Sleep and Sleep Hygiene

You will probably hear me say: “Sleep is not negotiable”, if we meet for an appointment.  Why sleep is as crucial as it is, we are still not completely sure off.  What is clear, is that a person who does not sleep for 3-4 days will hallucinate and die soon after.  We also know that a lot of repair functions occur at night, when asleep.  The brain secretes BDNF and other chemicals that enhance wellbeing and healthy brain function. Tissue repair, emotional processing, growth (especially in children) happens at night.

A generation ago, people slept 7-8 hours per night on average, now it is 5-6 hours per night.

Depression and other mood disorders are clearly tied to normally functioning circadian rhythms.  Sleep loss often precedes a depressed or manic episode.

There are many things we can do to improve our sleep, before taking sleep medication.  Below is a list of helpful techniques that should be part of a healthy night time ritual.

1)  The mind and body are not ready to shift a way from our over stimulated daytime schedules  to sound sleep without transition.  Allow at least an hour before bed for calming, quiet routine such as reading, listening to music, non-stimulating TV, meditation, relaxation, a hot bath.

2)  Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time

3)      Use the bed only for sleep and sex, get up and sit on the couch with a book, if you cannot fall asleep

4)      If you do get up in the middle of the night, keep the lights off or use a night light.  Bright light stimulates the brain to wake up more.

5)      If you are awake in the middle of the night, practice breathing techniques or the body scan in bed, listen to soothing music or ocean sounds from a sound machine

6)      Avoid thinking about problems in the late evening.  You will not be able to solve them overnight anyway, and your mind will be fresher and sharper after a good night’s sleep.

7)      Follow a diet outlined under the “diet section” on this website.  In addition, avoid eating at least 2 hours before bedtime, do not eat dense proteins such as beef, chicken, eggs at night.  Active digestion keeps us from sleeping.  Avoid sugar at night, it is a strong stimulant.

8)      Drink a lot of room temperature water during the day, dehydration keeps us from sleeping at night.  Avoid drinking too much water 2 hours before bedtime, as you will have to get up during the night to urinate.

9)      No coffee or caffeinated drinks after 3 pm.