The past couple of weeks have been extremely traumatic for many people. As Harvey has devastated so many people, it may have also have wreaked havoc on their sleep. As millions of Texans take steps on the road to recovery, it’s important to not forget about the importance of good sleep. Forgoing sleep has been shown to negatively impact decision-making, energy, productivity and health. So here are six tips to keep in mind to help improve your sleep.
1. Get back to a normal routine. Routine is important both during the day and night. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and consistent rise time, regardless of how you slept.
2. Go to bed when sleepy. There are only so many hours in the day and there might be pressure to try to squeeze more in by staying up later. However, getting adequate sleep is essential for your health and will help alleviate stress. The National Sleep Foundation recommends healthy adults get seven to nine hours of sleep.
3. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you get sleepy. We cannot force sleep. Ironically, the more you “try” to sleep, the worse it becomes. Try listening to music, reading, or praying/meditating until you feel sleepy. If watching television, be sure to limit how much disaster coverage you watch.
4. Spend 30 to 60 minutes unwinding before bed. Sleep is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. It is important to spend time relaxing quietly before getting into bed.
5. Shut off the chatter in your brain at night. Often nighttime is the only period of quiet, distraction-free time to reflect or worry. You may be worrying about repairing your home, your loved ones, or preparing for the next potential storm. Instead of worrying at night, try scheduling 10 to 20 minutes during your day (not too close to bedtime) to sit down, distraction-free and jot down your worries and potential solutions. At night, remind yourself this is not the time or place to worry.
6. Take care of your emotional well-being. Talk to friends and family or write what you experienced. Another way to alleviate stress and improve sleep is to try calming relaxation techniques like slow, deep breathing or meditation. Try breathing in through your nose for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and breathing out slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Do this 10 times every day.
Finally, don’t forget about your kids. Talk to them about the hurricane during the day (in age appropriate language) in order to help them process what has happened. Maintain a consistent routine prior to bed (e.g., bath, reading) and a consistent bedtime. Power down electronics an hour before bed, and allow enough time to obtain an adequate amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends preschoolers get 10 to 13 hours, school-aged children get 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers get 8 to 10 hours’ sleep per night.
Sara Nowakowski is a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She is board certified in behavioral sleep medicine.
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