress hormones that wake you up.
- Likewise, cut off caffeine by 10am or noon latest. I know… I can hear the gnashing of teeth now, but as much as it helps keep you moving during the day, wouldn’t a little sleep help as well?
- Create a ritual for your bedtime so that the last 30-60 minutes of the evening send a clear message to the body. Practice tense and release relaxation exercises or find a yoga routine specifically designed for sleep. Yes, this matters! Some yoga poses are invigorating and some are calming. Seek a specialty sleep class online or at an area yoga studio. Don’t make the mistake of assuming any class will do—certain postures (like backbends) and breathing practices are stimulating to the body, and the wrong combinations can make it harder rather than easier to go to sleep.
- There are a lot of supplements getting attention right now, including: calcium, tryptophan/5-HTP, melatonin, vitamin D and magnesium. As with all medical interventions, consult with a doctor to see if one of these may be right for you, especially if you are already on medication. Consultations are important, even for supplements. For example, 5-HTP creates a calming bump to serotonin levels, but can compound with SSRIs and lead to serotonin syndrome, a serious and potentially fatal condition. Similarly melatonin can aid in falling asleep for up to a couple month at a time, but may not be a desirable long-term intervention. Also, it can create a strong rebound when waking for some anxious individuals (making a continuous release version of the supplement more desirable). For these reasons, and more, learn from doctors and health experts before experimenting! For best results, if you choose to use these supplements which can aid sleep, take them about an hour before bedtime.
I teach more on techniques to recruit the body and clear the mind to get a better night’s rest in my Hacking the Bodymind: Better Sleep Class, which will be on the schedule again this fall. This class includes expansion on the ideas above as well as breathing and posture practices, relaxation experiences, and more!
Did you know that there’s an increased risk of PTSD in those who have experienced a traumatic experience if:
- the trauma occurred at night or caused disruption to night sleeping rhythms or
- if you have sleep apnea?
In my personal experience, anxious awakenings and nighttime adrenaline rushes decreased significantly after I got my CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). Not being able to breathe induces a continuous stream of anxious nighttime responses in the body that the mind then translates translates as linked to other anxieties, like our PTSD traumas or general anxieties. Hypervigilance, panic, bad dreams, etc, can be compounded. Breathing (or lack of it) directly effects the nervous system and ability to recover from stressed states. If you suspect sleep apnea is a part of your life, the CPAP may not feel sexy, but it’s definitely a game changer that shifts your energy and ability to get deeper ZZZs. To me, that IS worth looking like an alien when eyes are closed!
Need Better Sleep NOW? Here’s some resources for this article worthy of further exploration:
Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day: A Doctor’s Guide to Solving Your Sleep Problems by Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, FCCP
Definitive Guide to Sleep Disorders: 7 Smart Ways to Help You Get a Good Night’s Rest by Herbert Ross, DC with Keri Brenner, L.Ac.