Tobie Grama, LCSW

Ideas for Better Sleep

Tobie Grama Sleep

First, you are not alone. A shocking 50-70 million Americans have sleep difficulties of some kind. But not to worry, there are some very practical strategies that you can use if you would like to try change your behaviors to improve your sleep.

Retrain your mind and body for sleep.

When we lie sleeplessly in bed our brain begins to associate bed with sleeplessness. So, avoid using your bed for anything (ok almost anything!) except sleep. Secondly, if you are in bed awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and sit in a chair outside of the sleeping area and participate in a non-activating activity in low light. For example reading, crafting, or implementing a relaxation exercises. Try not to use anything with a screen.

Sleep Hygiene can also contribute to training your body to sleep. Some healthy steps towards this is to develop a nighttime ritual. Having a cup of tea (decaffeinated), taking a warm shower, stretching, changing into specific pajamas before bed can all help send messages to your brain that it is time to go to sleep. Try not to nap during the day. Napping will reduce your tiredness at bedtime and will make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Manage your stress and worry.

Stress and anxiety can create substantial barriers to sleep. Some tools that you can use during your day and near bedtime to reduce worry and stress are muscle relaxation exercises and visualization exercises. Both of these tools can help to reduce stress and induce relaxation which will help you prepare your body and mind to rest. See below for a description of these techniques.

Worry time: Pick a scheduled time to worry and write your worries down. If you think of something during the rest of the day, tell yourself you will worry about that during your “worry time.” If you must, take a minute to write down your worry at that time. Lastly, don’t look at the clock while sleeping. This can lead to increased pressure and worry about not sleeping.

Muscle Relaxation Exercise:

While lying in bed take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out using slow, deep breaths.

When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
Slowly tense the muscles in your foot squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.

When you’re ready, shift your attention to your other foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Visualization Exercise:

While in bed, close your eyes and imagine a restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can - everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible, using at least three of your senses. When visualizing, choose imagery that appeals to you; don’t select images because someone else suggests them, or because you think they should be appealing. Let your own images come up and work for you.

For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake, for example:

  • Walk slowly around the dock and notice the colors and textures around you.
  • Spend some time exploring each of your senses.
  • See the sun setting over the water.
  • Hear the birds singing.
  • Smell the pine trees.
  • Feel the cool water on your bare feet.
  • Taste the fresh, clean air.
  • Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place.

While thinking of your restful place, slowly alternate tapping one side of your leg and then the other side over and over, back and forth.

Wishing you a restful night sleep.

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